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  • Writer's pictureMary Pellerito

Discovering the New in the Familiar

The joy of hiking, for me, is discovering what lies over the next rise.  The view is often familiar and may even be commonplace--the edge of a field, an old oak tree, or an inland lake.   But the familiar views look different in the morning than they do in the afternoon or in the evening.   A hike in familiar terrain looks, sounds, and feels different in each season.  What keeps me tying up my hiking boots or strapping on my snowshoes is the simple joy of discovering something new in the familiar.  

            I am blessed to live in a protected forest preserve with hiking trails out my back door and I am a few minutes’ drive from Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, which offers trails on gently rolling dunes with Lake Michigan ever present in the distance.  As I walk up each rise I am met with more waves of sand.  The paths are not difficult, and I am in a landscape very different from what I expected in northern Michigan.  In the summer, I get more of a Mediterranean feel.  In winter, it feels like the tundra.  The trees are stunted and sparce and low growing grasses help keep the dunes in place.  Hiking up and down waves of sand with no buildings in sight gives me the chance to stretch my legs and my mind.   New ideas start to percolate, and problems become less insurmountable. 


A walk along the lakeshore is not so much about going up and down hills but in experiencing that space where water, sky, and land meet.  I look to the horizon and see the blues of the sky meet the blues of Lake Michigan.  Closer to shore, I watch the rise and fall of waves as they end their journey on the beach.  Ahead of me, the shoreline weaves around cliffs and dunes so rather than see what is over the next rise I look for what is around the next bend.  For a stretch I encounter fine sand beach and then in a bay I find the beach covered in stones.  Storms change the complexion of the beach with parts of trees strewn here and there and Petosky stones and Leland blue stones dredged up from Lake Michigan’s depth.

Winter changes the complexion of my hikes.  With the buildup of snow, the small rises even out and I walk among the snow laden pines and spruces.  The maples and birches are bare, and the oaks often have a few brown leaves holding on.  The forest floor is covered in white snow and footprints of the local wildlife that brave the winter.  I frequently spot deer, rabbit, bobcat, and coyote tracks.  The lakeshore resembles a moon scape with ice built up a story or two in places.  Some years we get ice caves and ice balls where land and water meet.  The sand is frozen solid, and I need to strap metal cleats to my boots to get any traction.  The wind is raw and freezes my eyelashes.  moves on.  It is a treat to be somewhere where you can hear wind move across a landscape.

            The daily or weekly ritual of walking in the woods, among the dunes, or along the lakeshore and looking forward to what awaits my senses over the next rise or around the next bend makes me realize that I am not set in my ways.  I look forward to discovering something new in the familiar without having to cut all ties and start again someplace new.  A new idea or a new way of seeing things may be all that I need, and I can experience something new by opening my senses to the familiar and really paying attention to what is around me and how my environment is changing from month to month, season to season, and year to year.  Some of these changes are subtle, like the change of the sunlight from winter to spring.  Or changes can be dramatic like a storm reconfiguring a landscape. 

I hope I never tire of anticipating what I will experience as I make my way through well explored trails or through life.   My life has not been a straight line from there to here.  I’ve been up and I’ve been down.  Sometimes I have taken the long way round to get to a point but what I experienced on that detour may have been life changing or simply offered a change of perspective.   In my second half of life, I know what hills I am willing to climb and what detours I am willing to take.  I never tire of experiencing the new in the familiar.  So, the next time I make my way to the top of the rise after a struggle, I will take the time to take in what I accomplished and to also take in the beauty that is within and around me.

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