A reflection on a Labor Day Weekend Backpacking Adventure on the 29-mile Eagle Rock Loop In Arkansas in The Ouachita National Forest
Greg Tonian, Class of 2017
September 10, 2023
If I were… A Daddy Longlegs. I would wander, Steadfastly, Silently, Through the forest, Up and over rocks, tree trunks, Dew-dappled foliage. My peers and I, A vast army, Keeping watch over our Ouachita wilderness. Fearless, tireless, Oblivious to the clomping of hiking boots from above, Always on the move, Ever searching.
If I were… a warbler. Perhaps a Parula or a Hooded, A Pine or a Magnolia, I would flit cheerfully through the vast canopy, Flashing my brilliant plumage, Trilling sweet love songs, Urging my mate to join me, Sharing my leafy network with all my cousins, Those buzzing, vociferous wrens, Chattering chickadees, Peeping Peewees, And then pausing respectfully, Each time a Pileated Woodpecker shrieks out, Bringing the entire forest to rapt attention, The sound of its staccato call echoing off the canyon walls!
If I were… A mountain. I would thrust skyward, Piercing the clouds. I would drape myself in greenery. Lichens would cling to my outcrops, My flaking epidermis forming a substrate for even more plants. Springs would gush through my sides. Rivulets of water would bathe my flanks, Seeds and spores would germinate, shooting out tendrils. I would willingly give of myself, slowly eroding, losing elevation, Yet gaining in richness as I matured and provided a haven for countless living organisms.
If I were… A stream. I would cut a path, Through rock and loam, Descending the ridge from a hidden rocky cleft, Winding my way through the forest, Joining the river, far below. I would rearrange and polish the rocks in my path, Form waterfalls and pools along the way, And fill the air with water music., Beckoning woodland wanderers, To find comfort and refreshment. Water loving flora and fauna would seek me out, An oasis in this shadowy netherworld.
If I were… A Luna Moth, I would flutter toward the full moon, I would dance in the soft breeze, In a lover’s embrace, United we would rise upward, Rising into the starry dome, Then letting go, I would spiral earthward, My life’s work complete, Talons would pierce the darkness and then my heart, My wings would fall like confetti to the ground far below.
I am all these things and yet am not these things, I am me, A man. On my sixty-fourth lap around the sun, A hiker on the Eagle Rock Loop, A wanderer, A seeker. This is my fourth circumnavigation. Again, I am enthralled and overwhelmed. So much beauty and mystery. The climbs as steep as ever, the footing rougher than I remembered.
If I were, A path. I would go on forever, Guiding, Coaxing, Lifting others up to the mountain tops, Funneling them back down to the river’s edge, below, on the other side. We would walk along the flanks of the ridges as one, Bumping shoulders with the trees, Stubbing our toes on rock chippings, Pressing down on soft, leafy litter, cracking seeds, nuts, and cones, Tip-toing past ants, giant millipedes, daddy long legs and beetles, Startling ground skinks, Brushing against ferns and wildflowers, Every turn bringing new wonders.