Last weekend, I was a guest at an intimate 40th birthday celebration for my dear friend, Diana. She asked the five of us in attendance what we thought was the best part of our year. The first thing that popped into my mind was “The Foothills Trail.” While the trail in and of itself is beautiful, it goes much deeper than that. It’s what has happened to all of us collectively on the trail that makes it such a simple answer. Our families stories have become inextricably woven together on these adventures so full of laughter, mishaps, and even some tears thrown in for good measure. A microcosm of life experienced over the course of two to three days.
What would take an average adult hiker four to five consecutive days to complete will probably take us a year as we patch the various segments together. I don’t mind though and I live in a paradox of craving the next time we pull out our hiking poles to complete the next segment versus not wanting it to ever end.
Before the movie was released, I reread the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I’ve discovered that most people either intensely like or dislike the book and her story. I’m in the like camp. While Strayed’s initial response and subsequent actions in the wake of her mother’s death from lung cancer were vastly different than my own, what we share in common is Mother Nature’s influence in helping us put ourselves back together.
The irony is that Mother Nature doesn’t give a crap about the well being of any of us–she’s indifferent, really. She is, however, a consummate teacher. What she has taught me this past year is similar to what Strayed’s mother preached to her repeatedly, “There’s a sunrise and a sunset every day and you can choose to be there for it. You can put yourself in the way of beauty.” It’s as a simple as that and as achingly difficult as that when a thin veil of pain obstructs your view. But if I at least put myself in the way of it, a little light always, always seeps through. More often than not this past year, that light has been brighter than any other time over the past five years.
I ended my year with a solo backpacking trip on the Bartrail Trail. After a typical hectic and harried holiday season and feeling wound up like a tight coil, I expected to breath a huge sigh of relief when I finally hit the trail. What I experienced instead was a gradual and slow exhale over the two days I was gone. The fact that the exhale came at all is what mattered to me.
That hazy view I sometimes have from missing Mama? Maybe it’s supposed to stay there. Perhaps it is there permanently to remind me how brief this stint on Earth really is and how vital it is to my emotional well being to acknowledge the beauty in the every day, even on my darkest days. Of course none of this is new wisdom to anyone reading this. It’s simply a reminder to myself in the new year to continue to be bold and brave enough to continue to put myself in the way of beauty, knowing the rest of life will take care of itself. I hope you do the same.
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” ~Rachel Carson
|Since I have to wait awhile to thru hike a big trail, shorter ones like the Bartram Trail will suffice for now. I’m excited about thru hiking it in segments this year when I can break away for a weekend (it’s about 117 miles long)|
**For anyone who stumbles across this blog looking for trail reports on the Bartram Trail, this post covers the segment from the Appletree Group Campground to the junction of FS 1308 at the Nantahala River. I completed this segment as an out and back mainly, but on the return side, I took the Laurel Branch and Appletree Trails back to my car when the Bartram crossed them. While they were both beautiful alternate trails, they had clearly not been hiked in quite awhile and were even more difficult to follow with the winter leaf cover. Map reading skills definitely came into play on them. Campsites on the official Bartram Trail map appear to be accurate and mine was just past the junction of the Bartram and Piercy Creek Trails.