One time, while sitting on the porch of a hotel room, I saw a snail. As I watched it crawl across the cement I became sort of fixated with it, and how slowly it moved. The snail seemed happy to be a snail, seemed happy to be creeping across my temporary porch, seemed oblivious to how impossibly slow it was going. I wondered how it ever got anything done. I know the eternal joke about snails is that they’re slow, but apparently I had never watched one to see just how slowly they really move. I wondered if that is a depressing speed at which to move. How could you ever have a good outlook about getting anywhere when you move that slow? I watched this snail friend for about fifteen minutes, and the only way I could tell that he made any progress at all is because there was about an inch of slime behind him. His goal seemed to be to get off of the cement and on to the grass, which I assumed probably felt better to a snail than cement. But what’s the plan when he reaches the grass? What a scary place to be for snail friend. He could get stepped on in there. He could get lost. A blade of grass is a tree when you’re so low to the ground. So why did he keep moving toward it?

I’ve been thinking about this snail lately because I started hiking. Don’t worry, I’m not a hiker in the sense that I am good at hiking and I love it and I go all the time because I love exercise and I love the outdoors. I’m a hiker in the sense that I walk around outside next to some mountains. Occasionally I go up these mountains, which results in heavy breathing and occasionally, tears. It’s all very overwhelming for me. I’m constantly slowing down the people that I hike with, which can be embarrassing. Also it’s never fun to get emotional in front of other people, even when the other people are your family and friends. I don’t love physical activity. There, I said it. I mean usually if I’m running, it’s because Disneyland just opened and I’m trying to get to the Peter Pan ride, or because the mall is closing soon and I have things to get from Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus, which are located on opposite sides of the mall. All I’m saying is I need a little motivation to get me to pick up the pace.

But I digress. Despite my lack of affinity for the outdoors, I’ve actually enjoyed hiking. It’s fun to be around nature, as long as nature isn’t a snake or a hornet or a scorpion. I love all of the non-crawling, non-buzzing, non-stinging aspects of nature! Like flowers! They’re beautiful and they smell great and they don’t fly at you. They just sit there being beautiful. Cacti are another beautiful part of nature that just stands still. You have to work at it to get accosted by a cactus. I’ll be honest with you, the actual hiking part is very hard for me. Even when the ground is even and smooth, I have to take breaks. Even when I’m not on an incline, I have to stop and catch my breath. Sometimes when I breathe I sound like one of those very fat bull dogs with strained breath. The two mile hike I went on a couple weeks ago took me an hour and a half to get through. I am not skilled, I am not fast, but like snail friend, I am moving. And I’m learning that there is beauty even in the ugly parts of my journey.

V artsy picture I took of the Superstition Mountains.

The hardest hikes for me are the ones that are uphill. Those are the ones that make me cry and give me panic attacks. It’s hard to keep going when you’re having a panic attack, especially when the direction you’re going is up. My husband is my hero because he never gets annoyed or angry with me. He always just calmly tells me to stop for a minute and slow my breath down. He tells me to turn around and look at how far up the mountain I’ve gone. Sometimes it’s only a few feet from where I was last time I had to stop to catch my breath, and it makes me very frustrated. Sometimes, I feel like screaming because I’m so frustrated. But eventually, after lots of stops and lots of tears, I’m at the top. And that’s where the hike really pays off because that’s where the view is the prettiest. There is so much land, so much beauty, all around me. It’s beauty that I didn’t see or appreciate at all as I was hiking up the mountain. Partly because I had blurred vision on account of the panic attacks, and partly because I was pouting and refusing to look at anything at all. I’m working on that, though.

Me with my husband, posing on the top of a mountain. Pro tip: nobody knows you’ve been crying if you wear sunglasses!

Hiking is a lot like life. It’s hard. It takes work to accomplish anything. Some things are harder for me than they are for others. When I hike with my friends who are in better shape than I am in, I’m always surprised at how understanding they are with me. How they slow down when I need to slow down, and don’t say anything when they know I’m silently crying because it’s hard for me. When things are hard in my life, I don’t want to look around and find the beauty in my situation. I want to cry, eat pizza, and take a nap, and not necessarily in that order. But I know that things are better for me when I take the time to stop and catch my breath, and look around at how far I’ve made it.

What do you do, when you know you’ve got to keep moving because that’s the rule, even when you’re slow? Even if it seems like you’re not going anywhere, even if it takes you the better part of an hour to move a few inches. Sometimes I know what I’m heading for is scary, because what I’m heading for is unknown. My blades of grass are a forest, because I am always laid low. But all of my moving makes a life, and a life is a pretty good thing to make, even if you’re making it on your own like snail friend. And after all the hard stuff, we have proof. Proof that we did it. Proof that we lived. Proof that we moved. Proof that, even when things got scary, we kept going. You’ve got to move to leave your mark. You’ve got to move to show your work. You’ve got to move to leave a slime trail. Sometimes, if it weren’t for my slime trail, I wouldn’t know that I’ve moved at all.

Me, dancing with a non-flying, non-crawling cactus.

We all have hard things to deal with in our lives. Yours probably isn’t hiking, you’re probably an annoyingly great hiker. Maybe you’re studying for a test, or trying to make a certain weight goal so you can compete on a school sports team (is that how school sports work? I don’t know. I was never one to participate in organized sports). Maybe you’re just trying to make it to tomorrow. I know that on some days, I’m thrilled if I can get out of bed and get myself ready. Whatever your mountain is, you can climb it. It’s not going to be easy, and there are times where it won’t be fun. You’ll probably cry, although you probably won’t cry as much as I do (almost no one does). But when you reach the top and look around at all you’ve accomplished, it will be beautiful for you. It will be so beautiful that sometimes it will take your breath away, and not just on account of altitude issues. You just have to keep moving forward like snail friend. Embarking on the journey into the grass, that is the forest, that is life.

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