The first bloom on the Arizona Trail last March on a cane cholla. I was so startled by its magenta radiance against the arid brown of the desert, I could hardly speak.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about discovering joy on trail while walking through deep, sticky mud in forests of Ponderosa Pine on repeat. I learned that day that joy is not contingent on circumstances, rather it resides within and is one I can choose.

Also in Arizona I learned about love as a gift in the form of beauty, a beauty that’s all around but requires we look for it.

I met two hikers from Germany in the Superstition Mountains section of the Arizona Trail. Frauke and Dennis were generous and had the most beautiful smiles. Neither of them, as far as I could tell, ever complained. When I told Frauke my name is “Blissful” she didn’t understand what it meant. She couldn’t even pronounce Blissful.

Soon we parted as hikers will do, as I went into town and they moved on. It was a week before we saw each other again. But there they were, on the side of the trail, seemingly sitting in the exact same pose as the first time we met.

The first thing Frauke said to me was that she figured out what Blissful means. In German, it’s glückseleg or happy soul.

As we walked together, Frauke told me that she had been thinking about glück or happiness and what makes us happy. I said, “Well that’s easy! Meeting you and Dennis again, hearing the frogs at night, drinking a whole liter of water, feeling awe looking out on these big views, having the strength to walk uphill over and over – and seeing wildflowers everywhere…”

Once I named all those things out loud, I was surprised by the love that was building in me for this harsh place. Love and happiness have a way of doing that – sneaking up on us in disguise as something wonderfully unexpected.

I walked with Frauke and Dennis from Germany in the Superstition Mountains, then lost them…
…until a week later, when I found them in the Mazatzals.

Frauke then reminded me of something that I had told her the last time we met. I was having so much trouble managing a difficult descent on rocks that rolled out under my feet, so to keep moving, I sang a song. She liked that solution so much, she copied me and had been singing through all of the hard parts ever since.

Now that’s a lot of singing because the entire Arizona Trail is ‘hard parts.’ 

The song I hummed was written by Benjamin Britten. He wrote it aboard a ship on a trans-Atlantic crossing. It was the middle of the World War II and there was constant risk that the ship could be torpedoed. And yet, Britten was fully present in his wondrous journey on the High Seas – as well as on the project he was working on.

At the last stop before England, in a small bookstore in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Britten picked up a collection of verse, Gerald Bullett’s The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems. He made use of his time on the crossing to set some of those poems (in Middle English and Latin) for high voices and harp. Called A Ceremony of Carols, it’s one of Britten’s most glorious pieces of music and a perfect accompaniment as I walked.

Brennan Manning in his Ragamuffin Gospels writes,

You could more easily catch a hurricane in a shrimp net that you can understand the wild, relentless, passionate, uncompromising, pursuing love of God made present in the manger.

The love Manning speaks of is rooted in the spirt. It’s a love that guides us to our purpose and meaning, oftentimes walking beside us through life to help us grow and learn. It’s a love that asks us to be filled with gratitude and live in wonder and trust, rather than fear and grudging limits. 

And it would seem in Arizona, the “wild, relentless, passionate, uncompromising, pursuing love” was with me all along. It was at my feet. 

“Wolcum Yole” from Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols was my go-to motivator on the hard sections and the celebration when the flowers appeared.


  1. Joyce Morehouse

    Beautiful! I didn’t think I would recognize Britten’s “Wolcum Yole,” but I did. Somewhere, probably at Christ Church Cranbrook, I sang it with our choir. How perfect for you to sing it while you walk the trail! Thank you “Happy Soul.”

  2. John DeMers

    Great insights, Alison. And who better than a classical music lover to appreciate Gluck. One online bio describes the fellow as a “Bohemian- Austrian composer of Italian and French operas.” That gives me bliss just reading it.

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