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  • Maggie Wallem Rowe

Anyone Tramp Mud Through Your Life Lately?

Mention the acronym “LNT” to hikers in the Smokies, and you’ll get a nod of agreement. They know exactly what it means to leave no trace.

But what about our life journeys? Do we want to pass through into eternity without leaving a trace of our presence, an imprint of our influence? And what of those whose impact on our lives has been negative at best or abusive at worst? How do we get those muddy boot prints off our backsides?

2023 has been designated North Carolina’s “Year of the Trail.” Late last week, Haywood County messaged me that two spots had opened for a guided hike on Saturday. Rec department hikes fill quickly, and we’d been on the waiting list all summer for a new trek off the Blue Ridge Parkway. We’d start at Bear Pen Gap and traverse the MST (Mountain-to-Sea Trail.)

Before we could register, though, Mike and I had to sign waivers in blood releasing the county from liability in case a bear joined the hike or we busted a leg or wandered off into the backcountry. More importantly, we had to pinky-swear that we’d read and agreed to the seven “Leave No Trace” principles, a sort of apostles’ creed for the American Hiking Society. .

You’ve probably heard of these. They’re guidelines generated out of sense common to us all and, truth be told, serious hikers seldom violate them:

· Plan ahead and prepare

· Travel and camp on durable surfaces

· Dispose of waste properly

· Leave what you find

· Minimize campfire impacts

· Respect wildlife

· Be considerate of other visitors

When you hike through Appalachian forests and mountain ranges, you’re asked to respect what you find and take only photos and memories, leaving no trace that you’ve passed that way.

Fair enough.

Flanked by two experienced guides, our group trekked single-file, pausing only to admire nature’s garden in late summer: Purple bee balm and split-leaf yellow daises. Edible heal-all, used medicinally for centuries. Wild carrots with their delicate Queen Anne’s lace collars. Showy Chicken of the Woods mushrooms sprouting from dead tree trunks.

"Chicken of the Woods" mushrooms. Our guide said they're delicious!

We were careful to stay on the path to avoid damaging the trail and surrounding ecosystems. I chatted sporadically with fellow hikers but was grateful for the times the group fell into silence, providing time to reflect as we passed beneath the green canopy of leaves. My friend Cheryl, a brilliant Pacific Northwest photographer, author, and naturalist, writes memorably of "watching nature and seeing life."

Nature was my lens on Saturday as I pondered the broader meaning of “leaving no trace.” As a woman in the third trimester of life, I long to make a difference – to leave at least some trace of positive influence on the world before I fly out of time into eternity one day. That day is no longer so very far away.

Most of us feel this way, don’t we? We want to do all the good we can in all the ways we can for as long as we can.

Yet what about those whose impact on us or those we love is negative, the ones who falsely accuse and abuse and refuse to take responsibility for their actions? What are we to do about them? They tramp through our lives leaving destruction in their wake: broken promises, broken relationships, broken people.

I’m thinking of close friends whose spouses vowed to love them for better or worse, and then turned out to be the worse.

Children whose innocence was stolen and their bodies violated by adults who should have protected them.

Women and men betrayed by leaders in a position of trust who were unworthy of that trust.

Muddy boot prints on our backsides.

I have no pat answers, no handy guide to demonstrate how to avoid human predators on our individual journeys.

But we are comforted, our spirits calmed, when we realize that the Lord of creation is also the ultimate Judge of humanity. Nothing escapes His notice. The day will come when every crooked thing will be made straight.

My view last Saturday on the MST.

Every twisted path will lead to our eternal destination when Jesus is our guide.

Every knee will bow.

And that sorrow pressing down on you now? The debilitating disease? The shattered relationship?

“Look! Look! God has moved into the neighborhood, making his home with men and women! They’re his people, he’s their God. He’ll wipe every tear from their eyes. Death is gone for good—tears gone, crying gone, pain gone—all the first order of things gone.” Revelation 21:3-4 MSG

All tears wiped away. Gone, all gone.

LNT. Leaving not a trace.

- Maggie Wallem Rowe, 2023

Maggie Wallem Rowe is a dramatist and Christian speaker who writes from Peace Ridge, her home in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The author of This Life We Share and Life is Sweet,Y’all, Maggie loves to hit the trail with her lifelong hiking partner, Mike, with whom she shares three adult children and six lively grands.

Overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Sunset.


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