A few months ago, I first learned about the phrase “trail magic.” It’s a thing out there in the hiking world to leave behind sustenance for other travelers at particularly difficult parts of the trail. You might reach beneath a bench as you are gasping for breath and find a much-needed granola bar and bottle of water. It might be that you stumble into a gorgeous view right as you were about to give up. It might be the encouragement from a fellow hiker that keeps you moving up a steep incline. It’s all trail magic: what you need when you need it.
A friend of mine was using the phrase to describe a recent experience with his young children. Parenthood seems to have a lot of mundaneness, some drudgery at times. But here were his children, absolutely losing their minds over Boo at the Zoo. The hype was contagious. And as a parent, this stuff was trail magic for him. There would be meltdowns and discipline and fatigue to come, no doubt. Probably even later that evening when the sugar rush kicked in. But in those moments, he would have this moment to look back on: the hype and magic his children felt at such a simple pleasure and new experience. It was what he needed when he needed it. A figurative bottle of water for a parched parental spirit.
I can think of two particular moments of my own trail magic. The first is early March 2020, when my beloved Katie was about to marry Ruben. Drew and I flew to Austin for a few days to enjoy all of the festivities. I don’t know if I can describe how rich and good this time was without falling back on clichés. There was so much laughter and so many tears and so much dancing. I looked around at the reception and just felt this big love for Katie and this big love for Ruben and this big love for all of these friends around me and big love for the margarita in my hand and big love for my own husband and big love for the sacrament of marriage, this mystery that allows people to pledge their lives to one person and mean it.
Perhaps that is what trail magic is all about: the tangible and metaphysical and metaphorical reminder that we have not been forgotten.Kelsey Miller
Drew and I were out running errands the day before the wedding, picking up a few things Katie needed around town. We stopped for lunch at the True Food Kitchen in downtown Austin and I wept. I’d spent the last 24 hours in the company of women who are among the best I can name: in their charity, their humor, their willingness to share their love and prayers. I couldn’t stop crying. Eventually I squeaked out, “I don’t feel cynical right now.” If our waiter thought it was odd, he didn’t let it show. He just kept bringing me napkins to wipe my face, a real human-to-human kindness. Those few days in Austin were, though we didn’t quite know it, a last hurrah of normalcy before a new way of being was ushered in. And my last note was gratitude.
The second is just a few weeks ago. Our friends Jon and Helena hosted a gathering of friends. We were all invited to bring something to share, a story or a song, that had meant a lot to us that past year. A characteristic of trail magic is that the moment is hard to describe. The words hardly do it justice. That is certainly how I feel about that evening. The room was filled with friends and food and a Christmas tree and hearth-fire. We were all there to give and receive in equal measure. The atmosphere was attentive. When Melinda finished her Beethoven Sonata on the piano, the room absolutely erupted. We were all so proud of her.
Helena and her ten-year old daughter began the night by singing the song “Stay Gentle” by Brandi Carlile. There is something about mother and daughter harmonies and the hopefulness of a child singing about keeping the eyes of a child. And as I listen to that song again and again, one lyric always catches at my throat: “No one’s forgotten about us.”
Perhaps that is what trail magic is all about: the tangible and metaphysical and metaphorical reminder that we have not been forgotten. That someone out there sees how hard it is and sends us a buoy for our spirits. That we don’t always have to feel the way that we have been feeling. That things change. That we can change. That there is water for parched mouths and we can drink big gulps of it. That we don’t have to be cynical or sad. That we are less alone than it feels like we are. That there is more to life and this universe than we can currently see.
This past year has been another One of Those Years. I won’t list all of the global and personal tragedies, but I’ll assume you have your own too. It’s been difficult. We are all tired. And what will the coming year hold? In the words of my husband, “there will be surprises.” I’m counting on it. Miraculously, impossibly, joyfully, no one has forgotten about us. I’ll be hitting the the trails in 2022, eyes peeled for magic.
[Editor’s note: This piece originally appeared in Kelsey’s newsletter. Want to receive more writing like this in your inbox? Click here to sign up.]