Last week, we were living a favorite poem by Wendell Berry. We always enjoy the peace of walking in nature along the Appalachian Trail.
“Not all who wander are lost” — JRR Tolkein
In case you haven’t noticed, I am a Wanderer. Sometimes I can fake “normal” and stay in one place for months at a time. But then the compulsion hits and off I go. Even a houseful of kids never stopped me: traveling with a large family just meant more logistics for this queen-of-lists to organize.
Going on adventures has always been a guilty-pleasure. I love the planning and the going. I enjoy the coming home. It seems so reasonable…at least to me! But each return brings questions from family and friends: “When will you stay put?” “Did you get that out of your system this time?” “Why can’t you be stable and put down roots like everyone else?” I laugh about being a “free-spirit.” I joke that others need to look outside-the-box. But deep inside, these comments continued to erode my confidence. Obviously, there was something wrong with me. Surely I would “grow up” someday and be content where I was planted.
There were times I wondered if I harmed my kids by doing so much schooling on the road. (Others certainly thought so…) Sometimes I imagined how my husband’s life would have been different if he had married someone who was more consistent and bound by routines. (Time after time family questioned how I could leave him home alone while the kids and I traveled…) I tried. Really, I did! But then the next adventure called to me; the next location pulled my heartstrings. I had to go, wandering again and again.
This summer, in an attempt to continue being outdoors as much as possible, youngest Daughter and I lived in an RV at a campgrounds close to a small town. We fell in love with the people and the places around town. We were welcomed and invited to dive deeper into relationships. We began to put down tentative roots. It felt right, but there was a feeling of grief as well. What would these new friends say when they discovered my broken urge to wander?
In the past few weeks, I’ve had some aha!-moments. Hubby sent me a link to a song and affirmed that I really was born under a wanderin’ star (and implied that this was okay…) See video clip HERE
Last week, I commented to the pastor of the new church we are attending (in the small town we love) that it felt like we are putting down some roots. And maybe I would finally stop running. He firmly told me that there is nothing wrong with wandering. It is a gift and a privilege that so many never experience. A few days later, Daughter’s psychologist affirmed the same idea, telling Daughter that it is a privilege that she gets to wander with her mother. Every time I remembered these words, I cried. Maybe I wasn’t broken after all. Maybe this urge to wander IS “normal”…at least for me.
And then…while I was pondering how to celebrate my wandering spirit, an artist friend posted a painting for sale. I’ve wanted to buy something from this artist for quite a while, but couldn’t decide if I wanted a mountain scene, a view of red mesas from Navajoland, or a southwestern landscape. See Sharon Baker’s art HERE. When I saw the title of this particular painting, I just KNEW this was “my” painting. It is called “Wandering Star” and was painted many years ago in response to the same song my husband sent to me. I will hang this painting with great pride in my home, to remind me who I am…
I’m no longer lost. I am a WANDERER!
I am passionate about backpacking. I feel fully alive when I’m living in the woods. My daughter feels the same. Beyond simple pleasures, however, hiking is a key therapy to manage her anxiety and mental illness challenges. Nature brings her peace. So we return to the woods again and again, no matter who questions the risks or suggests we should pursue “safer” activities for her. We continue to backpack because of her disabilities, not in spite of them. There are many of us who love outdoor activities and love someone with disabilities. Because we understand both worlds, we must be the ones who speak up. We need to stand beside those who might be discriminated against. Anyone who dreams of taking a walk in the woods should be encouraged. Outdoor adventures should be available for everyone.
I am passionate about backpacking. I have also become an advocate.
Advocate: 1. a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. 2. a person who pleads for or in behalf of another; intercessor. Synonyms: champion, proponent, backer.
When a hike is successful, everyone celebrates the courage and perseverance of the blind thru-hiker or the one with artificial legs. But what happens when things go wrong? Do tragedies or close-calls “prove” that the nay-sayers are right? How does the outdoor adventure community find an appropriate balance between personal freedom and personal responsibility for participants?
This year alone, a variety of incidents along the Appalachian Trail have provoked strong opinions and arguments among hikers in online forums. An older man with Alzheimer’s got confused and was lost for a few days. A person with brain cancer wanted a friend to take her on a first-ever backpacking expedition. A young man with Multiple Sclerosis needed intervention when he overheated. Parents are taking very young children on an attempted a thru-hike (walking almost 2200 miles from Georgia to Maine in one long trip). Are these “okay?” Or should the mythical “someone” intervene and prevent such risky behavior? And, if prohibition is such a good idea, then who decides which situations are okay and which are too dangerous?
Whenever there is a close-call or a tragedy, fingers are pointed at the ignorant adventurer, at the family, at the doctors, at search and rescue personnel. Online discussions grow heated. It seems so clear to some readers that the person with mental illness or with physical disability should be protected (even from themselves) by not allowing them in the woods.
Usually, I step away from contentious arguments. However, in a recent online discussion, I realized I can’t just run away from conflict and find peace in the woods for myself and my daughter. I must not just write posts about the adventures I am privileged to take. I must also build bridges for everyone to pursue their own passions. It would be a sad day if the only hikers on the Appalachian Trail were those who were young, perfectly fit folks carrying perfect gear. (Hmmm…that would eliminate both of us and most of the hikers we meet!) With proper precautions and an attitude of taking personal responsibility for one’s decisions, even those with disabilities can continue to enjoy outdoor adventures.
Everyone expects the beautiful views enjoyed while traveling in the mountains. But how many of us discipline ourselves to focus on the tiny details along the trail? Daughter and I were challenged to search for Nature’s Hearts on our recent backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail. (You can see a blog post with photos of our finds HERE.) In that quest for small treasures, we discovered many other camouflaged creatures. Here are a few of our best tips for playing hide and seek with nature:
Look for Movement. The shapes and colors of critters often blend in with the background. Flutters and flickers are an invitation to look closer. More than once we found groups of butterflies gathered in a heap on the ground. Sometimes there will be a burst of movement, then the creature freezes. Patience will pay off when the critter eventually moves again. Or perhaps you will notice the tiny quiver of a lizard breathing.
Listen for Sounds. Trills and songs might help you find a bird in the underbrush or in the treetops. (These are usually hard to photograph…unless you are carrying a heavy telephoto lens.) Dry leaves crackling or rustling might eventually reveal a snake, or a chipmunk, or a BUG!
Look for the Wrong Shape or a Different Color. Snails are the same color as the leaves or rocks they hide among. However, their rounded shells stand out against angular backgrounds. There were many times we noticed bright colored fungus or lichen on trees and rocks. Often, if we looked closer, we would find drab slugs. This is one of my favorite photos from the entire trip. We actually saw a group of deer wandering across the campsite, nibbling at bits of grass. When I walked closer to get a better photo, this young deer put the trees between us, and then froze, hoping I wouldn’t notice him…
Walk in Silence. I’m sure some of you wonder if we encountered bears. Not this time, although other hikers had problems with Yogi trying to steal food sacks at some of the shelters we had stayed at earlier in our trip. We tend to make noise when we hike: laughing, singing, talking, telling stories. Most animals, including bears, will move away if they realize a human is nearby. So, if you WANT to encounter more critters, move silently through the woods.
I’m curious. What’s your favorite critter sighting? We would love to hear your hints for finding more tiny treasures in Nature’s game of Hide and Seek.
After finishing our spring adventure on the Appalachian Trail, daughter and I are in the process of moving to our summer palace. It’s located in hilly country at a family-oriented campgrounds an hour and a half from our home. We will have plenty of scope for outdoor adventures with walking trails, a creek to play in, a swimming lake, and plenty of time to socialize with other campers. We will live there full time, with a trip back to town midweek for appointments, friends, and shopping. Dog and Guinea Pig will live there as well. Hubby will join us on the weekends.
What? You don’t consider an RV to be a palace?! After backpacking for 5 weeks, it certainly feels like one to us…
And our patio has chairs with backs on them (see post about this comfort HERE) which facilitate conversation, reading or lounging. Plus these comfy chairs are easily moved to sit around our fire pit.
Now you understand: we really WILL be living in a “palace” this summer!
(PS–don’t worry, I will soon return to posting stories about our backpacking adventures…)
This was our second long-distance adventure on the Appalachian Trail. We quickly remembered many lessons learned last fall: neither of us like hiking on hot sweaty days, bear poles really are human torture devices (read about that HERE), and we always enjoy meeting other hikers and hearing their stories.
This hike was in spring (rather than fall) which meant we had new lessons to learn. When we started, there were few leaves on the trees. This gave us good views…but also meant there were no leaves large enough to use as tp or kleenex. (We bought toilet paper at our first resupply, and used our extra bandanas for nose-blowing.)
We had decided to try to carry less water and filter refills along the way. Mastering this skill saves weight to be carried. (It adds up fast since each pint of water weighs a pound.) April had unusually low precipitation which left us rationing drinks when water sources were dry so we quickly went back to carrying plenty of water. Of course, heavy rains in May took care of that problem.
We saw some of the same critters as in the fall (deer, squirrels, chipmunks, black snakes, and reports of bears). But we also saw hundreds of lovely butterflies and these really cool orange efts (baby salamanders).
We learned new lessons…now we are ready for future hikes in both spring and fall!
Those dreaded words intrude on every family vacation: are we theeeerrre yet? But this whine is not limited to cross-country car trips. Nor is it limited to kids. Some days these seemingly innocent words sneak into a hiker’s brain, then play on repeat.
The day starts off brilliantly: blue sky, strong legs, happy thoughts. The trail goes up (and up and up), but there are glorious views and sun-dappled forest glades to enjoy along the way. Every hiking day should be like this one!
Eventually, the clouds descend, the misty drizzle begins, and the murmurs sneak in. (Shhh! are we there yet? Hmmm?) Surprise! Even the trail betrays the hiker: getting steeper, and steeper, and steeper! No fair! We are carrying heavy packs…not bounding along like mountain goats!
Ahhh! The trail finally relents and heads back down. Surely things will be better now! We should get to the shelter soon (won’t we?) But…the trail is unrelenting. It goes down, down, down…steeper and steeper. Blergh! Hurting knees, aching ankles, fiery feet. This is not the plan…
ARE WE THEEEERRRE YET? When will we get there? Will this day never end? I’m hungry! I’m thirsty! (please stop soon…)
(PS: I know these faces scratched into the painted blazes on the trail are graffiti…but they made us smile on a very long hiking day!)
We head back to the Appalachian Trail this weekend to backpack for a month. We love being in the woods and are excited to set off on another adventure. However, this time we aren’t newbies. We know we are saying goodbye to many comforts of daily life at home. Before leaving, we chose to consciously say goodbye, reminding ourselves that we will enjoy these things even more deeply when we return home again.
aughter will miss the stuffed animals she sleeps with every night. She will spend even more time than usual outdoors, but on foot rather than on her kick-scooter. While backpacking everything must be as lightweight as possible since it all gets carried on our backs. This means daughter has limited access to costumes and her “weapon” collection. Her “gandalf” hiking staff, sticks and imagination will have to do…
I said goodbye to my art supplies, carrying only a few nice pens and some sketch paper. I will miss my cozy chair near the window with a big pile of books at hand. Somehow the hard ground and limited time on a kindle just aren’t the same! And extra clothes stuffed in a sack doesn’t really replace my comfy pillow on a soft bed.
Both of us will miss taking a shower and choosing from a large selection of colorful, clean clothes every day. We will miss seeing my folks each week, including organ lessons from Grandma. And our form of sweet treats and location of rambling conversations will certainly be different!
Partings bring sorrow…but adventures are sweet. Goodbye daily life…see you in a month!
“Happiness is the settling of the soul into its most appropriate spot.” – Aristotle
According to the founding documents of the United States, along with Life and Liberty, the “Pursuit of Happiness” is an inalienable right. Common wisdom says each of us needs to find our happy place: the place where we feel at peace, where we relax and let the worries of the day slip out of our mind. For some this renewal is found at the beach, for others it is felt in the mountains or the woods or the barn. Sometimes we need to retreat to our happy place alone. But other times, we want to share that joy with our loved ones. But what happens when my favorite pursuits are “meh” to my partner…and vice-versa?
By now you know that I love to be in the woods. I am invigorated by a day hike. I find peace by backpacking for weeks at a time. I am fortunate that my youngest daughter finds restoration in nature. (I’ve blogged about that HERE and HERE.) We are a good hiking team together.
For me, there is something hopeful about seeing a path leading to unknown destinations, heading further and further into the woods and mountains. I enjoy the anticipation of what lovely things I will see around the next corner or over the next hill. I love to feel the ground under my feet and see the details of trees and rocks as I slowly hike on by.
For my husband, walking in the woods is a means to an end, a way to get to the destination. His mind tends to focus on the goal. Even though it brings him no great pleasure, he occasionally joins me on a day hike, knowing this is my happy place. He supports me in my pursuit of happiness defined by weeks in the woods, driving daughter and I to our starting point, taking care of things while we are gone, and picking us up when we are ready to return home.
On the other hand, my hubby loves to explore the world by flying his small plane. Many times he takes to the air for only an hour or two. Occasionally he takes an epic adventure, flying across the country to see new places from above.
When hubby is flying, he finds freedom in knowing that he is not accessible. When the night is clear, he loves the feeling of flying among the stars and watching the lights twinkling across the horizon. When the winds are calm, he finds peace as farmland or mountains or canyons slowly unroll under his wings.
Unlike some wives, who are afraid of going up with their pilot husbands, I don’t mind climbing in the cockpit with my husband. I know this is his happy place and he wants to share his joy with me. From the air, I notice the signs of humans, a very different feeling than being comforted and awed by nature itself. I don’t often choose to fly with him, but I support his pursuit of happiness defined by flying above the world. It may not be an inexpensive hobby, but it is worth the cost for him to find peace and happiness in a stressful, busy life. (And I love that our youngest daughter is discovering the joy of flying with him. She is gaining the best of both of our worlds!)
It seems to me that this mutual respect is part of the inalienable rights described in the Declaration of Independence. I can’t define his happiness and he doesn’t define mine. We each have the individual right to our own pursuit of happiness. And we gain joy as we support and encourage each other along the way.
We tend to think of an “epic adventure” as something life changing; something we dream of for years; something worthy of being included on the “bucket list.” Sometimes, however, the big epic that changes our lives is a tragedy. No matter how prepared we like to think we are, we will never be ready for certain experiences. It is impossible to control every aspect of life and guarantee safety. In the aftermath of epic tragedies, it is often the small things that help us survive.
(Stick with me here…there are fun discoveries at the end of this post!)
Eight years ago, one of our teen sons died unexpectedly. Yes, that rocks one’s world (and not in a good way, of course!) I’ve learned a few coping skills: focus on the next breath, and the next breath, and the next one. Interact with God (or beliefs that are bigger than yourself). Find friends who will sit beside you in silence and let you grieve. Listen to the stories of others who have survived similar losses…and eventually share your own story with the world. (I have most recently written about this HERE and HERE.)
It is a challenge each year to figure out what we want to do on the anniversary of James’ graduation to heaven. Looking back, it has been different each year. Since our son was full of mischief, loving to tease and make others laugh, we usually choose to pursue small things that bring us pleasure and that will make us smile. We want to focus on his colorful life, not dwell on the agonies of our grief.
This past Friday was a good example. Hubby took the day off work. We knew we couldn’t bear to sit at home and stare at the walls. So we hopped in the car, with youngest daughter in the back seat, and took off for a long, meandering drive. We enjoyed discovering old houses in older towns, relishing those that have been well-cared for, saddened by abandoned, falling-down shells. We cranked the music and sang along. (Gut wrenching but also made me laugh when a song played at son’s funeral unexpectedly came on.) We talked and we rode in silence. We ate fast-food supper, and then started a search for dessert. Oh my! Just LOOK at the wonderful place we found in a small rivertown.
There was a little sign by the side of the highway for Griffith & Feil’s Soda Fountain. We went on a search for it. And found this gem in the historic downtown area of Kenova, KY. The atmosphere was delightful. The history was intriguing. The staff was friendly. And the treats were “dee-lish.”
We will certainly visit this little treasure again. Now we have happy memories to layer onto this oh-so-difficult day on the calendar. Sometimes it is indeed the small things that move us from survival to thriving again after an epic tragedy.