If you’ve been reading my blog very long you know I hike just about every day. I’m lucky enough to live a mile from Pisgah National Forest and have been walking those trails for about twenty years now.

Two decades ago the area didn’t have easy access but five years or so ago the forest service added a parking area. When we started hiking those woods we rarely saw another person. Now, the lot is typically full to overflowing on weekend afternoons.

Twenty years ago, if we met someone it was an event. We’d chat, exchange notes–we got to know the handful of folks who hiked up there. Larry and his black lab Bruin. The parkway hiker with his dog always wearing a bear bell. Neighbors from our street. We were a small community well-known to each other.

These days I occasionally strike up a conversation with someone new, but mostly hikers just nod and exchange basic greetings or ignore each other. If it weren’t for the dogs, we probably wouldn’t interact at all.

Which got me thinking–we live in a world where people are hungry for community. And maybe part of the challenge is that there are TOO MANY opportunities for connection. It makes it hard to know who we ought to connect with and how. I imagine early settlers just struck up friendships with the two other people who were around. But when you encounter dozens of people throughout the day–when you pass ten people on a single hike–it makes it HARDER to connect. There’s always another chance . . .

On Saturday we were headed back down the trail when a guy on a mountain bike dropped in behind us. He was chatty! Turns out he’d gotten lost on a high, ridge trail, and was clearly relieved to have found people who could tell him the way back to the parking lot. He was eager to connect!

Maybe the trick to community is being willing to connect with the people in our paths–neighbors, co-workers, church members. All we have to do is look up from the trail we’re on and start a conversation.

And if you’re not sure what to say, just get a friendly dog. The best connection-builder I’ve ever known.