I am channeling my inner Thoreau and Whitman right now. But as I have steadily meditated or reflected on my experiences on the Appalachian Trail (disclaimer…all 25-30 miles that I hiked), I see more and more that I really have come away from this as a very different person.
I am insecure. I got it. I will anxiously review conversations to ensure that I didn’t say anything hurtful. If I am upset about something, I will scrutinize every action, reaction, and word that might have been said to see if I have a right to my emotion. And I hate it. I hate being neurotic about everything because it is so exhausting. I was listening to a Fresh Air interview yesterday in which Terry Gross talked with David Foster Wallace, the author of Infinite Jest. They were discussing irony and she either asked him for an example of irony or something along the lines of his personal concept of irony. And he remarked that in discussing the pleasures he took from life he great incredibly anxious because he was worried about how people were going to perceive him. Were they going to see him as the stereotypical artist? He fretted about the way people he was never going to meet and how they were going to view him.
Finally, someone could articulate the very silliness that has plagued me my entire life.
However, as I was listening to this and feeling a numbing sense of relief, I also realized that I was steadily releasing that anxiety. I am writing this in the vacuum of summer vacation in which I am sitting alone in my house while watching the 1947 version of Sinbad. But I also see that stupid pettiness is really not that bothersome to me at this point.
Somewhere in the leaves and forest debris, I left a little skeleton of the lost-girl who has been my twin for so many years. Maybe she is curled up in the stones of Blackrock Summit where I anxiously scaled the rocks because my balance was precarious and I was unsure of my fitting. Maybe, she is leaning against the trees that I used to pull myself up the slope while searching for a moment of privacy. The little rag doll that was my parasitic twin is gone. I keep on wanting to write qualifying adjectives and adverbs: hopefully, possibly, maybe. But I won’t. I can’t. Not at this time. Not anymore.
I started to feel this way when I was scaling the rocks along Whiteoak Falls. I felt the loosening of the shadows when I walked through the streets of New York and kept on tipping my head backwards so I could see the vertical horizon created by the buildings.
When I was on the Appalachian Trail, I truly understood the meaning of vulnerability. Whether it was the boys, my hiking partners, my husband, or myself, we each, at one moment or another, experienced points of pain, points in which we needed to hide in the woods and just be by ourselves. And in those moments, we learned either to hold out a hand and help guide the person past the grief or the burgeoning agony. Or we turned our eyes to the side and allowed the person the moment to hold the tree and just breathe, to find a way out of the present and into some quiet corner of the mind.
What I found on the Appalachian Trail was peace. I haven’t felt this for a long time, perhaps since 1991 when I finally made my peace with my parents. Or maybe since the last time I was on my mountain in 2014 because this year has been so busy and each day was quickly filled with minuscule emergencies or requirements and expectations that had to be fulfilled which meant that I had to cast aside the dream of traveling down two lane roads to a mountain beside a river.
But in the last five days, I found my peace again. I found it as I stopped worrying and just lived in a very primal and very introspective manner. I found it when I walked up to Pat and he glanced my way, his eyes warm with love and appreciation. I found it when I walked by myself down a thin path lined with ferns, lined with wild berry bushes that I would strip and eat as I walked. I found it when I stepped outside the boundaries of my fears and stopped looking for what could hurt me or what could cause me pain and just looked.
Peace was within the fog that rolled up the hills and obscured my vision so that I could only focus on the ten to twenty feet in front of me. Peace was within the purring vibrato of the screech owl whose name belies the warmth of its calls. Peace was in the red dimming light framing the clouds and burning off the trees as the sunset.
Peace was in the meteor catapulting out of the solar system as it burned itself in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Peace was in the staccato of raindrops hitting the rainfly on my tent or in the water droplets cascading off the trees after the thunderstorm.
Peace was in the wind that combed through the trees.
Peace was in every careful and careless footstep that I took, when I didn’t register pain because I had worked so hard to prepare for this adventure, when the pain in my toes on my left foot became nothing more than a basic annoyance and not a hindrance. Peace was the warmth of my hiking partner’s blanket that she shared with me while we listened to the thunderstorm roll over the mountains and pelt our tent with the rain that eventually lulled us to sleep. Peace was in the darkness of the night during which the small forest toads sang a two note lullaby that rang in counterpoint to the calls of the owls or the heavy footprints of a bear that may or may not have walked through our campsite.