Last night Andrew and I got the children off to bed, brewed an herby pot of chamomile tea, and snuggled deeply into our matching, fuzzy-red La-Z-Boy recliners. The DVD selection for the evening: “Amelie” in French with English subtitles.
It had been a few years since I watched a subtitled movie, so it took me ten or fifteen minutes to retrain my brain for this activity. It is a skill, though pretty easy to learn. I am not a neurologist, so I don’t know exactly how this works, but I can describe what if feels like. Basically, you keep your attention focused on the movie picture and effortlessly allow a part of your brain to drop to the subtitles. That brain part reads the words and sends the messages (as well as the emotions they convey) to the part of the brain that is enjoying the pictures. It is amazing really. A little bit more difficult than watching a movie in your native tongue, but once you get the hang of it, it is quite enjoyable.
This morning I packed my fanny pack with a bottle of water and a pair of flip flops, and set off on my third barefoot hike in the Boise Foothills. The Military Reserve Trail is part of our wonderful “Ridge to Rivers” trail system. If you have never recreated in Boise, spring is the time to visit. It was absolutely spectacular. As I found my stride and began the gradual climb up to the desert ridge, I noticed an interesting thing. My brain was doing the same thing as it was last night while watching Amelie. My attention was focused on the landscape, the brush covered hillside, the cityscape below me and the miles of yellow arrowleaf balsamroot flowers. But there was a seemingly detached part of my brain that was focused downward. This brain part was “reading” the trail just three or four feet in front of me. Just as in reading subtitles, it read the information in a constant stream and fed it to my body giving me the information I needed to step in the world without distracting me too much from the big picture.
I knew it was true when I found myself simultaneously watching a Turkey Vulture (who seemed to take up the whole sky) and a tiny green snake that slithered in front of my toes.
Watching a Hollywood box office hit is like hiking in your boots. You can ignore everything and just get lost in the movie. But hiking barefoot requires the delicate consciousness of watching a great foreign film. You may find yourself pausing and rewinding. On my hike for example, I paused to watch a Calliope Hummingbird perch on a piece of rabbit brush and was able to sneak up surprisingly close. I rewound to investigate the insides of a large black beetle that had been squashed flat by a fat mountain bike tire. I noticed the different sizes of canine foot prints in the sand, the smell of the stream and the different temperatures of the ground as I passed from sunlight into shadows.
So it seems that barefoot hiking is much more than training the feet and legs. It is also a challenging, yet enjoyable, brain exercise. Building new neural pathways is what adaptation is all about. If it has been a while since you enjoyed a foreign film, I recommend Amelie. You won’t be able to stop smiling.