Outside the wild boars rootJoanna Newsom
Without bending a bough underfoot
My fight-or-flight response system is heavy on the flight side. One time I was walking with my friend Danica when a big dog behind a small fence startled us with loud snarling. Instinctively, I placed Danica (maybe with a gentle shove) between the fence and me and took off running down the street. Another time, I saw a huge spider crawling on my friend Maren’s shoulder. I screamed and ran away, then screamed again from a safe distance, and wouldn’t even come close enough to tell her there was a spider prancing about on her.
The wiring of my sympathetic nervous system isn’t great for friendships (luckily I have very patient friends), or for being out in nature, because everything in nature is a little bit scary. Which is probably one reason I didn’t finish a 260-mile hike in July with my big brother, and why, when Josh and I came upon a small herd of wild pigs on a trail in Hong Kong, I reflexively ran the opposite direction, bopped off the trail and scrambled down a hill. After a roundabout go of it, we got back to where we would have come to a trailhead had we stayed on the trail, and saw hikers and joggers happily going through the group of pigs. One jogger got out her phone and went right up to a small pig to get a picture. So maybe I didn’t need to panic, after all.
Despite, and because of, the wild pig encounter, that hike in Hong Kong was one of the loveliest of my life. We started the walk from our hotel, wound our way over steep hills, on dirt, concrete, and brick paths, went up so very many stairs, and almost always had a view of green hills and bays with yachts and boats and barges. Our plan was to walk about seven miles from our hotel to a well-known trail called Dragon’s Back, and walk five miles on that trail until it ended at Big Wave Bay. Josh did the navigating using a very useful and mostly precise app called maps.me, but the distance it predicted was not quite accurate.
After eleven miles we hadn’t reached Dragon’s Back yet. We were a little hot and a little under-hydrated and hungry, when we saw stairs leading down to a mostly secluded beach. It was late afternoon and the sun on the sand and water was very inviting, and after getting in the water we sat on the stony beach and ate Lara and Kind bars and dried hawthorn fruit, which is my favorite treat I’ve found here. Shortly after that we found Dragon’s Back and saw more views and paragliders and people. We didn’t make it all the way to Big Wave, but the unnamed, unexpected cove was just as good (or even better, who the heck knows) and at the end of our hike we enjoyed a dusky walk toward our hotel, through a quiet and tiered cemetery, and into bustling Hong Kong.
The next day, we took the Green Mini Bus 40 along the coast to Stanley Bay. I really like seaside towns in the off-season. They are quiet and seem to move a little slower than normal and smell like sea salt. I assume, in addition to it being November, that the protests decreased the number of tourists. We didn’t see any of the protests (and didn’t seek any out, worrying a little about endangering our Chinese visas), and offered (impractical) mental solidarity to them, while enjoying the privilege of being carefree tourists. After a swim in Stanley Bay and a picnic with everything that a picnic should include, we hiked toward Repulse Bay.
It was a shorter hike, about five miles, and the first leg meandered past two Buddhist temples, quiet and with incense burning. We had gone about four miles when we came to some steep stairs that lead to a road that we would follow before jumping onto the last bit of trail. Josh was walking a little ahead of me and suddenly stopped short.
“That is a big mother—” he said, taking a step or two closer to get a better look. Blocking the top of the stairs were a stout wild pig and her two adolescent children. So I said, “Okay, we don’t really need to go to Repulse Bay, bye,” and turned around, because that’s what I do. Luckily, Josh was reluctant to turn back (we were tired and wanted to sit on the beach and were so close), and we waited until we saw the piggy family trot into the woods, then we continued up the stairs. I’m not sure what plans the wild pigs had, but I didn’t want to be included in them, and worried they might like to chase after and then eat a running human, so I made myself go slowly, but was very ready to fly.
And it turns out it was well worth coming close to battling the wild pigs. I swam in sunsetted water— one of the best ocean swims I’ve ever had—and read on the beach, and drank an overpriced vacation coffee and watched the sun do its thing over the hills and ships and water.