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  • Writer's pictureTrish Dotts

Walk on Uneven Ground

Updated: Jul 2, 2021

I love to 'fish.'

I catch more of the bottom of the river and branches than I do fish.

But, always an optimist, I seek the thrill of catching a curious fish in all types of weather. Freezing February 2021 led “my Rob” and me to escape social-distancing and mask requirements to places where COVID concerns are non-existent. The rivers and lakes of the Pacific Northwest always help a person practice presence, fill the senses and mind with the textures of nature.

Since I’m often snagged, I walk along the edges of rivers and lakes to decrease the length of line lost when my fly or spinner finds a new home among the submerged rocks and branches. I don't know about other anglers, but for me, the hope of a better fishing hole is always just around the next river bend. The edges of natural water hold no groomed paths or regular-sized gravel beds to travel on easily. Instead, there are protruding branches, bumpy roots, and impassable ledges.

After not-patiently untangling some mess I make of my gear, I return to calm by watching the water’s ebb, filling the ice crevices while it makes the soft lapping sounds. Then to get back to fishing, I walk upstream to tempt unspooked fish. It sounds simple to sneak up on some fish. But variable-sized rocks rounded by centuries of water flow are not easy footing. Since it was the coldest weekend of the winter, the rocks had added decoration of ice filigree. To keep from falling, I watch where I step so my eyes hint at what’s to come. My hands hold fishing gear, so my arms are not reliable balance guides. So, when I step, a foot might slide off a rock’s surface to one side or the other, causing my body to react to keep from falling. I appear to be learning to walk. The rocks clang together, alerting the fish to my presence. To prevent this, I need more practice walking on uneven ground.

This activity reminds me that my friend has incorporated some unusual routines into his workout program, flinging his arms and wobbling his gait. Not being sensitive to the able-ist language, he calls it his ‘moron moves.’ He does appear to use unskilled arms and legs as he moves around the mat. He learned this irregular workout while recovering from a childhood injury. His doctor told him that he would delay future injury by practicing these uncoordinated moves. I searched around, for some research that gives insight into the biomechanics of this approach, in case you are interested. Outcomes from walking on uneven ground, TIME article on benefits, big words long article (neuromuscular control and proprioception)

As I stumbled soberly along the streambank, I vowed to continue to seek opportunities to walk on uneven surfaces. I thought about how as my older friends age, they walk less and less on rough surfaces. The more successful they become, the more concrete and groomed paths are a part of our lives. I remembered how an older family member lost balance and broke a hip merely a crossing from smooth flooring onto a carpeted area. I am not asking that we allow our sidewalks to crumble. I advocate for making more ramps and installing more automatic doors to make all public areas universally accessible. But we all need more access to uneven ground.

We need to spend more time in other areas of our life that offer uneven ground. It is easy to avoid opposing viewpoints, unfamiliar tasks and seek an easy path. I’m not the first to write about this. And I’m inspired by the sister who implored the author to walk on uneven ground. She is right.

In June 2021, the Pacific Northwest experienced the hottest days in about 1000 years. My dash gauge accurately captured an unappreciated reality.

My Rob and I buckled up and headed for higher ground.

Our mountainous region offers the chance to climb in elevation where temperatures drop in thin air.

The rocks are decomposed granite, like low-grit sandpaper. As I walked up this rugged hill, I slipped a coupled of times.

It hurt; besides stressing my ankle and a previously bruised cuboid, I earned a road rash.

I reflected that this is the way it goes when you walk on uneven ground. You get better at it, but along the way, you become more resilient. You realize that getting hurt may sting, but other feelings can make that pain subside. And does the road rash cause anything more than discomfort? Is there anything wrong, actually wrong, with getting a road rash? It doesn’t look pretty, but it is something you can’t get by sitting on the couch. If you consistently make decisions that prevent you from earning a road rash, are you less capable of handling the textures that life throws your way or getting stronger and more resilient?

I wouldn’t have slipped if this weren’t my first time on sketchy soil in a while. My reflexes were slow when the gravel slipped under my feet. Our bodies do better when we keep asking them to explore. So do our beliefs and skills.

At work, when I discover an area that escapes mastery, instead of avoiding it, I sign up for classes or find a mentor who excels. When I propose an idea, I seek views that disagree with my perspective. Sometimes people give me a rash. They handle a different perspective as a threat. They may chose to avoid chatting with me, knowing that their non-inclusive views only have a welcome ear if they are willing to offer an ear to my perspective.

I can not improve my plan until I know the barriers to it. I can not understand what I believe until that belief is challenged. Instead of being threatened, these varying pressures strengthen me. I do not become more entrenched in the idea; rather, more nuanced. Embracing the complexities that facts fail to simplify.

If I were to only hang out with people like me, who have my political perspectives, who eat the same foods I do, have my same religious beliefs, I would be protected. But would I be stronger? Would I have the chance to move someone to a new practice? Would I be able to adapt to real-life textures and obstacles?

How about you? Where does your information come from? Who do you trust enough to have a friendly argument with? What are you avoiding for fear of road-rash? Where do you walk to protect yourself from future injuries? What causes you to advocate? Are you pushing forward regardless of the terrain?

What is your uneven ground?

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