WHY WE HIKE: A Family History
“Who are you?” asked the little prince, and added, “You are very pretty to look at.”
“I am a fox,” the fox said.
As organizers of the graduate student orientation, my friend Jed and I were serving hot dogs to the incoming class of Memorial University grad students when I first met Heather. She had just flown from sea to sea (YVR to YYT) with all of her belongings (two suitcases’ worth), and was getting to know two of the other women who were about to start the master’s program in ethnomusicology.
That evening, a friend of ours asked Jed and I if we’d help him break the ice with one of the girls at Heather’s table. We laughed and accepted, asking him which one he had his eye on. When he pointed the short-haired woman, I told Jed, “You go talk up the blonde, and I’ll distract the brunette.” Jed was obviously happy with this: “We’ll never fight,” he responded.
During the rest of Gradfest, we spent quite a bit of time with the three new arrivals.
“Come and play with me,” proposed the little prince.
“I cannot play with you,” the fox said. “I am not tamed.”
“Ah! Please excuse me,” said the little prince. But, after some thought, he added: “What does that mean–‘tame’?”…
“It is an act too often neglected,” said the fox. It means to establish ties.”
“‘To establish ties’?”
“Just that,” said the fox. “To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world… If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
What turned out to be our first “real date” took place over a month later, by accident. While enjoying a few pints and listening to The Navigators playing at O’Reilly’s, five of us had agreed to go hiking the next day. The next day’s hangover was tougher on everyone than expected, and only two of us showed up for the hike.
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me–like that–in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
During this hike, we talked about our projects, our dreams, and our aspirations. I mentioned that I studied pilgrimage, which led to a conversation about one of the best-known hikes in the world: the Camino de Santiago.
Three years later, we flew to Spain and walked over 1,000km together on the Camino. Heather and I agreed that we’d do the whole thing by foot – taking cabs, taxis, or buses was out of the question – a form of “cheating.”
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you… One must observe the proper rites…
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours. There is a rite, for example, among my hunters. Every Thursday they dance with the village girls. So Thursday is a wonderful day for me! I can take a walk as far as the vineyards. But if the hunters danced at just any time, every day would be like every other day, and I should never have any vacation at all.”
So the little prince tamed the fox.
We arrived in Santiago almost two months after we’d crossed the mountain range dividing France and Spain.
I asked Heather’s hand in marriage in the plaza in front of Saint James’ Church.
She said yes.
Listening to The Navigators‘ frontman Arthur O’Brien belt out tunes that evening at O’Reilly’s and talking about going on a hangover-curing hike the next day, we never could have imagined what it would lead to our walking the Camino together. Or that this would lead to our getting engaged at the shrine. We also never imagined that we’d end up living in Witless Bay, in Arthur’s grandfather’s house.
But life’s like that.
Amélie’s hike is just a continuation of our walking together.