A Good Wooden Stick

On a hike with my dad somewhere in the Mojave Desert, he showed me how to hoist myself up and over a challenging patch of rocks. A wooden stick — about 5 feet in length and sturdy — was my dad’s tool of choice to climb over a large boulder while managing knee issues. I hadn’t thought in my years of hiking to even use a tool while walking or climbing, avoiding the aisle of overpriced accessories at REI.

Tools in my mind were to be used for ascending steep cliffs or rescue operations. Plus, I had a great pair of feet and adequate mobility. We began our drive to Joshua Tree National Park early in the morning. We found a vista of the park’s namesake trees, boulders, and rolling hills turning to mountains. Apprehension arose about my dad’s abilities — his last serious hike was decades ago. While we were physically fit and healthy — I know 20-year-olds he could outpace — knee issues caused him pain during long walks increasing in elevation. The kind I was hoping to gracefully avoid.

But my dad was dead set on conquering the majesty of the Mojave, which meant arduous ascents over anything that stood in our (his) way. Like the way a parent would scold a child for jumping off something tall, I yelled at my dad to be careful. He waved away my concern with a stick. Dad found a groove in a boulder level with his waist, stepped up against its curved face, and like magic, thrust himself in the air with almost no effort.

I was gobsmacked. Dad continued the exercise until he was about a fifty feet above me. Worry of my dad being afflicted by physical pain morphed into worry for myself I do what he’d done so effortlessly. I heard him yelling in jubilation about how fantastic the view was and that I should join. Interpreting awe for hesitation, he threw his walking stick down at me with encouraging words. I leapt out of the way, shaken, and picked up the stick unsure how to use it.

“Put the stick in that groove and pull up,” he yelled.

As if by magic, again, I was pulled up and over. A new realm of tactile play with nature was unlocked by a tool afforded by nature itself. A minute later, I was on top of the pile of rocks my dad had just made short work of. We gazed miles west, pointing out monuments when I recognized them.

My dad and stick
My dad and stick

“That’s Key’s View! You can see as far south as Mexico on a clear day.”

Overjoyed that he hadn’t lost pace with age, my dad accepted the challenge.

“We’ll climb up that but let’s get you a stick.”

I’ve since returned to familiar trails with a wooden stick, discovering how much easier and fun they are now. By chance, my dad found — his words — a pile of leftover sticks a week later, sending me one. A new rhythm and ease in walking and climbing continues to delight me, not just on a trail but also around the city.

I would have guessed walking on flat terrain with a wooden stick would be a nuisance. In practice, the opposite. A swinging motion between steps as my feet met pavement alongside my stick came without any effort or mental annoyance. The clunk made when it hits sand, gravel, or pavement is a welcome sound.

I learned to drop my self-imposed elitism about roughing it out unnecessarily — at least with this — and find joy in using a tool to enhance my ability. We could all find joy in tools to connect us in some small way to the movements we make every day.

Grab a wooden stick and go walk.