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When I fell on the mountain, I was engulfed in pain.
I arrived at the hospital on a stretcher. When the anesthesiologist said I'd likely never walk again—me, the girl who was backpacking across Europe—I didn't care. I knew I might be paralyzed, but all I wanted was for the pain to stop.
I've always loved mountains. From conquering hikes in Canada's expansive wilderness to snowboarding in the French Alps, my relationship with snow-laden peaks and evergreen-speckled hills was unshakable.
Or so I thought.
After emergency spinal surgery, I wiggled my toes and breathed a deep sigh of relief. Tentatively, I asked the physiotherapist if I'd ever be able to carry a backpack again. I motioned toward my monstrous blue backpack I'd carried everything I owned in for the past six months. The answer shattered my identity: "Never."
I felt aimless and lost as I relearned to walk in Grenoble, France, waiting for my parents to arrive and take me back to Canada. I wanted to rewind the snowboarding jump, to soften the ice that fractured my L1. I wanted to go back to being uninjured and innocent, confident in my outdoor pursuits.
When I arrived back home in Alberta, I took daily strolls in the park behind my house. I listened to the gurgling of a shallow stream while shuffling along paved paths. I watched whiskey jacks flutter between bare branches while sitting on a camping chair in my backyard.
I was never a fast hiker—even before my injury, my boots often wobbled, and I mistrusted my feet—but I've learned to relish taking my time. When I rush, I miss the true beauty of the outdoors: the opportunities to chat with fellow nature lovers, witness an eagle devouring its prey, compose the stillness required for a yellow butterfly to land on my outstretched finger. When I push myself too hard, I focus internally—placing myself at the center of everything—and, sometimes, I get hurt.
One year after breaking my back in France, I buckled my snowboard bindings with trembling hands. I looked past the ski run to the far-reaching peaks across the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. I felt the alpine view welcome me. I took a deep breath and murmured "Thank you" to the mountains before pushing off.
Sometimes, I can carry a small backpack on outdoor adventures. Often, I kiss my knees, grateful that they work. I've gained a new appreciation for what I could lose—and a healthy respect for the power of nature.
Mountains aren't meant to be conquered. Mountains are meant to be respected.
Alison Karlene Hodgins is a freelance writer, editor, and memoirist currently working on her debut book.