Last night, Pat and I took the kids to see a concert at a local theater. I hated the opening act, enjoyed the main act until the Girl pretty much surrendered to her fatigue and was trying to fall asleep while sitting on the stairs. Time to go home.
So, this morning, exhausted and worn, I stared at my husband who had fallen asleep on the couch while watching the History Channel and debated awakening him so we could go on a hike this morning to prepare/train for the Appalachian Trail. 8:30 slid by. 9:00 arrived, left and we still hadn’t started our morning hike in a local park. With the heat of the day steadily approaching, I realized that there was no way Pat and I were going to go on our morning hike.
But I was not going to give up an opportunity to get out and get ready for the AT hike. The Girl had just awakened and, without warning, I told her to get changed and that we were going to be leaving within minutes. She was quite shocked and a bit taken aback, but she immediately rose to the challenge. By the time I was about to walk out the door, though, the husband had awakened and was shuffling around the kitchen.
“Where are you going?” he asked me.
“Shenandoah. You wanna come with?”
He thought about it for a moment and then politely declined as he had plenty of work to be done in preparation for yet another Boy Scouts boating trip this weekend. I asked him what needed to be done; Pat provided a list. And I quickly stated that I could get everything done for him tomorrow.
Next thing I know, the Girl was staying home with the Boy and the Dog and the Husband and I were walking out the door, getting in my car, and leaving for the day.
About two hours and one interstate highway later, Pat and I were at the gates to Shenandoah National Park. I finally took my courage in my own hands and bought a year-long pass, something I have wanted for twelve years but didn’t because I had somehow convinced myself that I was never going to use it that I wasn’t good enough that….I don’t know. I was being stupid. It doesn’t matter. I have it now. It’s sitting in my wallet and my signature is on the back and it’s mine. All mine. And I will share so long as I am either in the driver’s seat or the passenger seat.
I don’t know why I’m obsessed with the AT, but somehow this has become a major point for me. I don’t know if it’s because of the stupid sticker I want for my car or the fact that I hiked one nano-portion of it once twelve years ago. But I really want to hike the entire thing, even if it’s in chunks and pieces and parts. In the end, I want to have walked through Georgia to Maine, to have done it all.
And, today, I finally started walking my dream. Pat and I started mapping out the hike for the Boy Scouts, parked in the first available lot, and walked roughly two miles to what would be the first hut we would stay at on the Appalachian Trail.
Primitive, spartan, quiet, it was three walls with a slanted roof, a picnic table, a concrete pad, and nature and trees and the world surrounding it. I am a bit intimidated by what this will mean for when we are doing the actual hike, but I will not shudder from what this means for me, for walking on the stepping stones of my dream.
For years, I have hiked with my parents and brother and walked where they walked, stepped where they stepped. But this, this is my hike, this is my path that I am choosing on where I am going and how I am going to do this. Yes, I am doing this with my husband and for the Boy Scouts. But this is only fifty miles out of hundreds and I will follow through, will move along the mountains of this country and find my own path, even if it has been worn by others.
At one point, Pat and I walked under power lines so saturated with electricity that they buzzed and snapped with life, with enough power to kill us and silence our dreams. And as we cut perpendicularly against the grain of the power lines, we passed wild blackberry bushes laden with ripening fruit. And, to the frightening hum of the power lines, we picked the fruit and ate, almost as though we were partaking in some form of communion.
Today, this was a trip of exploring a path I will eventually trod and feel the shape of the changes I have made over the last year. Today, I stood on the Appalachian Trail and watched a doe (a deer, a female deer!) walk past my husband and me, her tail wriggling, nibble at some leaves, and then continue down her own path. Today, Pat and I picked up a hitchhiker, a young woman from Australia who is walking the Appalachian Trail to find the texture of her own dream. She regaled us with stories of working in the Australian Navy, walking the AT, and how she earned her AT nickname, “Super Feet.”
And as “Super Feet” told us stories, a black bear slipped across the road and made the cars stop and wait for nature to cross a human construction and re-enter the fabric of nature.
Poem of the Day:
Car doors open, keys hanging on my hip,
We are staring at the delta of the valley where mountains send their roots into the earth
And push apart, pull together the jigsaw pieces that hold the world together.
We are careless, eating trail mix while alternating between studying a map
And looking at the world that surrounds us without really seeing anything.
For now, we have slipped beyond the routine that has injected us with
Ennui, made us stop loving the simplicity of life, of the pleasure
Found in listening to the wind combing through trees but sounding
Like ocean waves on a distant shore.
And then, through the open door and into the car, a butterfly
Penetrates our fatigued reality and alights on a white plastic bag,
Its long tongue flicking across the surface, tasting sweetness that must be there
But we can’t see, can’t perceive.
We wait. Wait for this visitor to tire of what can’t be there
And alight the air and find its way out the windows that are open,
Back out the one way air-drafts from the open door and back
Into the wide open world in which we are standing but having forgotten
But the butterfly opens and closes its wings, as though breathing through the orange
Spots that freckle its wings or through the veins
That are black leaden panes holding together a stained glass mosaic of life.
I can not take this precious animal home. This is no, “It followed me home.”
This is not a choice. I can not pull this tiny fragment of life from this world
Because it is enamored with plastic, something superficial, something manufactured
And thrust into this macrocosm of purity.
Onto the joined branches of my love lines.
Carefully, gently, I back out of my car, away from this habitat of vinyl and plastic
And hold it in the lightly surging air.
Its wings shudder against the wind, flatten into wide-eyed palm prints,
Rise back up into one-dimensional, translucent-orange stars.
Lower again, a flat plane of tiny butterfly feathers.
Rise again, a fin against the warm summer breeze.
I twitch, the butterfly starts, and it rises back into the sunlight,
Away from my empty hands, and dips and falls over a meadow of cut grass
And purple clover children.