Tomorrow, I return to school for teacher work week. No regrets. No grumbling here. Just the acceptance that vacation time has ended and the world of writing paragraphs, grading essays, teaching writing mechanics, teaching literary analysis, and discussing literature and its role in understanding society is upon me. I’m ready. I’ve already said that.
But that doesn’t mean that as summer ends that I don’t see how the events line up and create tidy book ends. At the beginning of the summer, I identified a “run” that I wanted to beat before the summer was over. It was 6.1 miles of hills and long lengths of time beneath trees until I would emerge at a busy intersection only to retrace my steps through the quiet lanes of suburbia. Before summer even really began, I beat the run and felt remarkable. As summer progressed and the heat and humidity calcified the air and made outdoor exercise an unpleasant experience of sweat and the inability to breathe, I didn’t go run on that path again. I had already beaten it. I didn’t need to do it again.
And then I hiked my little section of the AT and I came home and started running again. And last Thursday, I went outside and felt the chill in the air, the classic signal that fall is upon me. And I strapped on my running shoes, filled a bottle with water, grabbed my iPod, and ran and ran and ran those 6.1 miles. Hills evaporated beneath my feet and I eventually burst from the world of neatly stacked houses to stand beside the highway and watched the cars buzz past me. And then I turned around and headed home and felt the incredible beauty of accomplishment. I had beaten this road three months earlier. And, on Thursday, at the end of the summer when I originally thought I was going to be able to do it, I beat the run again.
At the summer’s opening, my husband and I went to Shenandoah National Park to start exploring the Appalachian Trail. And then last Thursday my hiking partner from the AT and I went on an incredible hike within a mountain cove. We covered just over five miles and walked the ridge-line of four mountains. And as we traversed the path, we talked our way through parts of our histories, our experiences, and our perspectives. For the first four miles, my hiking partner swung a stick up and down in order to remove the spider webs spun across the path. After walking through what felt like acres of webbing, my hiking partner eventually surrendered the stick to me and I became the “spider web slayer.”
Note, she did a great boogaloo when she walked into a huge web that was still inhabited. She’s also a gentle person so the spider lived but I relished the way she arched her back and shimmied her legs and arms at the same time. It was quite lovely.
Thursday night, we stayed in a private campground where we shared an incredible dinner but spent half the night awake as the people next to us forgot the concept of courtesy and talked loudly well into the delegated “quiet” hours. Then they played music….lots of music. And they weren’t playing lullabies.
Friday, another hike…one I will wait and write about another day as, unfortunately, I saw that people had lost their concept of path-courtesy.
Summer, for me, has pretty much ended. School will not start until after Labor Day and I know that I am going to have a lovely year.
But as I look at the bookends of this summer with running and hiking within those moments which define this summer for me, I feel no sadness or regret. Nostalgia hasn’t set in because, to me, nostalgia is reserved for experiences which are completely over and irretrievable. The sense of who I am, this construction of self and identification of…well….me, is far from over and definitely not something I would relegate to the past.
Three years ago, as I was approaching my fortieth birthday, people kept on saying that I was just turning thirty-nine again (or maybe it was twenty-nine). I wished then that they wouldn’t speak as though age was something of which to be ashamed. I said then as I believe now that my forties were going to be an important decade for me. That during my forties I was going to undergo rites of passage that would have a life-altering effect on me.
And, in the first three years of this decade, I have been living up to my own sense of expectation. I have seven more years before fifty…which will prove to be another decade rife with joy and fabulous experiences as my husband moves into his second career and I start moving closer and closer to retirement.
The bookends to this summer do not serve as punctuation marks to open and close the experiences. The summer is over. The vacation has concluded. But the trails call to me. The world is there, waiting for me to pull on my shoes and take a long walk.
And I’m ready.