LEE ANNE GRACE: There’s much to discover in the great outdoors

By Lee Anne Grace

During the past several years I have discovered a place I scarcely knew existed.
Much to my amazement and delight, this destination is limitless in the diversity of adventures I can experience while visiting. The best thing is that you, too, can visit this breathtaking place without making reservations, packing or booking a flight. It’s yours to play in and enjoy whenever you desire. To access this vast, breathtaking world, just walk outside your front door.
I’ve recently experienced many adventures for the first time in my new playground. I’ve gone canoeing, white water rafting, parasailing, cycling, swimming in the ocean, watching the sun rise at dawn while running trails, and seeing countless falling stars while out running at night. I’m just like a kid at Christmas each time I have the gift of experiencing something many others have for a lifetime. I’ve fallen in love with the outdoors.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to go on a hike in the mountains of Tennessee with some dear friends. I have a confession to make. I hadn’t gone on a hike since I was a young child, but I couldn’t imagine a hike being that difficult. For the most part, I was correct about the trek being relatively easy. Most of the distance was smooth, but varied terrain. Upon occasion, the path became treacherous and difficult to see.

Incredible payoff
The first part of our adventure included passing through a field of tall amber grass gently blowing in the breeze. The contrast of the amber grass against the bright green pines was astounding. Because the path was flat and not blocked by obstacles, my attention turned toward the beauty of the surroundings and meaningful conversation with my traveling companions.
After hiking for about an hour we came to a large ravine. My friends paused to survey the steep terrain, then selected a path that zig-zagged down to the bottom. One of my fellow hikers was more experienced at hiking than I was, so I made a point to follow closely in her footsteps. My eyes stayed riveted to her feet and mine. I mirrored her movements as closely as I could, knowing that her experience would get me safely to the bottom without falling.
Our focused navigation during the descent had an incredible pay-off. A stunning waterfall was waiting for us at the bottom of the ravine. As we sat on the rocks beneath the waterfall and drank in the extravagance displayed, I couldn’t help but think how long it had been since another person had laid eyes on this remote waterfall nestled within the hills of Tennessee.
It was tempting to remain at the foot of the waterfall all day, basking in my hiking accomplishments, but it was time to move on. l looked at the bluff high above me, contemplating how I was going to get up there. I didn’t have an alternative, so I climbed very slowly, putting one foot in front of the other. I did backslide several times along the way, but I managed to get back on track. One of my companions noticed I was struggling, so she made a walking stick for me so I would have more support on the climb.
The sense of accomplishment and relief was profound when I crested the ridge. As I looked back over the distance we had covered, I realized I had not only learned a lot about hiking, but about traveling on the varied terrain of this journey we call life. When life is going smoothly, like the flat plains of amber grass, we have the chance to relax and enjoy the trip. When life becomes treacherous, much like the descent into the ravine, we have to take each step carefully. Looking to others to help us through the rough patches makes those trying times not so daunting. It is tempting to let life become stagnant and stay and build a monument to our accomplishments, like I thought about doing at the base of the waterfall, but life will move on and leave us behind if we do so.
I am issuing an invitation to all of you to discover something in the enormous playground of nature that you enjoy doing. Make a date with yourself, and then keep it. The opportunities right outside your front door are endless.

Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for three years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.