When life is too busy it is easy to drop your head and miss the beauty that is always around you. The simple glory of a sunset; the sound of birds singing in a tree outside your window; the soft touch of your child: You miss the joy of these when you are only looking at the tops of your shoes. On a family outing a few days ago with my wife and children, I hiked a portion of the Appalachian Trail in the north Georgia mountains. The trail is a favorite of mine, the two-mile climb to the top of Blood Mountain.
Honestly, it had been nearly a decade since I last climbed this particular mountain, and I had forgotten just how steep the trail was. I should have remembered when I saw the marker at the trailhead. The marker designated the difficulty of the trail as “moderate to strenuous,” and this proved to be more than true. We decided the word “moderate” was a Jedi mind-trick that blinded us to the word “strenuous,” a synonym for “hiker’s hell.”
Huffing and puffing we plodded our way up the switchbacks, scaling rocks and the occasional fallen tree, for the two miles that led to the nearly five-thousand-feet high peak. We never really thought about giving up or turning around. Our goal was to reach the top as quickly as possible. But we did stare at our shoelaces a good bit of the time.
My always observant wife was the first to perceive that the view looking down never changes. She said, “If we take it slower, maybe we can lift our heads and enjoy the scenery a little more.” She was right. So we slowed down and in the process began to look around. It was then we observed the changing ecosystem around us, the trees transitioning from tall, skinny pines to hardier hardwoods. We saw the mountainside ablaze with blooming rhododendron and mountain laurel.
There were mating woodpeckers, soaring hawks riding the warm updrafts from the valley below, and the most wonderful rock formations along the ridge above our heads. All of these we would have remained oblivious to, had we kept our heads down racing only for the top.
This patient, stop-and-smell-the-roses pace also prepped us for the view from the peak. Rather than taking a few family pictures and running back down the trail to our waiting air-conditioned SUV, we sat down on top of that ancient rock and breathed in our surroundings. We picked out other prominent peaks erupting in the distance. We spotted little mountain towns we had driven through just hours earlier. We collected a few rocks. We had a snack, drained our water bottles and rested our sore muscles. It was perfect, and made possible simply by slowing our pace and lifting our heads.
Speaking of mountains, Max Lucado once said that only America would have a place named Mt. Rush-More, so busy are the lives we lead. It’s hard to disagree with him, because most of us fall into this trap. The youngest child among us now plays three sports while taking piano, art, and karate lessons all while trying to stay on the honor roll. The “stay-at-home-mom” never has opportunity to stay or be at home for shuttling children, juggling volunteer obligations, and tending to church responsibilities. The seasoned executive is running two companies, serving on four boards, and missing his appointment with his cardiologist.
We all lace up our boots, put down our heads, and attack our schedules in a cloud of dust and perspiration, unconscious it seems, that there is no medal or reward for getting to the top of the mountain first. The reward is the trail itself, and what it reveals along the way. My wife’s counsel is some of the best you will ever hear, so plant it in your heart: If you take it slower, maybe we you can lift your head and enjoy the scenery a little more.