Monday, June 12, 2017

June's Column: On Hiking to Horse Rock and Not Waiting for Perfection

There’s beauty to be found in life’s imperfections

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
JUNE 11, 2017

“The mountain meadows are full of flowers,” my son Ben told me, setting his backpack on a kitchen chair. “You would love them.”

He had just returned from a Saturday outing to Horse Rock, directly east of our house at a high point in the foothills.

Until he graduated from Oregon State University last year, Ben seldom had time to relax. But this past year, as a graduate student researching combustion, he had more time and finances to indulge his love of hiking, camping, backpacking, canoeing, and all things of nature and the outdoors.

Often, he gathered a few siblings and friends for a quick hike to Horse Rock. “Someday I want to go with you,” I would say. In the moment, though, I was always too busy, too committed elsewhere, and most of all too out of shape.

“Is it a tough hike?” I asked.

“Not too bad,” the kids said. “It’s a few miles, but it’s not that hard.”

“Is it a lot of ‘up’?”

“Well, yeah, kind of. But it’s not terribly steep. And there are lots of good places to stop and rest.”

When you’re a perfectionist, you wait to try something until you’re sure you’ll do it well. In reality, if you make life a choice between perfection or nothing, you’ll mostly end up with nothing. We are only human, after all, living in a flawed world. Putting off the attempt because we won’t do it well often means we’ll never do it at all.

“Growth mindset,” my kids remind me. It’s not about innate talent, like my sister-in-law Bonnie’s knack for baking, particularly beautiful, creamy, consistent cheesecakes that are the best I’ve ever seen or tasted. It’s about overcoming, learning, growing, letting go and having fun.

My cheesecakes seldom turn out well, so I stick with cakes and pies.

Limes were three for a dollar a few weeks ago at Grocery Deals, my friend Heidi’s discount store in Harrisburg. Suddenly hungry for a key lime dessert, I bought nine limes, went home, found a recipe, and recklessly made a lime cheesecake.

It wasn’t as perfect as Bonnie’s cheesecakes, but that was OK. It was still smooth, rich, just tart enough, and best of all, uncracked across the top. So I went a little crazy and made two more. It was fun.

If you move beyond a perfection-or-nothing mindset, you end up with something. Even a flawed something is far better than nothing at all.

I walked on a treadmill several times a week all through the wet spring. When the weather improved, I walked to the railroad tracks and back every day. But I still didn’t feel ready for a hike in the mountains with my athletic young-adult kids.

It was the promise of wildflowers that pushed me to say yes. They would soon be gone, and I, still waiting for perfect fitness and readiness, would miss them entirely.

That Sunday morning, I packed a large Crock Pot of baked chicken plus three Tupperware containers of cupcakes for the Sunday school picnic. Then, expectantly, I packed in hiking clothes as well. Ben said he’d take his hiking poles, just for me.

After the morning service and lunch in the Brownsville Pioneer Park, five of our kids, three of their friends and I got into two cars and headed east to the road that threads southward on the backside of the hills we see from our house. “Then you make a 135-degree turn off the gravel road and onto the driveway,” Ben the engineer directed me.
All the "kids"--Emily, Amy, and Joy-from-Thailand in front.
Ben,Steven, Jenny, Travis Miller, and Javen Bear in back.

We parked, got out and started off, past a wire barrier to motorized vehicles and up a path through a young forest.

The path kept going up. And up.

The long-legged young men in our group walked effortlessly, relaxed and loose-limbed. The much-shorter young ladies kept up with them, marching steadily.

The trail continued upward. My legs ached, and soon I was sure everyone could hear my labored breathing in the quiet forest.

“Are we almost there?” I puffed to my daughter Emily, who stayed with me.

She looked shocked. “We’ve barely begun!”

Oh dear.

I apologized for coming along and holding up the group.

“Growth mindset, Mom,” Emily reminded me, meaning that it was OK for me to go hiking even if I wasn’t good at it.

What a liberating idea.

The perfect ideal of keeping up with the group was obviously not an option, nor did I have to quit entirely. I chose a good-enough in-between. “Listen. You guys go ahead. I’ll come at my own pace.”

Ben said, “Are you sure? I don’t mind staying with you.”

“I’ll be fine. Really. As long as the trail is easy to follow.”

He said it was and, after a bit more reassurance, the others took off, and I was alone with the firs, sword ferns and filtered sunlight, with time, wonder and gratitude. I could rest as often and wheeze as noisily as I pleased.

Step by step, over small logs, around curves, slowly up and up.

The others waited for me at the beginning of the high meadow, and we posed for pictures at the edge, where layers of mountains curved away behind us, into the south. The kids included me in the photos as though I belonged, and then they all took off for Horse Rock, which lay like a dark mane on the slope a mile away.
Me, Jenny, Joy [Amy's friend from Thailand], Amy, Steven, Emily, Ben
The flowers were as lovely as Ben had said, bright purples and oranges against the sunny green. I wandered along the path, admiring and trying to catch their colors in photos.
I made it to that big rock in the center, which is a lot farther than it looks.
I didn’t make it to Horse Rock itself, but I made it to a large outcropping halfway there before I turned back and hiked down, down, down, over logs and around trees, through the refreshing shade, back to the car, where I rewarded myself with a leftover chocolate cupcake and rested until the others returned.
I made it this far!

My reward.

“Besides growing legs a foot longer, how do I prepare myself to hike all the way to Horse Rock?” I asked our son Steven the next day.

“Compared to a lot of people, you’re in superb condition,” he said. “And the important thing is: You went on the hike!”

I like Steven.

Whether it’s decorating a room, writing a novel, baking a cheesecake or going on a hike, if I wait to try it until I’m fully prepared, and make it a choice between perfection or nothing, I’ll most likely end up with nothing.

“Something” is much better than nothing, and a lot more rewarding and fun. Against a wide and tranquil green, the mountain meadow flowers bloom all orange and purple for anyone who shows up, equally generous to those who arrive in half an hour and those who take half the afternoon, propelled by borrowed hiking poles and laborious breathing.

If that determined old lady can hike, anyone can.
It's about the beauty all around you,
not about how you look getting there.
[photo credit: Joy]

More wildflowers--on Mary's Peak, three days later.


  1. Thank you! I'm an old out-of-shape lady too, who often waits for perfection and then ends up with nothing. Not anymore! I'm just going to do things; because done, with a happy memory or two, seems to be a lot better than nothing to me. Great job on hiking so far and getting to see the glories of God in nature.

  2. Nice job getting out there and enjoying the journey! Glad the destination wasn't so important to you as the experience, or else we wouldn't get the privilege of reading this lovely post. (Love your cupcake reward. My kind of way to finish a hike. :) )

  3. You tell such good stories.

    I love the pictures on this post too - the amazing wildflowers and mountains, the determination all over your posture in the picture Joy took, and most of all, the cupcake on your nose. :)

  4. Very nice pictures and a very nice accomplishment.

  5. You are wonderful Dorcas! I love reading your honest, and funny, meaningful words! Thank you!x