I wrote an essay called the Hi-Line for my first book back in 1990, Hidden Walks in the Bay Area, a walking guide to the San Francisco Bay Area (no worries, this is not a plug for the book since it went out of print after becoming out of date due to many of its walks being changed by fire, flood, and shifting earthquake fault lines!). I had noticed the propensity of people saying hello to each other on the upper trails that surrounded Berkeley, the town where I lived at the time. That impressed me because down on the flats in town almost no one said hi to each other in passing. Up and away from cars and city noise, they were more comfortable greeting each other as they hiked closer to the natural world.
So now, during this Great Pandemic where social isolation has been the needed norm, now that things are easing somewhat, I’m proposing that we create Hi-Lines all over the country, and start to greet people we pass on the streets with “Hi” or Hi, how ya doin’ or Howdy or Hi there or How’s it going? or just lift your hand or index finger in a Hi gesture like they do on back roads in the South in cars and pickups when people lift their index fingers off the steering wheel to greet other drivers coming in the opposite direction.
It’s just a simple gesture but it could brighten someone’s day after a rough start, or it could make an immigrant feel more welcome, or it could make an African American or a Moslem or a Jew or an Asian American woman feel more accepted and less isolated and less threatened. It’s what I meant in a previous post around making amends to people that society has slighted or abused, past or present. Making amends doesn’t have to mean giving money to people, although the fine folks of Asheville, North Carolina are contributing taxpayer money to develop community programs and facilities to assist African Americans living in their town. Making amends can also mean making people feel more welcome, respected, and seen for who they are regardless of skin color, or head covering, or the clothing they wear. I go out of my way to greet even a Buddhist monk in robes and try to engage him or her in respectful conversation. Or the other day on my way to my oncologist’s appointment I asked directions of a woman who turned out to be a cancer survivor herself and wound up having an uplifting conversation about how we were dealing with this illness. We both walked away enriched by the contact.
People love to be noticed in positive ways, and we’re a bit starved the world over from the fulfillment of that need by this challenging Covid pandemic and these polarizing political differences that most of us are experiencing. Red/Blue States. Republican/Democrat. Trump/Biden. Conservative/Liberal. Sure, we can have differences but essentially we are all Americans, or even all Earthlings, or, yes, even all Milky Way-ites.
So, the next time you pass someone in your neighborhood or your downtown center or holding the door for someone at your post office, say Hi, how’s it going. Or the next time you pass a cop walking his or her beat, say Hi, officer, thanks for what you do. Or the next time you notice a Black man next to you at the produce section in the market, turn and smile and maybe say, you know, this apple variety here is really delicious. Are you getting the drift of my meaning? Doesn’t have to be a big conversation, just an acknowledgment that this person is really the same as you: the same needs and wants and likes and dislikes and struggles and successes and fears and the same things that make him or her happy.
In this distrustful, sometimes hateful, sometimes isolated, sometimes contentious world, that greeting, that smile, that simple acknowledgement, can go a long way in brightening your day and the day of the person you’re making contact with.
How about it? Give it a try. Let’s get a Hi-Line Movement started. Membership: Free! Benefit: Win/Win/Win!
One book of mine on hiking that is still in print is The Mindful Hiker: On the Trail to Find the Path (DeVorss Publishing, Camarillo CA, 2004). You can find it via Amazon. It’s a memoir about my inner and outer experiences in Point Reyes National Seashore just north of San Francisco. I think you might enjoy it. It won a book of the year award when it first appeared, and I consider it the best book I’ve ever written! But it’s been languishing on the publisher’s backlist for a long time now and needs some love. Thanks.