We had 5 inches of rain here in VA over the last two days. The walk home from the train station has necessitated the need for my rain jacket – I’m not a big fan of umbrellas – and despite the washing it has received (does that make any sense? To wash a rain jacket?) it still smells terrible.
It smells like the trail.
Rain jackets develop a pungent odor of their own – stale sweat and body odor that is at odds with the crisp smell of rain.
It is spring now here. The cherry blossoms were in full bloom two weeks ago. Now they are on their way out – taken from the trees by the winds and the rain. But the smell of spring persists in every breath you take.
I stopped to take a deep breath on my way home. In that moment I stood and just listened. I could feel everything around me. This is what I was in those moments.
I could feel the drops of water on my skin. It had stopped raining and was just misting. I had taken off my jacket. I had taken off my shirt and tie. I was standing in short sleeves, and could feel the wind tugging the shirt, washing the drops of water over my skin.
“We are clean and fresh, unspoiled by the world yet. Can you say the same about yourself right now?”
I could smell the new life that the rain had brought. Everything was growing. The crisp smell of water, of fresh earth, of life. Flowers and trees. Grass and leaves. All happy to be breathing with me, contributing their own scent to the world in that moment.
“I’m happy to be here right now. I’m happy to be alive. Are you as happy as we are?”
The bugs are singing their symphony. It’s the noise of dusk – crickets calling to one and other. Katydids reassuring themselves they aren’t lost. Anglewings saying hello. All rolled together, playing on endless loop. Drowning out the sounds of the distant city.
“We’re in our rightful place. Are you?”
The water is rushing, trickling. Carrying away all the cares and worries. Everything is moving. Aimlessly but with purpose. There is power in it and you can hear it.
“We are going to the ocean” the water says. “Won’t you come and follow us?”
The fox that lives around here runs across the path. She’s done this every day for the last 3 days for me when I’m coming home. Where is she going?
“Come follow me. Back into the woods – into the mystery that is my den here. I am not the trickster that Coyote is in the West – but I will play with your mind here instead.”
6 second was all it took.
I question everything I’m doing again.
Alternatively – Trilogy Time
For those of you who watch How I Met Your Mother (Alternatively – the LONGEST, most drawn out story you should never tell your kids) there is a running gag regarding the gang watching the Star Wars Trilogy every three years and making predictions about the future in the process.
As a dedicated Star Wars fan, geek, nerd etc this idea holds appeal to me. Because lets face it – who doesn’t dream about what their life would look like in a perfect world three years from now. Not that I need an excuse to watch the Trilogy – as Damselfly once found out, I can recite Star Wars by heart… God I’m kind of a nerd aren’t I! Hooray for nerdiness!
Really though this train of thought – the “what will my life look like in three years” started over the weekend I shared with some old friends. I had gone to a friends house for a night of partying and was with people I’ve known for forever, and some I hadn’t seen in quite awhile.
Once we were all young and stupid
Among old friends, new friends and forgotten memories, I ran into an ex-girlfriend of mine.
I hadn’t talked to her since we broke up in 2011. Rather – since I broke up with her, shattered her heart and then moved on to other things.
Ok I promise this won’t be a mope-fest of introspection this evening. Morning I guess rather.
But seeing her made me start thinking. Where do I want my future to be in three years? This was a woman who I was in a relationship with for almost three years, lived with for more than a year and she at least, saw me as someone whom she could settle down with.
Fast forward three years from my breakup with her and I’m ready to consider settling down, thought I had found someone I was in love with and even considered marrying. Whuf. There’s a scary thing to say aloud. I was ready to marry someone 6 months ago. What’s different now compared to then? Where do I see myself in three more years, watching the Star Wars Trilogy?
I’m not sure. That’s an even scarier answer.
We all have moments, crises of faith. We wonder where our direction will take us. For me, three years ago I really started to realize my dream of a long-distance hike. I gave up a lot of things to follow that dream – I left a lot of people I love and care about behind to wander for more than a year. I’ve come home from all of that and now I wonder what I’ll be doing next.
One of the biggest deciding factors to everything is money. The high holy dollar bill. I need a job that not only pays the bills, but puts away a little more. Those jobs are hard to come by these days it seems – As of Wednesday I have sent out 172 cover letters in the year of 2014. I shaved my beard off so I’d look like a better candidiate.
Seriously. I shaved my beard. But still no job.
The job market sucks. There are plenty of cookie cutter college grads just like me out there all waiting for a chance to prove themselves. Nothing is owed to me – but I’d like a chance to prove that I’m worth something. Because I know I am – I hiked quite a ways to prove it to myself.
But what are my bigger ambitions? What goes beyond money? I want something that makes sense to me – maybe a career is part of that. Maybe a family is part of that. Just being a part of something again is important I think. Maybe that’s another long-distance hike. Maybe it’s falling in love again. I talked to an Army recruiter a few days ago – maybe joining the Army is the answer. Maybe I should take the plunge and vagabond my way through Europe.
Things don’t magically get better overnight – they take work and time and energy. I’m willing to do that – spend the effort, but I have to know what direction I’m aiming at.
So I’m going to sleep now thinking of a direction. Maybe not planning it out, but at least setting a compass point to follow. Waving my hands and saying “that-a-way” to the distance.
I’ll be charting my new directions while smelling the pine tree forests of New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine in my dreams.
When I read things like this, it makes me reevaluate what I want to do again. I think about the Trail everyday. Things will happen and I’ll flashback to a moment. I’ll smell something and remember an instant. Everyday.
I think about the Trail every single day.
It changed me – and I’m not sure if that change makes me fit for normal society anymore.
In honor of March’s “Music in the School’s” month, I plan on listening to a new album every day and then writing about it. You can find more information here and even suggest an album to listen to. Thanks for reading!
The first seconds of a song are crucial. They can pull you in and hook you,or push you away and make you never want to come back. Tom Wait’s voice pulled me in from the first words he slid to me.
It doesn’t really sound like he’s even singing. Not in the traditional manner – he just sort of breathes out his thoughts, slides them to you like a bartender slides a shot of whiskey to you from the other end of the bar.
Martha. Oh Martha. What did you mean to a 21 year old Tom? From what he sings about you – everything.
I’ve wondered at times if I’m the only one who does this. Thinks of the future conversations, of that moment where someone who meant a lot to you at an earlier point in your life intersects back in. Because that’s what this song is to me – that conversation he’s thinking about when he and Martha ended. They both got married, moved on but he never forgot about her. He never forgot about those moments he had with this girl who changed his life.
It of course is followed by Rosie. Could this be the one he ended up with? Maybe. He tries to convince her of so many things, all the while playing to the moon and his solo audience of the cat. It’s another moment of longing – but a different one. Why can’t things be better, be the way they used to be. “How can I persuade you?” he asks – I wish i knew Tom, because then I could persuade myself.
Lost chances, paths not taken. There is a lot of longing and regret in these lines and songs. Things everyone feels, and the doubts we all have. The eternal question of “what if” and “maybe” resound in this album. Falling into and out of love, the bad timing that things have and the ways in which we all founder and then pick ourselves back up. Narrated by the smoky room that I see Tom Waits inhabiting.
I had just moved 2000 miles to Mississippi from NH. I met a boy at a bookstore. He was the first person to try to be my friend and I’ve never made friends easy. It was a balmy hot southern night and we were getting high and watching lightning bugs. Something about tom waits, the rough voice expressing the most beautiful things, the beats, the piano, he opened up a whole new world in me. It was like I suddenly understood myself and my life better.
Coming of age album for me. He sings about drinking, trains and traveling, loss. And the imagery he uses is haunting.
I had “ribbon in the willow” engraved on a ring I still keep today
I can see these moments in my mind. I feel the heat dissipating after a long hot day, feel the air heavy with the humidity. The record slowly spinning and the special rasp that comes with vinyl. It’s moments like these that are etched into a mind for all time. Forever is a long time but that time forever glows.
I had a long discussion this evening with SingleGirlHiking about the Great Eastern Trail (GET), a 1600 mile long trail from Alabama to New York.
The pull is great. It is strong.
I justified it in my mind as well. The flu study I’m in the running for would pay for 4 months of hiking without any problem. I could be the third person ever to hike the GET on foot (no yellow blazing, no skipping for this one…). I could escape again to the wilderness and walk. Be free and whole again.
It’s a strong feeling. Being whole like that again.
I’ve felt good about myself before. In college I felt like I belonged, felt loved and accepted. I was loved and accepted, with many friends. They felt like family.
But out on a trail, I feel Whole. It’s hard to explain. Everyday I felt born again, every person I met never questioned who I was, or what I was doing. There wasn’t judgement on how I lived my life. My actions spoke for who I was, and nothing more.
I romanticize the Trail life quite a bit. I know I do. I remember how terrible the climb down the White’s was when I almost died. How it never stopped raining in the south for days. The feeling of dampness and wet that never went away no matter how much sun you got. The hunger and disgust when you had nothing but chicken ramen to eat that night. The pain of a 25 mile day.
But I have never felt more alive. More complete. More myself than I did out there. I had purpose and drive and love. Love for the people around me, the trees that grew over me and the smell of dirt and pines.
I can smell that freedom now when I close my eyes. I may be physically sitting in a basement in Virginia, but when I close my eyes I am in Maine or Tennese. Vermont or North Carolina. New Hampshire. I smell the pines, feel the dirt, pine needles below my feet. Feel the wind whistle around me and carry the scents of the forest while it tugs on my hair. It is as real to me in my dreams as it is to someone standing there.
Because I’m still standing there in those places. They never leave me. Even when I’m sitting in a basement in Virginia, crying a silent tear. Because of where I am, instead of where I am meant to be.
Music has always been a big part of my life, and was one of my favorite things on the Appalachian Trail. I sang aloud often, joined in campfire sing-a-longs and made it an everyday occurrence.
March is Music in the Schools month. I learned to play my first instrument, the violin thanks to my school’s music program. It exposed me to music I’d never really heard before, introduced me to people I’d never met that could reach through hundreds of years to touch me in my mind and in my heart. As I grew my tastes may have changed, but my respect and love for music and the artists who create it never has dimmed.
So for March I’m going to be listening to an album a day. An album I’ve never listened to before. An album others think is important, good music from all genres. An album that may have changed someone else’s life at some point, or saved them for themselves. The album I feel is a dying art – we live in a world of singles now and the whole story seems forgotten most days. So I’m going to listen to it from start to finish.
So I’d like to ask for YOUR help dear readers. I’d like you to suggest an album for me to listen to during these 31 days. An album you love from an artist who you enjoy. An album that may mean something special to you – maybe it was the one you had on in your car when you kissed that special person for the first time. Maybe it was the one you didn’t take off the record player for 3 days when it was the darkest point in your life. Maybe it’s the seminal work from your favorite band. I want you to tell me to listen to that album.
You can email me the album name and artist, or leave it here in the comments. You can even tell me why you are recomending it, or what your story of that album is. If you really want to, you can even write me a short bit detailing it – I’ll put it up here. Because every album I listen to, everyday, I’m going to talk a little bit about it.
Because music opens up a window to your soul
I talked about Damselfly awhile ago in and earlier post but left her story unfinished because it’s one that shows Damselfly’s other amazing characteristics: not just smart, funny and happy – but a drive to finish.
A drive to finish against all odds and any obstacles she faced.
When she was coming out of Hanover, NH Damselfly slipped on some lose pine needles, or perhaps a small rock. It doesn’t really matter what it was exactly that she slipped, it only matters when happened when she hit the ground.
She twisted her ankle. Badly. It swelled up. Bruised. Turned odd colors. It was probably more than a strain or a twist. It was at the very least – slightly broken.
Her ankle was busted. Her hike was probably over.
Damselfly was able to limp back to town, slowly with help from other hikers. She rested some, iced it a little and took anti-inflamatory medication. She waited. When I saw her she had fallen three days before hand, and her ankle was still swollen to the size of a grapefruit.
How big is that you ask? Well if you don’t have a grapefruit handy, go find yourself a softball. About that size. Perhaps wrap both hands around your ankle – that might be equivalent, but not quite. It was bad to look at too beyond the swelling – it was yellow and purple and blue – all those disgusting colors you get from bruises as they try valiantly to heal.
“Oh I’m going to hike out of here tomorrow I think” Said Damselfly, casually as if it was no big deal.
“On that? On the ankle that can’t support any weight, that you’re hobbling on and can’t carry a pack with?”
“Sure – I’m going to slackpack, no problem. It’ll help it to heal.” For those who don’t know, a slackpack is when you don’t carry your full pack and instead leave it with someone else who will pick you up at the end of the day.
You couldn’t tell Damselfly no. You couldn’t make her see reason that if she walked on her busted ankle, she might damage it forever. She might not be able to have it heal properly without surgery perhaps. She was determined she was going to get to Katahdin on her own power one way or another.
So she did. She hiked out of town and got a few miles and then had to get picked up because her ankle hurt too much. So she took another two days off. Then tried again. She got a few more miles out – then had to get picked up again. Her friend Splash stayed with her for a lot of it, making sure she got through safely. She was doing it. Slowly but surely.
It took her a lot longer than she wanted. She had to hitch a little to get there. She spent a little more money than she thought she would and had to sacrifice things along the way to get there. But she got there.
I saw Damselfly again in Monson, Maine, the last town stop before the 100 Mile Wilderness and Katahdin. She was doing some work for stay at the Lake Shore House, and the owner Rebecca was taking care of her (Stop there hikers! It’s the best place in town!) and trying to make sure she stayed off her ankle. I talked with her a little there. Her ankle wasn’t swollen as much, she could put weight on it again. She wasn’t anywhere near 100% – hell she probably wasn’t 60% – but she was leaving soon and was going to walk as much as she could to get to Katahdin. She was going to finish under her own power. Stubborn lady that she is, she knew she had to.
And she did. Damselfly summited Katahdin on October 15, 2013. She walked up there all by herself.
I talked with her a month or so later. It’s always good to talk to your hiker friends – you love them all so dearly. Family.
“You guys were my summit date…. you were my heart-group”
Long distance hikers get so invested in our trail. Our walk. We meet people who become family – better than family even. These are the people you choose to be with in a way that few others ever can understand. Sometimes things happen that makes the people you care about suffer. They fall and bust an ankle, maybe they run out of money and have to go home. Perhaps they just get tired and can’t deal with it anymore. Whatever the reason, when they leave you, you cry a little for them – because they are gone.
When people ask me for stories about truly inspirational people that I’ve met on the trail, Damselfly’s story is the one I use most often.
“Who the hell is so stubborn that they finish a hike like that on a busted ankle, limping the whole way? Why would they put themselves through all that pain? Just to prove something?”
I always say “No. She wasn’t out to prove something, she wasn’t stubborn like you’re thinking. She was in love, and that love let her finish. She loved something so dearly that it hurt too badly to even think about getting off.”
And that is Damselfly. Intelligent. Witty. Happy. Bubbly. Beautiful. Stubborn.
With the trail and all it’s people.
When I reached Monson Maine in 2012, it was my first extended encountered with northbound hikers. It was the first I was able to sit and talk with them, learn from them and generally listen to their stories. They had so many, and were equally sad and thrilled to be finishing.
It is much the same way I would feel months later when I returned on my own Northbound hike.
The Lakeshore House was where I met Moldy Toe and Diva, the first Southbound hikers I would meet and hike with. They were mid 20s, had been married for less than a year and had started their hike together. Moldy Toe had been recovering at the Lakeshore House for about a week, as his toe had become infected in the last 2 days in the 100 mile wilderness, and turned into a serious issue.
Originally, Moldy Toe and Diva had started together, sumitted Katahdin and then set out south. 7 miles into the 100 mile wilderness, Diva decided she just couldn’t do it. But this was Moldy Toe’s dream, and she didn’t, couldn’t deny him that dream. So she said she’d go home and he should continue on the hike and finish, because this was something he had to do.
That’s some love right there. So Diva gave him the gear out of her pack that he needed, took the gear he didn’t need anymore and turned around to the Golden road and hitched back to Millinocket and went home to Ohio.
A week goes by, Moldy Toe gets his infected toe (which spawns his name) and he calls Diva to let her know what’s going on. Diva decides she can’t let him recover alone, so she drives from Ohio to Maine to be with him. A hell of a drive indeed. She stays with him for a week while he recovers: they go sightseeing on the Maine coast, drive through the country side and generally have a good time. I meet them both at the hostel on their last day together, as Moldy’s toe has healed, he’s setting off in the morning.
Diva and Moldy say goodbye and I meet Moldy at the shelter out of town where we end up staying the night as Diva drives 15 hours home. He tells me the story and I stand in a little awe of it – a dedicated team that knows they have to let the other do what they want.
We set off the next morning and head south, hoping to cover about 17 miles so we can cross the Kennebec river by ferry early the next day. Around 4pm we stop at a shelter to refill water and snack, and figure out how much farther we’re going. “Another 2 miles should do it, there’s a water source and a ford – we can ford and then set up camp and eat.”
We depart the shelter. And run smack into Diva who is walking North.
Moldy’s mouth was agape, his jaw somewhere down around his ankles.
Diva had decided upon returning to Ohio that shouldn’t couldn’t stand to be without him. She had gone home the first time because he pack was too heavy for her and she wasn’t truly invested in the hike. Now she was. She had put only the bare essentials in her pack, driven back to Monson and then gotten a hitch to Caratunk, where she had told the whole town to watch for Moldy and not let him leave without. Then she’d gone to the ferry, told the ferryman the story and asked him if Moldy had crossed already. “No? Well I’ll just hike north to meet him.”
She’d started hiking north at 10am. She only had a liter of water and snack since them, mostly Mike & Ikes. She’d stopped to read every register, checked every crossing to find her husband so she could be with him.
Moldy and Diva were back together and hiking.
We camped by the river ford that night, and pooled our food together to have cheddar and broccoli tuna melt. Diva and Moldy stayed up and discussed what they were going to do the next day.
I didn’t see them much the next day, they got into an argument over the car and what to do with it. They got off the trail. But I think they were okay with that decision. Diva because she’d finally told Moldy what she wanted from him, and Moldy because he’d taken the opportunity to at least try at his dream.
I’d like to think they are happy back in Ohio somewhere. Though really – who is happy in Ohio? (I kid I kid… except for Cleavland.)
I’m wearing my hiking pants
They smell like the last fire we shared.
I’m wearing a shirt
That went 2000 miles
I’ve got a hat on
That still smells like Maine.
Its snowing here and I’m walking in the woods.
Missing things I can’t get back.
You exist only in memory now.
I’d give anything to go back.