Coming to terms with a need to start on a totally new foundation, and adopting new premises for advancing, is not always the easiest or kindest point of “beginning again”, as some have called building from the ground up. At some point in life we all wish for a clean slate on which to draw our life’s vision or recreate a purpose or method truer to core motivations; but it’s when the time for stepping out and initiating change comes, a deep breath in before exhaling, makes us stand at the launch point with greater sobriety and hard-earned wisdom as our guides.
After taking a hiatus from serious hiking, I found myself this past weekend challenged by an author I’d met at a recent book signing, whose personal journal about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail I’d started to read. Here she was now in the flatlands of a state I had little interest in exploring, simply because of its lack of elevation changes and inhospitable rules in relation to my trusted companions (2 hiking dogs), needing clean water and a little trail-side assistance. I’d offered a few weeks before to assume the role of what seasoned-hikers call a “trail angel”, so I was ready to make good on my word. I knew from reading accounts of the first AT Thru-Hike with her then teenage son, and her dependence on God’s grace and provision, we’d have at least a few things in common.
“Blissful” was her trail name, and I was soon to learn that hiking Florida after cutting her teeth and trail-legs on the Appalachian Trail, wasn’t what she’d hoped. Never-the-less, true to her trail-name, she was maintaining a positive outlook, confident that even long, disagreeable road walks, boisterous traffic from passing trucks and overhead airplanes, mosquitoes, and bogs had lessons to offer. I have to confess, one day I joined her for a few miles, just to get out and walk in the cold fresh air I’d been missing in climates a little further north where more challenging hills and more interesting geological formations are found. (Granted, Florida’s seashores can offer restorative views, but increasingly they are overdeveloped and the congestion that comes with population growth is encroaching.) I followed her lead, trying not to complain, considering too my seven miles toting a day pack, paled in comparison to her nineteen mile a day averages with a full pack. And I did capture some new landscapes in photos, along the way. The one night I chose to retrieve overnight gear to join her in a desolate campsite, I learned the new pad I’d purchased last year to go under my sleeping bag was totally insufficient for a good night’s rest. Acoustics of a flat terrain allowed traffic noises to intrude throughout a night lit brightly by the moon, and it was odd not having my dogs sleep beside me in a tent too spacious without them. All night I had dreams disturbing deep sleep, only to be wakened by the soft hoots of an owl in a tall pine nearby. I was glad for the dim morning light before sunrise, as I heated water in a Jet-boil to reconstitute oatmeal and hot chocolate on a damp picnic table some all-terrain vehicle must have deposited on top of the palm fronds firming the sand underfoot.
These flat-lands where not my preferred “cup of tea”, but the company was pleasant, and I thought about how similar it is when we start from the ground up, after great loss or after giving up much of what we once valued to follow a deeper call, somehow preserving integrity and restoring a sense of self-worth with a less divided conscience. The stripping away of every weight and deception that entangles and trips up our steps is not pleasant, but necessary to go the distance. Pruning must not “feel good” to plants, but often it is a requirement before new growth can produce a more abundant crop of fruit. The stepping out in faith, again, letting the voices of criticism, misunderstanding, and the testing by others who’d prefer us not to change—–none of it is easy, but somehow necessary—even the monotonous road walks along long stretches, I suppose, have their lessons to offer. (Not to go back there being one.) Sorry Florida. Your birds and clouds are exceptional, but the shifting “underfoot” pathways, high water table, sketchy sources for potable water, and excessive summer heat and humidity are what I find less than agreeable..
One thing I did see in common with other states where roads and trails are used by the public was thoughtlessly discarded TRASH. In a 2.5 mile stretch I picked up what I could carry in a plastic bag retrieved from a barbed wire fence, a small cardboard box and bungee cord discarded on the road. Plastic water bottles incrementally dropped, fast food paper and plastic, discarded fishing line, aerosol spray-cans of mechanical lubricant, and even a multi-paged controlled-burn work order (not filled out but with names and dates of people who were supposed to be doing the job), all appeared along the “trail” on road shoulders and in nearby drainage ditches. You’d think if adults can drive, walk or ride along a road , they’d have the decency to “Leave No Trace” and carry out their trash, instead of dropping it as they go. Animals, both domestic and wild, are effected, not to mention water draining into ditches that pick up the waste and eventually end up in our drinking water. Unfortunately, Florida, like Kentucky and other heavily trafficked sections of the AT have ongoing issues with litter. I have often wondered if Texas has had greater success keeping this element under control, since they prominently post “Don’t Mess with Texas” signs and enforce heavy fines when people are caught littering.
On a more positive note, honoring a woman who is making it her mission to find value along all of life’s pathways, it has been a joy to host a fellow adventurer, who seems to take life “in stride”. I thank my Mom, Jean, for her enthusiastic hospitality, opening her home and kitchen to provide respite for one, among many, travelers.
Pictures are worth a thousand words, it’s said, so I’ll let the pictures from the past few days do the talking. I can only hope there will be take away lessons that keep the fires burning to stoke new adventures, extending small kindnesses and hospitality, as each of us travels a few more miles down the long road ahead of us. Maybe some of us need to start again on the flat, level plains to appreciate the challenges of undulating hills, and mountain tops with breath-taking views waiting patiently to be rediscovered…..this time launching from a new foundation.