My world was spinning from a wine-induced stupor when I decided it would be a good idea to climb over boulders carrying my SLR camera in one hand while wearing flip-flops. Immediately, I wished that I could back-up the clock two minutes and rethink my next action, but no, a bad decision was already made. It was too late. Instead, I stood awkwardly in the sand on one foot while my other leg stretched high against a large boulder. I was nearly doing the splits. A searing pain relentlessly shot through my right knee and I could see a nasty scrape on my left calf.
Before I reached this awkward position, my mind was focused intently on reaching a special place I had discovered earlier. My imagination had bathed it in the warm glow of the setting sun, so I was compelled to return in the evening to take more photos. The varied greens of the deep wet moss and bright lime-coloured ferns anchored in the seeping cave walls would be saturated with a ginger overlay. But that wasn’t what was so special about this place. What was special is that it was adorned with hundreds of figures constructed out of carefully balanced stones, or Inukshuk’s.
Some were big and some were small.
Some stood precariously on ledges along the cave wall while multitudes of them stood balanced along the entire length of drift wood logs.
They were all assembled in different shapes depending on the imagination that created each one. The place seemed to be permeated with a special energy.
Not long ago someone mentioned they believed there were special places in the world that contain strong energy, undeveloped natural places. At the sight of all of the stone figures I decided this must be one of them.
Someone deemed this place special enough to erect the first Inukshuk.
Then others visited and made another and another until there were hundreds. I’m not sure how long they have all been there, maybe only since the end of the last winter storm or high tide that may have washed any previous ones away. It was a reminder of the impermanence of life, but also of the beauty that resides in each temporary moment.
When I first discovered this place I spent a lot of time photographing it. Then I beckoned my friend Murray to come over and take a look. He brought along a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and cracked it open while we were there.
Upon leaving the site we left our mark on two sandstone boulders. I had remembered a message I had seen along the Camino de Santiago in Spain that said, “May you always find your way.” I carved it into a large sandstone boulder in hopes that the message would touch someone else.
Murray’s mark was a single word, “Raven”; his signature and also a word that holds great meaning to him since the day he discovered the raven was his spirit animal.
We strolled back to camp along the stony beach and then enjoyed the remainder of the Cabernet Sauvignon by the campfire; no glasses, just straight swigging from the bottle.
The sun was getting lower on the horizon and I jumped up and said, “We need to go to the Inukshuk site right now to get photos in this lighting!”
Quickly, I grabbed my camera and scrambled over the drift wood log and began making my way towards the end of the beach. The sun would soon sink behind the horizon and I didn’t want to be late to see the display.
The stone figures balanced like yogic masters in deep meditation on the other side of the large boulders that littered the end of the beach. The scene slightly wavered in my mind and, in my haste to get there, I hopped up onto one boulder without giving any critical thought to my inappropriate footwear.
With my smooth-soled flip-flops hooked onto my toes, my SLR camera in one hand and all logical thought diluted with Cabernet Sauvignon, things went sideways fast. I faltered and, in my struggle to find balance in my swaying world, I stepped awkwardly from one boulder to another until my left foot fatefully contacted the steep outside slope of a fairly smooth one. As you would expect the smooth flip-flop and smooth boulder didn’t jive and my world view quickly went from meditating Inukshuk’s to the sandy beach between two large boulders.
My left flip-flop slid rather quickly down that steep and very hard slope. My right knee, with nowhere else to go, hit the stone as hard as a hammer on a nail. I sat very still in controlled silence attempting to will the agonizing pain to just hurry up and move on, but it wouldn’t. That sharp pain shot through my knee like a knife and resonated into a ceaseless ache. Very slowly, I brought my right foot around and was surprised to see a terrible gash on my shin just above my ankle. It seemed to be numb compared to my knee. Additionally, it looked like a rake had been dragged across my left calf.
The coincidental thing about the location of my mishap is that it was next to the boulder I had written my message on, “May you always find your way.” Hmmm. Well, that’s ironic isn’t it? I “found my way” into a mess at the base of a large boulder and now I’m experiencing the painful repercussions. I couldn’t help but think Mother Nature was angry at me for vandalizing her stone sculpture regardless of my happy message. Or that the Inukshuk God was not happy with us for cracking open a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon amongst the shrine of stone meditators or that I had the gall to return in an intoxicated state. Or did I simply just make a foolish choice which coincidentally landed me at the base of the rock I had written that nice message on? Yeah, that’s probably more the case.
A man held my SLR while he and Murray walked me back to the campsite. The night was long and uncomfortable. It was difficult to sleep through the pain and the nausea that crept up had me sleeping outside the tent on the sand…just in case.
The two and a half kilometer hike back up to my car the next day was long and slow. The only thing I could think of along the way was to focus on one step at a time. First step – make it to the car. Second step – see if I can actually drive my car. Third step – well, that depended on the outcome of step two.
My slow ascent reminded me of the time along the Camino de Santiago in Spain when I was forced to slow down due to a shin splint. Determined to make it, I laboured along the expansive, flat meseta very slowly and was forced to retreat into my thoughts. I was slower than anyone else and didn’t converse much during my long walking days, but it was what I needed then. It was a reminder to slow down and notice the little things in life that are so special; the things that so often go unnoticed to those who are heavily focused on the destination. In the same way, I noticed much more about that trail than I ever had before.
Two weeks after my accident on the boulder my knee is still bad. It won’t bend or straighten and there is still pain. The doc says there could be soft tissue damage, either the MCL or cartilage. Another doctor friend thinks it’s more of a bone contusion which would be the best case scenario. The X-ray shows no fractures. Thank God for that.
In the meantime, while I practice patience through this healing process, I watch people playing in the park, running, paddle boarding and riding bikes. I see that the meet-up groups have stocked up the summer calendar with hiking expeditions, but I can’t participate.
Yes, I’m bummed. My carelessness in that moment may alter my future plans to walk another pilgrimage depending on the damage that has been done and how well my knee heals, but I am hopeful for a full recovery.
This accident is a huge reminder that things can change in an instant. A paragraph in a book I was reading today outlined that very thought. It said, “Choices. We make hundreds of them every day, each decision holding the potential to lead to pain or pleasure, joy or despair. That one left turn taken so early in my life had an effect that still ripped through my whole being many years later.” In the same way, that one left turn, that bad decision to walk on boulders with flip-flops on after indulging in Cabernet Sauvignon could have unwanted lasting effects.
It’s a reminder that what we do with ‘now’ really matters. The decisions we make at any given moment have the power to lead us down a painful path or a joyful one. One decision has the potential to change our lives dramatically.
Although I believe this injury will heal entirely, I cringe at the thought that it could have been much worse. I also cringe at another recent decision I made to sit on the edge of a hot tub after, again, indulging in wine last New Years Eve. Although at the time it didn’t seem like a dangerous thing to do, that simple decision could have crippled me. My guardian angel was watching out for me that night since when I slipped backwards off the ledge I landed into a large plant pot full of bamboo. Everywhere else three feet down was unforgiving concrete. Thankfully, the only mark was a large purple bruise on my right bum cheek, however I cringe to imagine what could have been if that plant pot hadn’t been there.
So the lesson I learned from this is that each decision we make has the potential to shape our future whether it be in a good way or a bad way. We need to be mindful of each decision no matter how small because we don’t always have an opportunity to correct it once the decision has been made.
Update (February 4, 2016): I just received my results from my MRI. There is no meniscus tear, just some softening of the cartilage under my knee cap. The doc says I must have hit my knee pretty hard to create bruising and swelling that would lock my knee for five – six weeks. Yes, it was definitely a hard hit. No surgery is required which is great news considering I will be walking my second Camino this May. Pain still exists though, but doc says my knee will continue to improve with time and recommends to keep my quads strong in order to support the joint. I feel very lucky and I have learned a big lesson to treat this vessel, my body, with care. It’s the only one I’ve got to carry me the rest of the way through my life.