I spend a lot of time each week walking mountain trails alone. Pine & Cedar Lakes Trail, a steep trail in the North Casccades, is just five minutes away from an urban center but light-years away from the frenzy. Car drone, from Interstate 5, diminishes with each step up the trail until at some point I cross that invisible line where the sounds of the forest overtake the sounds of the road; a point that inevitably varies based on humidity, cloud cover, and time of day.
I do not understand headphones along a forest path where I want my attention and my senses awake and alert for whatever I meet. So, when sudden pounding greeted me rounding a switchback, my startle reflex kicked in. I looked up and down the trail with one hand on the orange can of pepper spray hanging from my belt. I heard it again. It sounded like footsteps pounding the forest floor. A few runners also use this trail. I chuckled when I finally spotted the piliated woodpecker busily working a dead stump.
Several hundred yards further along the trail, I stopped again, not for a sound but a sight. Nestled at the base of a cedar, I spotted a painted stone. I've walked this same trail for 25 years. I know its rough and smooth places, its crevices and crannies, like one knows the body of a lover. Occasionally, every few months, someone places a painted stone in an inconspicuous spot along the trail.
Often there's an animal painted on the stone, sometimes just a decal. Today, the stone was painted purple and affixed with the decal of a teddy bear and a rabbit. Finding that stone is like finding a diamond buried in dirt or a pearl inside an oyster. It's a sacred moment to bend down and pick it up, then walk with it further along the trail before planting it for someone else to find.
In all these years, I've not discovered who leaves those stones. Although I feel a transcendent connection with them as I imagine an act of uncommon kindness to take the time to find a stone, then paint it, then let it dry, then paint or affix an image to it, then walk it back up this steep trail, and finally find a spot to leave it for me to find.
These painted stones transform a hike into a pilgrimage; the trail through the dark forest into a descent into the darkest parts of myself; there only to find a waiting boon that I stoop to pick-up; a gift enabling me to emerge from the darkness ever renewed; ever faithful that uncommon kindness will meet me again, and again, on this path through the forest of life.
Wonderful thoughts! Thank you for writing this blog post!
I paint stones and hide them on my walks. Sometimes I witness when the stone is picked up by someone. And just seeing the surprised and happy faces of those who find them fills my heart with joy
I love discovering objects, like stones, placed on benches or nestled between wood posts and sand or brush. I run the beach almost daily (for years) here in Huntington Beach, California. Always, I keep an eye out for the displaced or misplaced item. For years, I have been photographing a mystery: abandoned sandals --- footwear, most always found as a pair, on beach and surrounding areas. No owners whatsoever. These findings have come to perplex me as I seek out some kind of meaning, if there is a message or meaning behind these findings.
I have found stones as well. One time, slate gray stones with painted happy faces and or flowers were placed on cement benches and or wood posts along the boardwalk. Who did this? Who knows? Like the abandoned sandals and footwear and with not a soul around, someone is felt to be present, even when I am very much alone on my path.