Reflections on the spiritual aspect of trails.
by Stuart Macdonald, Trail Consultant, American Trails
This is the time of year that most of the world celebrates life, the passing of the old, birth and rebirth. In our country, amid the holiday hoopla, we also seek the spiritual connection that is at the heart of our religious traditions. For many of us, that includes a brisk walk under the bare trees in the wan winter light, or braving the slopes to feel the crunch of snow and a glimpse of distant hills. From frozen meadows to salty sandscapes, this season is a time to be with people we love while savoring our beautiful natural world.
This is also a good time to reflect on the spiritual dimension of trails and pathways. There are so many ways that people find a sense of joy and renewal on trails of many kinds. Whatever the terrain or type of trail, there is that sense of anticipation, of looking ahead. And that reminds us how in every season of human existence, we still see glimmers of hope, and the light of joy ahead of us.
Ian Bradley, who wrote Pilgrimage: a spiritual and cultural journey, notes that the number of Europeans making pilgrimages is steadily rising, even as church attendance has slipped. “Many people, uncomfortable about sitting in pews and uneasy with institutionalized religion, find it easier to walk rather than talk their faith,” he writes.
For at least a thousand years, pilgrims have walked the Way of St. James (El Camino de Santiago) to reach the cathedral dedicated to St. James at Santiago de Compostela. There are many other pilgrimage trails from Turkey to Tibet where people seek a spiritual connection. In Japan, the pilgrimage route around the island of Shikoku reaches 88 Buddhist temples and sacred places. In New Mexico, pilgrims walk a few hundred yards or a hundred miles to reach El Santuario de Chimayo during Easter week.
Many of you will have seen the Associated Press story about the “Gospel Trail” in Israel. The 39-mile hiking route runs from Nazareth across the hills and through Jewish and Arab towns. The project was supported by the Israeli Tourism Ministry to help visitors have a more intimate journey through Biblical landmarks and landscapes.
Another interesting exploration of spirituality is Ronald Bearwald’s “Twenty life lessons of the trail.” He writes about the serenity and rigors of trails that put us in touch with our own capabilities and sensibilities. (ATM Spring 2010 Issue)
We wish you all a happy holiday season, and joy at the end of your own pilgrimage!
— Stuart Macdonald and the American Trails staff
Trails are an important resource, but sadly we are increasingly seeing trails abused by littering and vandalism. American Trails has created a packet to teach kids to be great trail stewards so the next generation of trail lovers can help lead the way towards better care for our trails.
Promoting physical activity among children and adults is a priority national health objective in the United States. Regular physical activity lowers the risk of chronic diseases and is an important strategy for reversing the obesity epidemic.
A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the creation of nature-rich urban environments, including schoolyards with natural play spaces and gardens, can help improve physical and mental health, cognitive skills, creativity, and social bonding.
The phenomena of thru-hiking has been on a dramatic rise, spurring hikers to venture onto increasingly remote and challenging trails over extended periods of time. Despite the recent popularity of thru-hiking, the field remains relatively unstudied. In recreation, the expectations held beforehand have been linked to perceptions after an activity, but this has not been explored in thru-hiking.