Note: This story is all about a song I wrote. My YouTube video of the song is right here. If you are going to read my story, please do me a solid, and listen to my song. The story gives the song meaning, and the song gives – well, you know….
Living in the Evergreen State of Washington, I was fortunate to enjoy many rewarding alpine hikes with my late, former wife, the folk-singing school teacher, Sally Jo Davis. We hiked extensively in the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, as well as in a few smaller Pacific Northwest ranges.
When we met, I was coming off a career as a full-time musician, transitioning into being an office worker. But I had spent most of my working life as a full-time, travelling musician. And one thing I did not do, was hike. I had little to no experience at following a trail through the woods. When I was on the road with my bands, we hung out in our motel, or in the nightclub where we were booked. We didn’t get out and see the sights; nor did we take advantage of the area’s recreational offerings.
Sally Jo Davis taught me most of what I know about hiking. She got me off to a good start. Initially, I was a rank novice; but I gained skill as we went on more hikes.
Our first hiking destination was Heather Lake, situated in Washington’s Glacier Peak Wilderness Area. We did the hike in October of 1986. I had difficulty keeping up with Sally Jo on the trail, because hiking was so new to me. And much of the path was covered with loose shale, which is hard to keep your footing on. In spite of the obstacles I encountered, I knew immediately that the views of the beautiful, alpine Heather Lake, and the sight of the striking vine maples, splendidly decked out in their fall colors, were more than worth the effort.
After I had a few hikes under my belt, and was in better shape, I was able to not only keep up with SJ, but to lead when she asked me to. We alternated at leading. And as we enjoyed more and more hikes, an odd thing happened: we got in step with each other. I mean, our feet hit the ground at the same time. And we developed our own hiking rhythm. This just naturally occurred.
On one hike in the Cascades, as we travelled up a relatively gentle incline, I became acutely aware of our rhythm. It was similar to hearing (or playing) a percussion instrument. And suddenly, the music and lyrics to a new song began to flood into my head! I opened my mouth and started singing, “Walk with a light foot; leave not a trace….”
Now, I can tell you from where the line, “Walk with a light foot” originated. Sally Jo expressed a desire to take me on a backpacking trip. We would start with an easy one, just to get my feet wet, figuratively speaking (hopefully not literally – while a rainy hike can be miserable; a soaked backpacking excursion can be h-e-double toothpicks). Sally Jo said that before she could take me backpacking, I would need to read the book, “Backpacking One Step At A Time”, written by the legendary Pacific Northwest author, Harvey Manning. It was her practice to recommend the book to all prospective backpackers.
So, the next time we were at Recreational Equipment, Inc., or REI, the great co-op founded right here in Seattle, I bought a 1986 second edition of the book. (By the way, it is still in print. It will probably always be in print!) I learned not only the nuts and bolts of backpacking from the book, but I also picked up on Harvey Manning’s philosophy of backing. It boiled down to five words: walk with a light foot. In other words, the alpine wilderness environment, and the trails which have been built and maintained so carefully and lovingly over the years, is and are fragile. We need to step lightly in the mountains and the forests. I truly took the great book’s teaching to heart. Hiking and backpacking are not about conquering Mother Nature. They’re about visiting and finding harmony with her.
Since I had read the book, as instructed, and since I had sufficiently impressed Sally Jo with my effort to learn from it and put its teachings into practice, she announced that she would soon take me on my first backpacking adventure. (Sally Jo did the driving for the two of us. I never learned how. So, in all of my stories about the two of us, when I speak about her taking us places, that’s why.) SJ eventually decided upon the perfect two-night, beginner’s trip: we hiked 5.5 miles to Thunder Creek, up in the North Cascades. I discovered that carrying a fairly weighty pack on my back, while walking up into the mountains, was difficult; but I did it!
As soon as we arrived at our destination and made camp, which involved erecting our tent, setting up our sleeping system, and purifying some water, Sally Jo attempted to light our backpacking stove. It blew up! It was small, and so was the explosion, so while she was startled, she wasn’t hurt at all. But we had to think fast. And we persevered, cooking over a permitted campfire. We made out fine. And, we had a very good time on the trip. We foraged for delicious wild blackberries. I even saw a bear track when I took a solo hike to Park Creek Pass!
I will admit: going on a backpacking trip for the first time, at the age of 38, and knowing that we would have to survive on only the skills and supplies we brought with us, was rather daunting. I took the whole thing seriously. I knew we would have no one but ourselves to rely upon. But all in all, it was a great first backpacking trip for me.
It really is something to think about: what you carry in your backpack (average weight = 40 pounds of supplies) is what you are going to survive upon. That’s it. [Hey, this is starting to sound like “Naked And Afraid”!] Other than finding our water onsite, and being very careful to treat it, in order to purify it, we survived on only what we brought. We had our tent, Therm-a-Rest sleeping pads, sleeping bags, food, stove, extra clothing, the “ten essentials”, maps, camera, binocs – everything — divided into two bunches, carefully packed into our backpacks.
I gained so much happiness and confidence from completing the journey with Sally Jo. After I passed muster on that first two-nighter, she planned more and more trips for us. Each was a little more challenging and/or longer, as we went along. After a year or two of backpacking together, we were able to enjoy a three-night trip to Spider Meadows, in the Wenatchee State Wilderness. This was our penultimate trip! The views were spectacular. We saw many deer – they came right into our campsite. We did a strenuous day hike to Spider Pass, which went right up a rock face. Once again, the views were worth the effort.
While for me, Spider Meadows was the superior backpacking trip, Sally Jo had begun backpacking with her Girl Scout troupe at a very young age. She went on many trips. So, she may have had better ones…. But not me!
Back to my story: we were hiking uphill, in step, with our “Sally Jo and Randy hiking rhythm”, when a song came to me. — This was a day hike. A typical day hike went like this: We hiked up to the top of a ridge, enjoyed beautiful views, and we hopefully saw some wildlife, maybe birds or bears. (We never actually hoped to see bears while we were hiking, and thankfully, we never did!) — After enjoying the view and eating the lunch we packed for the occasion, we would turn around and hike back down to the trailhead, to our trusty Aerostar. On this particular day hike, I had no pencil and paper with me. I had no way to write down the words which were simply pouring into my consciousness. I had no way to record the tune which was simultaneously coming from that place a songwriter taps into for his/her material. So: I had to sing the song to myself, repeatedly, during the hike – both uphill, and down — in order to remember it. I recall nothing else about that hike. My only thought at the time, was to remember the song which had come barreling into my head. When we finally made it back to the trail head, we hopped in the van, and Sally Jo drove us home. I had to remember the song all the way home, because we had nothing to write with in the van.
I’ll tell you: as soon as we hit the door to our apartment, I hurried to my desk, retrieved some paper, and wrote down the words to my new song, which I had somehow managed to hold in my head for all those hours and miles. At the top of the page, I wrote, “Walk With A Light Foot”. I had my title. All the rest of the words flowed out of my pen, like silk.
The words were apparently springing forth from my memories of our many hikes and backpacking trips. One specific trip supplied some key lines in the song: In 1988, we backpacked to beautiful, little Lake Olallie, which lies in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. I recall like it was yesterday, how we awoke on an October day at dawn, with a temperature of 38 degrees, and we spied a mist on the lake. That remains one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. It was right out of King Arthur. – That vivid memory went right into my new song.
As soon as I had the words on paper, I fetched my beloved Guild acoustic guitar (which later got baked while Sally Jo drove us through the Mojave Desert), and I began experimenting with chord patterns. — But you know, I already had the rhythm. All I had to do was remember our hiking rhythm, and apply that to the song! I found some good chords, I applied the rhythm, and a song was born. I retrieved my little tape recorder, and put the whole thing on a cassette within an hour. — I had it!
Of course, I went back and polished the song, over and over again, until I nailed what I was trying to say; until it sounded just like I needed it to sound. – I listened to it, made changes, listened again, made more changes — I polished that song up, re-recorded it, played it for SJ; and she said, “Yes!”
We had our own little folk group for ten years, called Spirit Ridge. We were working on identifying a concept, so we could record a new album for our fans, as it was time to do so. I knew that “Walk With A Light Foot” would be the album’s title, and its first song. We did it. Hope you like it!
My new friend, Marion Fiedler, contributed her original work of art to my story! Here it is, in all its glory. Thanks, so much, Marion. Marion is a very gifted singer and songwriter. When I heard her music, I immediately fell in love with her voice.
My thanks to two friends who made this possible: John Sangler for converting my cassette album to CD; Peter Garami for creating/uploading the video from my song and photos.
I’ll be publishing a post in the near future, “The Making Of The Walk With A Light Foot Album”. I’ll share how we made the album, and what happened after we released it.
Personnel on “Walk With A Light Foot”:
Randy Bowles, lead vocal, acoustic guitar
Sally Jo Davis, acoustic guitar
Bruce Jay Paskow (Grammy-nominated special guest), harmony vocal, acoustic lead guitar
Bonus Coverage, If You Want A Laugh:
I documented many of our hikes in a hike journal. I then used several of those entries to write trail reports for “Signpost Magazine” in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Washington Trail Association distributed the magazine and its hiking reports, so folks would have a reference regarding particular hikes. I remember reading someone’s trail report, which documented a hike which they thought was way too pedestrian. It went something like this: “It was a rather unsatisfactory, unremarkable hike. The weather wasn’t that great. The trail was in rough condition. The wind was blowing. We saw a cougar. I went hungry, because I forgot to bring my granola bar….” – They saw a cougar? Unremarkable hike? My grief!