Why I Hugged A Stranger Today


by gretchenscutts — Jul 26, 2010

A wildersness encounter between two disparate hikers.


Gretchen S. Cutts

Note: This is about an experience I had at a timberline trailhead in the Sugarloaf National Recreation Area of Wyoming’s Snowy Range, Medicine Bow National Forest. I am the fat old woman, and the events and thoughts are as I experienced them. I’ve created thoughts for the very real young woman.

The Young Woman Reflects
Fat old woman, you made me cry. I came up here to this beautiful July sky place to muddle through my dilemma, to sort things out, and I DID. I walked until my legs were rubbery, up and up this mountain, only thinking, not looking up from my feet as I watched them trudge one-by-one upwards on the trail; rocks were my only ‘view.’

I sat on one of the huge rocks by the glacier just above timberline, settling in to my purpose by raising my eyes from my feet to my surroundings, absorbing the sights and sounds of the newly thawed glacier-clear water heading downhill, no thoughts at all in my head at first, then thinking, until the long-sought perspective, the solution to my dilemma, came. Finally, ready and relaxed, I enjoyed my sack lunch and the rest of the panorama before me.

Problem solved, fed, smiling and feeling lightweight, I metaphorically danced down the mountain. On the way, stopping many times to relish the views of my amazing surroundings in detail, I noticed this time as I passed them, the distant snow-capped peaks and the pool-blue sky against which backdrops were painted early afternoon’s cottony soft white clouds and the glacial waters scurrying downhill. I saw a ptarmigan, a pika; and, I picked a huge bouquet of wildflowers; columbine, rose crown, daisies, cinquefoil, penstemon – a dozen kinds of wildflowers, not thinking, just because I was so happy, so released. My decision was finally made, I was headed in a new life-direction and eager to make the painful break needed in order to begin again. It felt wonderful!

And, fat old woman, there you were, almost at trail’s end. You said to me “Oh dear, those flowers will never set seed now. There won’t be nearly as many next year.” I involuntarily burst into tears, instantly regretting the impulse, the lapse that caused me to kill these flowers; I was indulging my own joy selfishly, inappropriately. Of course you were right; I could as easily have lingered among these flowers, or taken photos, as pick them.

Our hug was spontaneous, unplanned. Thank you dear fat old woman, for the reminder. It’s been a truly wonderful day.

The Old Woman Reflects
Fat old woman, you made that young girl cry. Yes, you care about the flowers, about obeying laws, and about next year’s flower supply. All of that. But didn’t your outburst actually come from resentment, from jealousy, from the mourning for your life now almost spent while she still has so many options? Just because you were dwelling on your aging, spent knees and inability to bound on the mountainside any longer, as she was doing, because you’re now confined to the parking lot and the base of the trail, gives you no right to tie into her that way.

But – she picked too many flowers! I used to pick just one for every twenty growing! I was thoughtful of the place and next year, while she was not!

What smugness; it’s her turn. Be content with being here, today, with camera, near the parking lot. Concentrate on the warm sun on your back and contrasting cool breeze in your face, the blue and white sky, bright flowers, spectacular scenery; all these are not only in your camera, but compounded many times over in your memory, from today and from all the past visits. There are many others who would rejoice to be in your own shoes.

Dear young woman, it’s your turn. Have a great life. And thank you for the hug.

It’s been a truly wonderful day.