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Taking Steps

It is no secret that we love to hike. Pretty much any time, anywhere. If the sun is out, if it’s only slightly raining, even in a downpour once in awhile – look for us on a trail.

The peace and beauty found on a hike are restorative. Given the stress of our daily lives, we need those opportunities to relax and recharge. But aside from the time away from the hurry of daily life, hiking gives us a chance to talk.

You’re probably thinking, “Don’t you do that anyway?” And the answer is, yes. We are pretty good at communicating after nearly 30 years together. But hiking conversations are different, as we realized on a recent hike through the Rocky River Reservation in Northeast Ohio.

Why?

1. There are no interruptions. Other than a quick check of a map or a hello to a fellow hiker, it’s just us. We can have a full conversation without a cell phone ringing or the neighbor screaming or the dogs scratching to go outside. The focus is on us.

2. We lose the negative body language. No crossed arms, no hands on hips, no rubbing a hand across a face in frustration. I use my hands a LOT when I talk, and more so when I am agitated. In fact, my students once challenged me to try talking while sitting on my hands, and I couldn’t do it!

On a hike, though, our arms are loose, bodies relaxed, we’re engaged in balance and not tripping over a rock. At home, our body language can appear confrontational, even when it isn’t meant to be.

3. Eye contact. You can’t stare someone down on a hike. If you’re really mad, you can shoot off a pretty good glare, but chances are the other person will miss it. And glares can backfire when you land on your butt because you weren’t watching where you were going.

4. Trails are neutral territory. At home, couples tend to ‘claim’ territory. Her kitchen, his den. It is similar to having the home field advantage at a sporting event. Conversations can quickly escalate into arguments under those circumstances. For us, the trail is no one’s. That means, when we have a discussion, it tends to be more calm.

5. It is super hard to stay mad at someone when you know you have five more miles and two more hours ahead of you. I can hold on to my temper pretty well, but even I have to let it go when Jeff offers me a hand over a fallen tree trunk or steps onto a risky part of the trail first to keep me from getting hurt. Am I actually going to deny him the water in my pack? I might be mad, but I don’t actually want him to die of thirst!

Once the walls have been cracked, it’s harder to build them back up again. And arguments tend to turn back into conversations.

Hiking is our happy place. We don’t like to bring anger there. But when there is a problem we need to hash out, or a discussion that needs to be had, a long walk in the woods lets us take the steps necessary to work through it together.

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