Not far from where I live is one of the most beautiful hiking trails you will ever discover. Overlooking a lake, the trail is surrounded by oak trees and tall grasses which, this time of year, are a lovely shade of green, and thanks to a weirdly wet winter, the wildflowers are even better than usual this spring.
Determined to enjoy this scenery as much as possible before it fades in the heat of summer, I went two Sabbaths in a row to hike this trail.
The first week I did it the way I had in the past. This involves a very long, steep incline at the beginning which feels like it’s going to kill you, but at least you’ll die enjoying the view. (I have to admit the acorn woodpeckers sounded like they were laughing at me.)
Once you reach the crest of the hill you can choose to continue on the wide path leading away from the lake, or you can take a narrow, winding trail full of switchbacks down the other side of the hill toward the lake. This second path is the one I take.
I know this trail well, but it never ceases to inspire me anew with its beauty. At first, it winds its way through a grassy area filled with tall stems of deep purple flowers under a canopy of gnarled moss-covered oak branches. Then, as you descend further, the tree cover recedes, and you have to keep an eye out for poison oak. There is a viewpoint with a covered bench, and later a peaceful meadow with a rocky creek meandering down one side. Eventually, you make it to the bottom, which deposits you onto the main trail following the lakeshore back to the parking area.
This is the hike I know. The second weekend I went hiking though, I decided to do it all…backwards.
Instead of starting with the steep incline, I started with the lakeside trek and climbed the switchbacks. That way, I would end coming down that horrible hill instead of trying to climb it. (Word to the wise: Going down a long steep hill isn’t really any easier than coming up; it’s just hard in a different way.)
What struck me on that second hike was how different my experience was. I saw the meadow and creek from a completely different angle and noticed rock formations I hadn’t seen before. The trees leaned differently, their shadows fell differently, and the views up the hill (rather than down at the lake as I’d seen in the past) were a whole new level of gorgeous.
It surprised me how simply walking in a different direction on a familiar path so significantly changed my perspective.
There are two lessons I draw from this: One, sometimes coming at something from a different angle can completely shift how I see it and give me a fuller picture, even if it doesn’t make anything easier; two, it is possible for two people to walk the same path and notice completely different things because they’re coming from different directions. Bonus lesson: Together they share a broader perspective than they have alone.
The old adage tells us that before making any judgments, we should walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. We may be surprised to find those shoes walking the same path as ours—just from a different direction. And we may be equally surprised at the view.
Becky St. Clair is a freelance writer living in California with her husband and three children. She has a decade of experience in public relations for the church, and currently writes and copyedits for various church entities around the world.