By Eric Monaco, Former Streetlight Member and Current Medical Student
I’m not talking about canes, or trekking poles, or the ones you can buy in the store with the marbles in the top. I’m talking Gandalf staff. Natural wood, fresh from the forest, magic powers. Stable, strong, helping at every step. Yep, nothing quite like a good walking stick…
First, there’s the search. Funny thing is, you can’t really force it. You could spend all day hacking and fashioning, but the REALLY good walking sticks are the ones you just stumble upon. They’re just lying there, waiting earnestly and patiently in your path to give you a lift. And when you pick it up, you just know… It may not fit perfectly, at first – sometimes there’s a knot or some rough bark that makes it hard to find the perfect handhold – but once you start walking forward, you quickly adjust your grasp and forget that awkward first step as it becomes a part of your body, a third leg of support.
A good rule of thumb while hiking is that if you’re having any joint or muscle pain, pick up a walking stick first. It’s actually pretty amazing. The humblest walking stick can make a stark difference: they decrease the load on your legs, carrying part of your body weight at every step, and give you a third point of balance, drastically increasing stability and decreasing the likelihood of further injury. You’ll still feel the pain, but it sure makes it easier to know that a sturdy old wooden friend is there to catch you.
River crossings are when walking sticks really come in handy. These are some of the most difficult moments of any hike – if you’re backpacking, you have to take off your boots and try to wade across the rushing water without slipping on the smooth, slimy stones of the riverbed and soaking your sleeping bag, snacks, and favorite camping socks. Treacherous, in the best case. Disastrous (or very cold), at worst outcome. But with a walking stick! – you can brace yourself with the walking stick upstream, lean into the current and fight the oncoming rush of water as you focus on sidestepping safely over those stones to safety. Still not a certain fate, but better than going it alone…
Another part I love about finding a walking stick is saying goodbye. It’s sad and beautiful, like all goodbyes, and you can be pretty sure that you’ll never see that stick again or remember how it felt once your hand molded to the contours of its wood…But you can always wonder if that stick sat on the ground, or if it was picked up by some other intrepid traveler who found strength in the use of that same staff. So the circle may go on…
Fat or thin, springy or stiff, pine, poplar, oak or elm, every walking stick is an unconditional giver. In my life, I want to be a walking stick: I want the humility and strength to carry other people forward through pain and life’s river crossings by helping simply, with perspective.
And Streetlight is like a garden of perfect walking sticks.
© 2013 Eric Monaco