For more than probably 100 years, this old tree has seen every walker or runner that traveled to the top of Tunnel Mountain. Its twisted shape and worn skin are evidence of a life of exposure to the dry west winds of the summer and the harsh west winds of the winter.
Last week I saw my ghosts, at least a few of them. I was hiking up Tunnel Mountain in Banff and my ghosts from the past kept passing me. They didn’t look much like I used to, but they were behaving exactly the same as I once did.
These days my old body forces me to trudge along at a pace that is comfortable to me. The consequence of this is that I tend to stop often when climbing up hills and mountains to take a breather and let my heart slow down. These are the moments for looking around, both nearby and far away, and taking in the moment for what it is worth to me. Sometimes I take out my camera and set up for a photo. I tend not to take grab shots these days; you know, the photographs where you hold out your point-and-shoot camera or iPhone with one hand a snap something of interest. I usually use a tripod and spend time exploring possibilities before pressing the shutter.
My ghosts, on the other hand, were focussed on working their bodies hard to run to the top and then down again. Their guide wasn’t a view, but rather a timer that measured how short a time one could achieve the up and down circuit of the mountain. That really was me back in the day when I needed to keep a high level of running strength, speed and endurance for my soccer refereeing. Head down, feeling the pain from time to time and always conscious of the timer on my wrist. I enjoyed my running in those days.
My ghosts on this recent day in the mountains were young, fit people out for their daily training run - men and women alike. Part of me wished I could join them and put my mind back into that focus on fitness, but no, that is no longer possible, at least not to do it at their level.
I think we all have a time for what we do in our lives and I, for one, have let go of my ego with respect to a competitive level of fitness. My fitness these days is based on survival, for I am keenly aware that an appropriate level of fitness is a key to longevity. Fit-body-fit-mind still prevails, but these days my pace of fitness is done with respect for my joints, tendons, and muscles which aggressively signal me when I abuse their capability.
As I watched my ghosts and other walkers on the mountain that day I noticed that not many paid attention to Tunnel Mountain itself. Most people are up there for the the great views of the valley, the exercise, and the personal record of achievement. All worthwhile things and certainly why I first climbed to the top. Now, I like to take the time to notice my immediate surroundings while walking up and down the mountain. The weathered bark on the old but stunted trees, the seasonal changing ground cover, the miracle of trees that seem to grow out of solid rock all are now part of my purview.
Every time I’m out in such places I see my ghosts and they remind me of good times past, but I quickly return to the present and what I can make of everything right now with my body of today. Each time in my life seems to have its own value.