When we moved from the city to 8 acres of land in Oklahoma, my mom's best friend (who'd spent much time babysitting me), said, "You're taking Janis into the woods???"
I was a very prissy girl with an aversion to being dirty, so you can understand her concern.
I got over my initial fear of bugs and dirt and let my imagination take over, leading expeditions through the woods with my friends and siblings to find adventures cooked up by my brain. We made mud concoctions in the yard and fenced with sticks. We helped tend to the garden. I mowed the lawn on the riding mower. We even killed the snakes that would venture too close to the house with hoes and shovels.
As I got older, however, I grew out of that and went back to being a prissy girl. I wanted to be indoors, with the air conditioning and my books. My Dad reminisces about how I used to be a tomboy, but those years are long past. While I still went outside, I was less likely to volunteer for outdoor activities beyond the occasional volleyball game.
Anyone who knows me well now knows that I'm not an outdoorsy person anymore. I went camping exactly one time, on a church trip with my Dad, and I slept on an incline with rocks under me in a sleeping bag and was awakened at 7:30 by someone shouting "Well, Glory!" (I'm also not a morning person.) I said, "Never again." And I've kept to my word.
During the cicada awakening a couple of years ago, I was ridiculously jumpy and paranoid. Kids laughed at me during fire drills when I was trying to be calm but was clearly freaking out about these large bugs that seemed fearless flying around us. It made me even less likely to go outside when I didn't have to.
It wasn't until the pandemic that I ventured back outside as a regular thing. All of the daily steps that I used to get when teaching didn't happen since I was teaching virtually at my desk. So my roommate and I started walking in the neighborhood near our apartment.
I changed this routine when I discovered a hiking trail minutes from my apartment. I was hesitant at first, but I reasoned that it would be quieter than walking through a neighborhood.
To my amazement, something about being on the quiet path, which ran by a river, helped to spur my imagination just like when I was a child. Sometimes I'd listen to audiobooks; other times I'd just listen to the birds, insects, and running water. I solved many plot points that had kept my writing stalled, using the notes app on my phone to record my thoughts. I didn't mind being out sweating and even splashing through the two rivers that crossed my path without a second thought. I regularly was out for an hour, walking about 4 miles round trip. Then after a shower and dinner, I'd transcribe my thoughts and continue writing.
Whenever I was stressed or stuck on my writing, my boyfriend would encourage me to go out on my trail. Somewhere from this encouragement came my discovery of his love of hiking. So, tentatively, I agreed to go on a hike with him.
To my surprise, I loved it. I don't know if it was just spending time with him, or being out in nature, or what, but I completely enjoyed the experience. Our first hike was a fairly easy one, where we shared a snack while sitting on a log by the river. The second one was unintentionally hard. We arrived later in the afternoon, missed out on parking, and the predicted two miles somehow turned into seven. We were sore and hobbling for the following week, but I wouldn't have exchanged the experience for anything.
In fact, we're planning more hikes now that the weather is cooling down. I'm so excited to go, which sometimes confuses me when I think of my former dislike of the outdoors. That's how things change, I guess.
I'm still not going camping, though.