On Taking the Wrong Path Again

In January I went hiking with a friend in Hillsborough River State Park (north of Tampa, Florida). It had rained the night before, so some of the trails were flooded. We enjoyed seeing the transition from winter to the beginnings of spring in Florida. The Bald Cypress along the river were still leafless, while the maples and sweet gum were just starting to open their buds. Part of the time we went slow and didn’t talk so we could pay attention to everything around us—just taking it all in—a walking meditation.

When it was time to head back to our car, we missed the trail that led to the parking lot. We kept going for about ten minutes until I realized we must have passed the correct trail. As we back-tracked, mentally I switched into self-critical mode and started thinking about how I seem to have a habit of taking the wrong path—it’s an old, familiar pattern. And often, I find myself surrounded by people who judge me for taking so many of what they judge to be “wrong turns.” I often agree with them: I hate the wrong turns, the distractions, the dead ends. I hate that sometimes I can’t seem to make myself do the normal things other people seem to find easy to do. I’m ashamed of my mistakes and that sometimes I just can’t get with the program.

Thankfully, on this day my hiking buddy held no judgments about staying on the “right path.” I realized that I would rather spend more time with people like her than people who think they know what my path should be.

As we walked back toward the correct trail, we met a couple who told us about a large rattlesnake they had just seen. They took us to it and pointed it out. It was only about two feet off of the main path which we had just passed minutes before—easy to miss because its excellent camouflage markings made it nearly invisible. It was a huge Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake with fifteen buttons on its rattle (I counted them in the photo I took). I estimate that it was 3.5 to 4 feet long—the biggest rattlesnake I have seen in several decades! We spent about 20 minutes observing it and taking photos from all angles. Definitely the high point of our morning!

If we had not missed the turn for the correct path, we would have missed this exciting and rare encounter with this snake. In this case, our day was richer because of taking the wrong path. This experience is a good reminder for myself about making mistakes and letting go of agendas and judgments, so I can be fully present to enjoy the unique moments life provides along the journey.

“Walker, there is no path,
the path is made when walking…”
—Antonio Machado

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