The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within – strength, courage, and dignity.
On day 99 of my thru-hike of the Te Araroa, I completely lost it.
It was a combination of utter exhaustion walking a non-existent trail – the rocks hurt my feet and the grass is taller than my head! – being overheated and hungry, and having spent the night in a hut with a couple of unfriendly Kiwi trampers.
I turned on video to capture this very real moment of just how difficult thru-hiking can be on all parts of our person – body, mind and spirit.
It cracks me up looking back from the comfort of my air conditioned studio that I laugh at myself, even when crying so hard the snot is leaking out of my nose…
Finally I saw that worrying came to nothing. And gave up. And took my old body and went out into the morning and sang.
I gather speed as my car swoops down a winding roller-coaster
of road. The posted speed is 25, but she lunges forward, whining after I
downshift all the way to the bottom until leveling out, then slowing to a creep,
back up the other side. I pass a curtain of silvery birch. Snow blankets the slopes
to my left, the chairlift is still now. Oak Savannah on my right, is crispy
brown and dry.
This is Afton State Park. It shares a name with the quaint
village nearby which took its name
from Robert Burns, “Sweet Afton.” Fields roll toward vistas, three hundred feet
above the Saint Croix River, Minnesota and Wisconsin’s natural border. Afton is
home to gold medal winning crosscountry skier Jessie Diggans, and the grandly
named Afton Alps, the largest ski area in the Twin Cities.
We’ve been told by our governor to stay home – but not stay
indoors necessarily, urged to get outside while still keeping our six-foot
distance. The parking lot is full and people walk in small clumps, crunching
through last year’s leaves. An ice island of phantom ski tracks and long-healed
thunderbolt-shaped cracks is filled with migratory birds. The crackly noisemaker
call of sandhill cranes competes with a neighbor’s revving engine.
But the beauty is in the walking – we are betrayed by destinations.
For many of us, early March was “before” and now we reside in “after,” or perhaps more accurately, “during.” It’s hard to remember so many freedoms we enjoyed only a few weeks ago. And I don’t speak simply to being able to come and go as we please, congregate and share activities without a thought, or that our lives had some semblance of stability.
What I refer to is the loss of our dreams, ones we could plan for and bring to life, ones that sustained our hard work and focus, ones that made life rich and worth sacrificing for.
Now, we isolate and we wait.
Believe me, I am committed to what it takes for our common welfare, but I wonder if we’ll lose something from this time. If that’s hubris, then ok. If it’s hope, I’m heartbroken.
We’re home tonight after the concert we planned to attend was cancelled due to Covid-19. This is all a bit unnerving and scary, but hopefully drastic measures will help the medical community get control of things.
Frankly, I don’t mind a little social distancing at home. Richard and I still have a few more tasks to take care of on the voice recording booth. But first, we walked hand-in-hand to the local market, the evening clear and brisk with no snow on the ground as winter gives way to spring. We then put every Billy Joel album we own on the stereo, one after the other, singing loudly to our favorites as we sawed and glued. Home is a good place, especially when you have love, memories and hobbies surrounding you.
It made me think of meeting Sam Risjord last summer, a man who moved back to his home in Southern Washington when he really could have lived anywhere. He likes it in Stevenson, a place his family has called home for generations. Somehow its sweetness was more acute after being gone for so long.