It was a great morning. Fluffy omelets, multiple refills of rich dark coffee, and a chance to reconnect with old friends under tropical skies. I’d been on the road for the last few months before finally landing in Maui. Meeting a couple of other displaced mountain dwellers for breakfast got me thinking about the oddly comforting experience of meeting old friends in new places. I’d been feeling cast adrift lately and it felt good to find an anchor, a familiar connection to the known, in a place of so many unknowns.
Breakfast was over, and I felt sad to leave my friends. But it was time to head out onto the trail… Makawao Forest Reserve on the east face of the volcano. Climbing ever higher on an unvarying slope, a tunnel of indecipherable tropical greenery looms around me… It’s beautiful, but it all seems so hard to connect with, so alien.
Vibrant red mud squooshes out from underneath my soles as I plod ever upward, somewhat unsure if I want to continue. Before I can turn around, the canopy opens up above me, the slope evens out slightly and a meadow appears out of nowhere. At my feet a small plant with serrated bright green leaves catches my eye. Suddenly, I realize that I am looking at an old friend… Blackberries! There’s a whole ripe hedge here!
After a quick flash of warm recognition, (and wolfing down quite a few berries) I start to look around me and realize that a decent percentage of the incomprehensible ‘wall of green’ I had been wandering through are really just old friends…
Fiddlehead ferns, taller than any we have in the high country, dominate the meadow, just unfurling their broad spans from tightly curled bundles on the tops of stalks. Pines tower on the edges of the clearing (planted on Maui to serve as ship’s masts), Blueberry’s close cousin the Nene berry is sprouting up all around, and the sharp sweet smell of eucalyptus leaves rises from the forest floor. With a sudden grin of renewed confidence I have all the energy I need continue my exploration. The recognition of familiar plant friends has somehow made the challenge of connecting with new ones far less daunting.
Looking back, I have to laugh at myself- I realize that I had been given the same lesson in two different ways.
Feeling so adrift, I had forgotten that there is always a seed of the familiar in everything -if we care to look past the obvious differences.
Reaching out and finding a way to connect with your old friends, the knowns, the commonalities, helps you create a bridge to the unknown. Looking for ways to connect with “old friends” (human, plant, or informational, etc) can help you find a foothold in new territory, make things more comprehensible and give you the confidence to explore an entirely new world. This works not only when traveling or on trail, but applies in just about every disorientingly new experience we have in life.