On the Trails: Reminded of nature’s beauty through a child’s eyes

My wife, Heather Buckner, and I welcomed our first child into our lives last year. I have watched my baby say her first words, take her first steps and discover every detail of the world around her. It has been the great joy of my life.

Granted, it is a conflicted joy. Many people around the world are suffering, our families are thousands of miles away and our nation seems as divided as ever. So it can be hard to escape what has been a difficult year for so many.

However, it is in times like these that it is especially important to take time to appreciate the things we do have.

A shade after Luna’s first birthday, the pandemic insisted that we have our first Thanksgiving ever without extended family. Though our traditional segment of discussing our thanks was a bit more bittersweet than usual this year, it was easy to find things for which to be grateful while walking off the turkey after dinner.

Dangling from her carrier in the crisp evening air, my baby pointed excitedly at every tree we passed. When we walked over to one, she rubbed the bark and smiled. “Tee,” she said (maybe) and giggled.

It is in these moments that life feels normal, even hopeful.

In the first year of her life, baby Luna has gotten to see crashing waterfalls, staggering vistas, towering pines and pristine bogs. This summer, when we were rounding a corner of the Bicentennial Trail on Mount Ascutney, we saw a porcupine scuttle up a tree a few feet away from us. We were so close that even baby Luna — whose big blue eyes could barely focus — got a chance to study it lumber up each branch. I like to think that she was wondering why the spiky kitty was climbing up a “tee” to get away.

Most of the cherished memories of our baby’s first year have been outside along the trails I have the privilege of building and maintaining in the Upper Valley. Trails, to me, have always been a place of catharsis and joy. We are lucky to live in an area with an abundance of them.

No matter our age, social status or financial situation, trails are where we can venture safely despite a pandemic. Trails are where we can meet friends at a respectful distance to reconnect. Trails are where we can make priceless memories with our newborn child when the rest of the world seems far away and inaccessible.

In my current role with the Upper Valley Trails Alliance and after 10-plus years in similar positions, perhaps I have grown a little numb to the beauty of our natural surroundings. Particularly in the Upper Valley, where we are fortunate to have calendar-worthy scenes around every curve, it is easy to take these things for granted. That’s why it is imperative to occasionally see the world through someone else’s eyes — especially if they belong to a newborn baby seeing natural beauty for the first time.

Written by Sean Ogle and published in the Valley News on December 4th, 2020