When you see me and my friend coming up the narrow mountain trail, most of you put on your masks. If I ask, sometimes telling you that my friend has asthma, you willingly oblige or cover your face with your T-shirt, or even step off the trail to let us by. And then there’s the few who are totally oblivious.
I appreciate that most of you are more than willing to show respect to us, two women in our 70s. But I wonder if you’re asking each other: If she’s so worried, why is she on the trail? Why doesn’t she stay home and do what seniors are supposed to do: play cards, watch TV, knit, bake cookies, talk to your grandchildren on the phone or cuddle with your cat? I know there’s some resentment because my 18-year-old nephew confirmed that he knows teens who run on the trails, three or four abreast, without masks, carrying the defiant attitude that older people shouldn’t be out.
But why should I be not be able to do what I love because you won’t wear masks? I’ve been hiking these trails for more than 40 years. All winter long I look forward to getting up to the alpine lakes, seeing the waterfalls along the way, the steep hillsides of blue harebells, purple monkshood and Indian paintbrush. Every year I wonder if I can make it up to the high mountains again. I can’t go as far as I did when I was younger, can’t make it to the top of the pass or the farthest lakes. I go slower now and breathe with some difficulty; I try to ignore the aches and pains that I never had when I was in my 20s.
Even though COVID-19 should keep me at home, I need more than ever to be on those mountain trails. It’s not just to flee the horrors of the pandemic, the cruelties in our social and political culture or the threat of climate change. Like others that I see crowding the trails now, I seek the comforts of nature—the song of birds, the antics of chipmunks, the wildness of the tallest peaks. But unlike younger people, I’m measuring the time I have left. How many more years can I ford the streams, climb over the rocks, withstand the strong winds and cold temperatures at high altitudes? How many more years will my heart pump efficiently enough and my legs stay strong enough to endure these rocky trails that I once climbed so easily and thoughtlessly?
So, dear young people on the trail, I don’t want to inconvenience you, force you to wear masks when you feel perfectly strong and healthy. I’m willing to take some risk in order to keep doing what I love. All I’m asking is for your understanding. You won’t always be young and strong. Some day, you’ll be struggling up the trail and, like me, unwilling to give up on what you love to do.