Hearing about the latest mass shooting made me think of Josh.

Josh (not his real name) is a teen-ager. We go to the same gym. I’d seen him around but had never met him. One day we were on adjacent machines and I introduced myself. He told me some about his family, and a recent vacation in which they got lost hiking in the woods. I told him about the vacation we were about to take. He was genuinely interested and asked good questions.

The day after we got back, I was at the gym and so was Josh. He came up to a table where I was drinking water.

“Hey, how was your trip?”

I told him some about it. Again, genuine interest.

It’s terribly sad–beyond sad–when someone masterminds a mass killing such as the one in Colorado. Multiple lives will never be the same. But I wanted you to know about Josh. He’s going to college in 2013. He plays golf when he’s not in school and not at the gym. He’s bright and funny and interested in people other than himself.

Though the killer fills our national news reports, for now, I want to balance that horror with thoughts of a kind soul I’m privileged to know.


The view from Max Patch

I took a walk in the woods yesterday, and the day before and the day before and the day before. Invariably the walk included scrumptious views atop Max Patch, named for a horse named Maximilian. It’s a bald, a word in the Southern Highlands for a mountaintop with no trees.

Tuesday’s hike began from a well-hidden path off our road. It merged soon with the Appalachian Trail, the famous 2,100-mile footpath extending from Georgia to Maine. A hard rain had just come through, and I was fortunate to escape it, though certainly became soaked soon enough. About a mile in, I met a couple from Pennsylvania, Marty and Bob and their two dogs, Rudy and Sam. They were not so fortunate with the rain.

I hiked on, and wished them well. If you ever want to remind yourself how small you are in the universe, hike in deep woods, or stand on top of a bald and soak in the 360-degree view. It’s absolutely humbling, as well as a thing of beauty.

Typical of such ventures, I think of things going on back home. Various friends are in tight spots. I say prayers for them. I wonder about the trees surrounding me, and critters underfoot. I try to avoid falling on the slippery roots. I drink lots of water. My heart races on the inclines.

These are not like our baby hills at home. I get soaked in perspiration.

About two miles in, I came to a sign that was confusing. I saw three paths but what appeared to be four choices on the sign. I knew I wanted to stay on the A.T. Not sure which one it was, I took off reticently. I turned back, hoping that Marty and Bob would come along. They did, and I joined them for the final two miles and took turns calling their dogs back from the fern-covered forest.

I learned that Marty had hiked the whole trail in 1997 and they were down this way on vacation, visiting their daughter in nearby Asheville. I learned that their daughter had once stayed in the very same house we’re renting.

You may find, while hiking in the woods, that you’re small; you’re merely visiting those who make the woods their home. But if you pay attention, you might also see that the Universe provides, sending new friends to point the way.