The reward for a good soaking

imageLook… look! Can you see them from my low-quality cell phone photo? There are now tiny red buds, beginning to open, swaying on the tips of nearly every tree out here. It happened overnight. It was the reward for a good soaking.

Last post, I signed off in the tent awaiting a wave of overnight thunderstorms, after two days of very hot hiking. The storms arrived, breaking the heat wave in typical Southeastern dramatic fashion. Our tent performed valiantly, keeping us mostly dry when the wind changed direction in the wee hours. I didn’t sleep until the storms finished, but reckoned there’s some value in lying down with a serene state of mind. I observed the storms passing overhead. Even a faraway flash of lightning is the most brilliant blaze imaginable in an otherwise black universe.

The next morning, after a few hours of sleep during quieter rains, we broke camp in record time. Rain makes for quick packing. We had thought of everything the previous night… we’d even dug our morning latrine holes pre-rain. (TMI? Sorry.) Oh wait… we didn’t think of quite everything. We’d left a toiletry bag on the ground overnight. After brushing my teeth, I discovered a slimy gray slug taking refuge in my toothbrush holder. Yum!

We hiked in the rain for about three hours. They were more pleasant than you’d imagine. Songbirds sang contentedly. The mist lifted and fell again. And it was not freezing rain. Then we hiked in fog for a few hours. And then, in the early afternoon, the sun burst through the swiftly-moving clouds. The sky turned the cleanest, kindest blue, and the world was reborn. The air was fresh and temperate. It was excellent weather for walking, sitting around between bouts of walking, and walking some more. And those buds! They were there, and now no matter what cold weather may come, they are not withdrawing. They will soon burst into leaf, and we will watch it happen day by day. Birth and death, spring and fall, the cycles inevitable.

We passed another milestone, too: we are now in Virginia! Virginia, as we all know, is for lovers. And so is spring.


Dispatches from the Gap


Not that Gap. In the South, they call mountain passes “gaps.” As in Gooch Gap, Sassafras Gap, or Betty Creek Gap.

A chilly but sunny day here on the trail. I’ve wished for a way to write down at least one amazing experience every day since we’ve been out. But since my blogging access is mostly via Zippy’s smartphone on high peaks (yeah, for some reason we left the laptop at home), my posts may be less like prose and more like haiku or, god forbid, tweets. Here are a few:

We are now in North Carolina. Over a hundred miles in.

A guy passed a kidney stone one night in his tent. We awakened in the blackness to a stream of anguished curses and pleas to a deity. “Are you all right?” I called out, although it was obvious he was not. He explained what was happening and declined my generous offer of ibuprofen (a raindrop in an ocean, I am sure). By morning he was done and laughing and smiling with his son again. I wonder if he packed out the stone.

It is interesting to this self-proclaimed wimp that so much enjoyment can be had along with a little bit of discomfort (such as swallowing a tiny splinter kicked up by the next person’s trekking pole–true story) every day. I am having a wonderful time. For instance:

We had a comedy of errors one very rainy day. The trail was beautiful, like walking on another planet, bare branches emerging like aliens from the dense fog, the path dipping into tunnels of rhododendron, which seem to be evergreen. We wore the cuben fiber rain suits J. had made, looking like spacemen. The shelter where we intended to stay was full of miserably cold-looking people, so we plunged on. We settled at Beech Gap, amid ever-stronger gusts of rain. There was no wooden shelter, so we pitched the tent in what soon became a minor lake. It took all evening to repack, keeping everything relatively dry, move the tent (yep, still raining hard), dry off and unpack again. But we slept warm and sheltered from the wind. All in all, we decided our rookie mistake still beat the cold, windy, overpopulated shelter.

The next morning dawned crisp and clear. We sunned our gear and ourselves at Mooney Gap over hummus and pita that afternoon, and scuttled off the trail over a ridge to give ourselves “showers” (a water bladder filled with boiled water, squeezed through a perforated soda cap by one person over the other, followed by a shivery but delicious toweling-off).

Just two days after a windy, snowy day, a butterfly the color of a fallen leaf warmed its wings near the peak of Tray Mountain. Did it hatch so quickly? Or do butterflies have special hiding places during snowstorms?

There are already buds on certain magnolias, and dramatic icicles coexist with verdant moss and ivies, stuffed into small cliffs along our path. It’s going to be amazing to watch spring overtake us.

Spring wallflowers

(click image to read note)

As spring warms the hemisphere, people paralyzed by winter’s dark and cold now ease into movement, including depressed people. Bleak inner life and the newly pulsating rainbow of plants outside form a sour contrast, and the more vibrant flow of blood gives some the strength to act: suicides peak in May and June.

This spring I found a note by the river. The water rushed and rose up its sandy edge, full of demanding energy, and I could not walk past without stopping to bask. The paper was folded in quarters and slipped between the boards of a park bench where homeless people sleep when it is snowing, swaddled in thin sleeping bags.

A little release, a little shout, poem, question, inelegant, referential, young, assertive, testing. Yet assuming a friend.

I went home and listened to the song it spoke of: the Smiths’ “Sing me to sleep.” Pictured hundreds of solitary teenagers in American bedrooms cultivating a self-image of moody misery, Morrissey intoning on repeat, a copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the floor. Some are serious, some sorta, some not. So which is she?

Lately I’m aspiring to become, like a famous pilgrim, “unstuck in time.” (Vonnegut, another literary reference– though what was hers? I couldn’t find it…) I’m more tender, awake, slow, open, and loving when I shake off time and control for even a short while. That kind of shedding has much to do with death, the death of the little self. A friend died snorkeling amid a symphony of colored fish off the coast of Hawai’i last week; rest in peace, Ed. Another fell from a roof in California while installing solar panels; peace be with you, Hans. Contemplating these deaths makes such a practice even more welcomed and needed.

Dear Friend, nobody else has to go for us to become awake together. Easier said than done… but it can be done.