Hiking Sandals on Chenille Sweater
A Nebulous Number of Days of Atomity and Memory
Falling in My Footsteps
I remember reading long ago that humans are born with two innate fears – those of loud sounds and of falling, both of which are instincts necessary for the survival of our species. These are particularly strong inclinations in my case as I’m excessively sensitive to noise and have a somewhat debilitating fear of heights. My issue with elevations has been a contributing factor to my always having been a cautious hiker. Walking along ledges, being near cliffs, or going down steep inclines are rather stressful for me. But, I also have poor depth perception, something I wasn’t aware of until I had to complete a company medical for my first full-time job in one of Canada’s largest retailers. I passed the medical, but was advised I would never be allowed to operate a meat slicer. I wasn’t sure why that was relevant as I was applying for a job in a bookkeeping capacity. Nevertheless, my dreams of ever being a meat slicing supervisor were dashed forever.
But besides the depth perception dysfunction making me a guarded trekker of woods, trails, and other outdoor spaces in nature, it has also made the urban areas of Toronto hazardous for me. In fact, a few years ago, I had three bad tumbles in one year that started me thinking considerably about falling.
The first of this triplet of spills occurred while jogging on the boardwalk along the shore of Lake Ontario. It was at a time when, during the warmer months of the year, I would head out on Sunday mornings, barrel down the decline of the south end of Bathurst Street, veer onto the edge of the lake, and run at a respectable clip for anywhere between forty-five minutes to an hour-fifteen. Then I’d come home, do a quick change, and head to the gym for a cardio combat class. At this time in my life, it’s hard for me to comprehend how brutal I was on my body, especially considering the Sunday run and combat class was only one of five cardio workouts a week I did in addition to teaching three yoga classes.
But one of those serene Sunday mornings, I was trotting along the boardwalk and I started contemplating contacting a soul partner with whom I had ended things years earlier. The next thing I knew my toe caught the edge of a plank that was slightly raised above the others, and I went into what felt like a slow-motion airborne spiral. My body instinctively twisted so that when I landed on the boardwalk, I was on my side and the main points of contact had been on the fleshy parts of my arm and leg.
Normally, at that hour and day of the week, the area was barely populated and there was never, ever anyone in the water. But on this particular day, there was a small boat with a man and a young boy steering towards the boardwalk. It was as if the universe was bringing them to a spot where they could catch me should I roll into the lake. In fact, had I tumbled just a few more feet, I surely would have landed in the tiny vessel. Instead, I came to a stop just close enough to scare the living daylights out of the two flabbergasted observers. I quickly hopped to my feet, screamed out that I was okay (though they hadn’t said anything yet), and although feeling slightly battered, I continued on with my jog. Needless to say, I never did connect with my ex-partner. The message had come through loud and clear. I did, however, ever-so-obsessively still attend my Body Combat class, bruised body and all.
My next two falls were not quite as dramatic. One occurred several months later when the Toronto International Film Festival was in full swing. As was often the case, I was dashing from one screening venue to another, crossing Metro Square (now known as David Pecaut Square), not paying attention to things coloured brightly to warn pedestrians to be cautious. I stumbled over one of those black and canary cable protectors intended to prevent people from tripping over electrical wires, which in this case, were part of the set up near the red-carpet area where throngs gathered at different times of the day to snap pictures of celebrities in town for the festival.
This time I suffered a few cuts and scrapes as I fell hard on concrete. At least one person, possibly two (I can’t remember), hastened to my side and asked if I was hurt. But like the last time, I sprang up and insisted I was fine, and I then rushed to the Princess of Wales Theatre. However, I noticed I was bleeding so, once inside the theatre, I asked one of the ushers if they had a first aid kit close at hand and they quickly and kindly tended to my minor wounds.
My third tumble that year occurred late the following spring when I was rushing to work. I had descended the streetcar at the extremely busy intersection of King Street and University Avenue. As per usual, throngs of suburbanites who had descended at Toronto’s central railway station, Union Station, were whizzing past me in the opposite direction when the toe of a particularly stylish pair of pointed flats caught a raised bit of sidewalk and sent me plummeting forcefully to the ground. I was in a state of shock – not just from the solid impact, but also because I had fallen for the third time in less than a year. What the hell, I was asking myself as I lay there stupefied. And to add insult to injury, no one, not a single commuter, not a single Toronto native, stopped to ask if I needed assistance. Some people even stepped over me, without a bat of an eye, so they wouldn’t lose even a second of time on their rush to work. Really?
The miraculous thing about all of these wipeouts was that, despite the impressive contact with which I greeted the ground in each instance, I came out minimally unscathed, physically speaking. But, particularly after that third fall, I was propelled into more profound self-examination. Yes, I suffered from poor depth perception, but the affliction had been with me for decades and, before that year, I couldn’t remember the last time I had fallen. I intuited that the universe was trying to tell me something, but I wasn’t sure what the message was. Was I afraid of moving forward in my life? Was my life too fast-paced, and did I need to slow down? Was I going in the wrong direction in more ways than one? The answer was probably a combination of all of the above.
There were large portions of my life that were discordant, but I wasn’t sure how to make my way back to a place of harmony and resonance with the universe. One of the first measures I took in search of insights was to a yoga retreat in central Puerto Rico, deep within its lush rain forest. One of the scheduled activities on the agenda was a hike to a remote waterfall, and being an urbanite, I didn’t have suitable footwear for that kind of a trek. So, I purchased a pair of ruby red KEEN hiking sandals, as had been recommended in the information package we had received for the retreat. As it turned out, these hiking sandals weren’t ideal on slippery surfaces, and I had to rely on the assistance of a dashing, sweet, and helpful fellow retreater to get past some of the more slick parts of the path leading us to the stunning waterfall in Utuado.
Upon returning to Toronto after that first yoga retreat, I noticed the way I walked was different. My pace was much slower, I was considerably more observant of the environment around me, and I just felt a sense of ease, even with the rest of the world still rushing around me. That all stayed with me for a very long time, but I eventually returned to my quicker gait and I once again became oblivious to many of the wonders around me in my every day world. But at least I now recognized how doing such retreats or just getting into nature were vital to my spiritual, mental, and physical health if I was going to continue to live in Canada’s largest urban centre.
I hadn’t worn the hiking sandals since that trip to the remote eco resort in one of the most unspoilt landscapes I’ve ever been graced to visit. But very recently, I pulled out the sandals to wear on a trail hike about a half hour outside of Toronto. The forest floor was a rich red clay and the path was, for the most part, dry and easily traversable. But we came to an incline that was steep and my antennae went up. But there were small trees to which I could cling on the descent, so I moved forward and downward, still with trepidation. Unfortunately, we misjudged how damp the ground was and I soon found myself sliding uncontrollably towards the bottom of the hill. I couldn’t grasp the trees fast enough to halt my skid, so I instinctively let my butt drop to the ground. I slid on my rump until I finally stopped. Yet once again, I was fortunate not to be hurt, except for my pride. My legs, an arm, and the back of my shorts were caked with mud. For the rest of the walk other hikers kept commenting on my muddy appearance, but, oh, well.
Later that day, the memory of the mud slide triggered some pondering, mostly because I read much more into experiences than most people I know – I’ve just learned to pay attention, especially when I haven’t been paying attention, like about how slippery the earth was or why I decided to wear hiking sandals that had let me down in the past. But sometimes a fall is just a fall, or should I say, a slide is just a slide. And maybe the only lesson in my recent experience was simply to laugh at myself, to giggle with my trusty hiking companion, and to be grateful that my body and spirit are still resilient enough to bounce back from life’s literal ups and downs.