My dad has given me the best gift anyone has ever given me. He gave me wings to fly.
There’s a lot of things my dad and I share – a Roman nose (inherited from his mom, Janet Loricchio) an addiction to Gummy Bears (which his wife, Ding, calls his “antidepressant pills”), an outsize passion for classical music, ready smiles that crack up our faces into a mass of crinkles, and a love of the outdoors that oftentimes brings us to tears.
At fifteen, my dad left the nest to blaze his own trail, and ended up in Bellingham, Washington working in a men’s clothing store while finishing high school. He enlisted in the Navy, to see the world, but always kept his feet on terra firma as much as possible, especially in the fresh air of the North Cascades, a wonderland of deep green touched by fingers of snow late into the season.
There’s a wonderful picture of my dad in those mountains posing with his ice ax, never realizing it would take me five decades to get to this very spot when I walked the Pacific Crest Trail last summer.
Long distance hiking is not a vacation, it’s too long for that.
At a tent site high up on a ridge in Washington, I met two women sitting on logs next to their individual mineral green tents and passing a small flask betwixt themselves. They lifted their outstretched legs as I passed, since that was the only route to a tiny spring – described as a “crisp, cool, mystical, scoopable pool of water” below the trail.
As it goes with all backpackers sharing a space, the two were friendly, eager to share about their day’s hiking. For them, it was a return to familiar ground, which last summer had been shrouded in smoke with no views available at all of splendid Goat Rocks or Mount Rainier himself, shining high above.
Fortunately, it had been a gloriously clear day, so all had been rescued – and that might have explained the celebratory Scotch which was eventually offered to me.
Change your life today. Don’t gamble on the future, act now, without delay.
Simone de Beauvoir
Change is not easy.
Most of us would prefer to keep things right where they are. We’d rather not, thank you very much, risk change that might bring on unsettling feelings of having no clue what we’re doing, or worse, having to start all over again. Kind of like when you choose that card in Monopoly – go to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
When I started walking the Pacific Crest Trail last July, it was all about survival of my spirit. If I could just get out of town for a few weeks and start walking again, I might clear my head and maybe the drastic changes happening in my life that were making me sit bolt upright in bed every night in a state of panic, would just go away.
I bought a one-way ticket to Bellingham, Washington and planned to carpool with a trail angel who organized a caravan of rented vans. She ferried thirty hikers to the trailhead at Hart’s Pass. I was surprised by the number of us and soon learned that there was only a handful actually starting the trail. Most of the hikers were what we called “flippers,” hikers who needed to change their intended route because moving forward was impossible.
The metaphor in that bleak moment of my life was not lost on me. Circumstances beyond their control forced them to reckon with the situation, make a decision, and act. Not everyone was happy or comfortable with what needed to be done, but they figured things out and finally placed themselves over a thousand miles from where they left off.
The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation.
As I headed into the Blisstudio this morning to do my eLearning workout homework, I thought of a wonderful quote I read a while back about youth. I have to admit, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself starting all over in something new at age 55, needing to adopt a “beginner’s mind” while taking lessons from someone younger and more successful than me.
These are humbling times for all of us and I think it’s worth contemplating these words right now. They’re attributed to Luella F. Phelan, of whom I sadly can find absolutely nothing about on Dr. Google. If you have followed my blog at all, you’ll notice nearly every quote I refer to is from a woman. And if you know anything about women, our histories are often lost to time.
But at least we still have this amazing statement.
Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind. People grow old only by deserting their ideals and by outgrowing the consciousness of youth. Years wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul…. You are as old as your doubt, your fear, your despair. The way to keep young is to keep your faith young. Keep your self-confidence young. Keep your hope young.
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.
Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.
It was thick forest and I was heading down – finally – on the last descent in the state of Washington, careening towards the Columbia River. It’s a natural boundary and I’d cross the Bridge of the Gods before heading straight back up again towards Mount Hood and all of Oregon. The rain let up this far south, though mosquitos were out in full force and I had no plans to linger even though I was surrounded on both sides by multitudes of black-, blue- and huckle-berries, all within easy reach. I felt happy and so alive, punch drunk that my intention of walking a little wisp of trail had grown to my being on the verge of checking off an entire state.
A rough section of dirt and rock loomed in front of me, a landslip that appeared to have just been cleared. Unlike hardcore tramping in New Zealand, a landslip of this magnitude was never going to be left there for hikers to climb over. Someone took it upon themselves to dig right into the side of the mountain and create a wider, more stable path. Aside from a bit of dust on my La Sportivas, I barely broke stride.
Ahead, two people covered head-to-toe in long sleeves, long pants, gloves and helmets were lumbering along, snipping away at errant bushes and kicking loose stones aside. Their manner was focused and meticulous, like a proud home owner. It wasn’t just respect and reverence they exhibited for this gorgeous patch of trail, they acted as if they owned the place.
And to be fair, they earned that attitude.
Tammy and John are caretakers of the PCT – perhaps more precisely, of eleven miles of the 2,653 mile-long PCT. For the past sixteen years, they’ve set aside their free time to ensure the trail is walkable by removing downed trees and limbs, cutting back overgrowth and fixing any damage like the huge landslip I managed to simply float over. Why do they do it? That’s simple – because they want the trail here.
Neither of them identify as long distance backpackers. Just like thru-hikers desperate for a break in town every so often – they begin to miss beer and flush toilets.
These things are ours for God creates within our soul a mystic sense of wonder that we may hear allegro tunes among tall swaying cattails.
Before we get to birds, a small bit of business.
So many of you have asked me how to pronounce New Zealand’s “Te Araroa.” This is my hiking-partner-for-the-first-eight-days Irene’s dad’s longtime girlfriend, Vern with her gorgeous Kiwi accent setting us straight on this Maori word.
Thank God I have seen an orange sky with purple clouds. How easy it is to forget that we have the privilege of living in God’s art gallery.
It was a wet, chilled-to-the-bone day in the North Cascades, when I hopped down a spur trail towards a lake, looking for somewhere reasonably dry to eat my lunch. I came upon a group of men sharing this strip of land in the midst of celebrating a mass. They too felt the cold, I’m sure, but it didn’t stop their desire to commune with the spirit by making music and chanting blessed words together.
This week, my goal is to dig in and read every blog entry over the past year as well as sort through thousands of pictures. Yeah, I know, it’s a massive goal, but stay with me. The aim of this endeavor is to help create a coherent storyline for the many presentations I am being asked to give. Not surprising, it’s an enlightening experience – if not a touch bittersweet – to look back at all I accomplished, but maybe more important, to understand my state of mind and why I felt compelled to take this radical detour in my mid-fifties.
About all you can do in life is be who you are. Some people will love you for you. Most will love you for what you can do for them, and some won’t like you at all.
Rita Mae Brown
What does it mean to “be who you are?” And how do we get “comfortable in our skin,” as the saying goes, able to accept ourselves fully and know that not everyone will understand us, let alone come to love us just as we are?
I met Grapefruit Punk in the North Cascades near Stevens Pass, Washington. She is a person who has chosen to identify as gender neutral. I have to admit, I’m not entirely comfortable using ‘they/them’ in place of ‘he/she.’ I totally understand the need for gender neutral identifiers and a more fluid understanding of who we are as human beings, but as a person who loves words, a plural term for the singular feels awkward.
The gender theorist Judith Butler reminds us that, “Gender is not something that one is, it is something one does, an act… a doing rather than a being.” I find her words a balm when considering my identity as a hiker having taken on the enormous challenge of walking the Pacific Crest Trail, but also post-PCT, as I navigate my future and try to blaze a successful career path.