Originally published in the Manchester Journal on April 19, 2017

By Cherise Madigan


DANBY — In the midst of a holy weekend, it can be difficult for the less denominational among us to connect with a deeper spirituality.

For the multitudes of worshippers that find solace in prayer, faith is often more easily found. For others, kneeling in the pews can provide more questions than answers.

For me, nature provides nearly limitless sources of spiritual enlightenment. This is particularly pronounced in the springtime, when new life abounds in the wake of frozen earth. This concept is reflected in the Christian celebration of rebirth on Easter, the Jewish celebration of Passover, and the Pagan observation of the Spring Equinox.

In seeking my own opportunities for wooded-worship, I often look to terrain that will awe me in its pastoral beauty, challenge my brain with the occasional obstacle, and force me to slow down enough to contemplate inward. This week, Danby’s Baker Peak trail within the Green Mountain National Forest’s Big Branch Wilderness fit the bill.

Spring hiking can be very difficult for a number of reasons. Many of us are guilty of some level of winter hibernation, and there is no better reminder of lapsed fitness than a steep trail. Additionally, excessive mud and roaring waters can present further frustration.

Make sure to wear plenty of light layers, and take precautions to prevent exposure to ticks.

For almost three miles, the trail ascends steadily upward becoming rockier as one approaches the peak. Along the way, there is no dearth of slippery stream crossings and challenging climbs to keep you entertained.

Upon reaching Baker Peak, hikers are rewarded with a stunning view of the underlying valley while perched atop the rocks.

Descending from the peak, my body ached more than anytime in recent memory. I was tired, out of shape, and clumsy. As happens in such a state, there were many frustrating slips and trips on the hike down. This too, serves as a reminder of where each of us have room to grow. This can be taken at face value in a purely physical context, or extrapolated to deeper deliberation.

It is not merely our stronger moments that shape us, but moreso the moments in which we challenge ourselves to the fullest that shed light on who we want to become.  

While hiking can pose a formidable physical challenge, I would argue that the mental struggle and endurance inherent to the sport is even more rewarding.

For me, those hours or moments spent in the forest allow me to connect with the earth, wax philosophical, and connect with my own spirituality in a way that is inaccessible in more traditional spaces of worship.

In the spring, the prospect of rebirth or reinvention is reflected so powerfully along the every twist and turn of the trail that it becomes difficult to avoid contemplating one’s own growth.


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