The weather forecast predicts snow. To avoid getting stranded on mountain roads, my hiking buddy and I drive to the edge of the watershed around our town where the forest begins. Deep in our rain gear and with warm boots, we hike the familiar trail that leads us higher and higher to the ridge with views of the valley. Even though my moving date is still 2 months away, I suspect it will be the last time I will hike this familiar trail. Snow will cover the higher elevations when winter sets in. Hiking this trail will be impossible then. Drops of rain patter on my Gore-Tex jacket, then rain turns to wet snow, and it becomes quiet. The path turns muddy and snow covers the fir, pine and manzanita trees with a light white dusting. The red madrone berries against the green leaves, shiny wet, with red branches and a trimming of snow, make for a Christmas feeling in the woods.
As we climb, my breath labors, my body moves slow. Deep into the dark days of winter, I lack the energy I have on summer days. I’ve been sleeping more, eating more and moving less. We reach our highest point on the trail and loop around to go back. No views of the valley. It’s snowing hard now and the clouds hang low. Will I miss seeing the valley from above this last time? My legs swing easy again as I descend and the speed gives me that happy hiking feeling. The air is chilly but my body feels toasty warm inside my rain gear. It’s so good to be alive!
My buddy and I do not need to talk. We wind our way to a side trail that leads to a waterfall. Other spring and summer hikes flash through my mind as we cross the creek several times. I hiked here with friends so many years; on this hike I made new friends; because the trail is steep, I trained with long-distance buddies to build stamina. This hike led to so many adventures! I’ll find new trails and make new friends in New Mexico. I’ll be living at 7000 ft altitude and hiking higher. How much longer will my body carry me uphill? The woods are quiet, as if to shush me. Be here, listen! The crunching snow, the babbling of the little creek show me their beauty one more time before I leave. As we return to the car, the sky opens blue and gives a stunning snow picture of the mountains across the valley. It’s a view that is embedded in my mind and will live on inside me.
Clarity comes in strange ways. The first year of the pandemic, 2020, forced me to stay home, away from people and let me settle into myself. I couldn’t travel as I usually do. I still hiked and even hiked a good distance that summer. I hiked solo and met few hikers. Solo hiking let me connect to nature in a deeper way.
At home, I noticed what was happening to women around me. I saw women my age in isolation have health problems and being fearful of their future. People with friends were less isolated, and their aging related problems seemed to be delayed. Good, I thought, I have friends, I’ll be okay. I noticed that when people’s health declined, friends didn’t offer ongoing support. Family’d arrive and move the woman into a new home closer to family, into a nursing home or worse, hospice.
I’m a realistic person, not afraid of looking truth in the eye. During my 36 years of living in Ashland, I’ve seen friends come and go. My activities are the driver of my connections. I say, every passion of mine produces one long-term friend and a bunch of temporary friends. But long term friends move as well, or their focus shifts to other things. A yearly get-together among old time friends is fun, but doesn’t offer support for serious aging issues.
I considered my family. Family far away in another country, children far flung in the US. Will they come and rescue me when needed? They will. Shall I wait and burden them in five to ten years?
During that pandemic year 2020, I missed my youngest daughter, who had moved to a new place just the prior year. I took a risk flying to New Mexico while Covid was raging. She and her husband shared their back-to-the land plans and invited me to live with them if I wanted. I cried. It’s rare a 73-year old gets invited to join a community. Even though I was deeply touched, I wasn’t ready. We thought it’d take at least 5 years before I’d consider.
Forward to summer 2021. Vaccinated, I planned to hit the trail and complete another section of the PCT. Maybe I could finish the 450 miles still left to hike. Drought and heat ruled during the summer of 2021; the desert was super dry and we hauled water for long stretches. Temps at home rose over 110F. Wild fires erupted everywhere on the West Coast. The garden suffered. The dry heat even stunted the growth of the tomatoes. Everything had to grow under shade cloth. I didn’t want to spend my old-age summers in such heat. I’d look for the best next place to live near a child of mine.
A Sense of Place
After visiting my kids in the Bay Area and on the East Coast, I landed again in Taos in July. 89F Temps warmed me at midday; afternoon monsoon rains with incredible sky displays over the mesa refreshed the air for dinner on the porch. We took alpine hikes at 10,000 ft, where wildflowers were abundant. My favorite summer flower, hollyhocks, grew wild everywhere in the Taos valley. I knew, I would thrive here.
I told my children that it was time for me to move and that I’d start the move to Taos after I’d finished the PCT in August. August came; the Caldor fire broke out and pushed me off the trail. A trip to Holland to walk and attend my brother’s late-life marriage happened instead.
Pregnant with a Move
On my return home, I rested and made my plan. The housing market in Taos was tight, a seller’s market, but so it was In Ashland. I flew to Taos to see what I could find. At first glance, nothing interested was listed. Earlier I made my 10-point list of things important in my new home; things that made me happy and smile. #1 Was an inspiring view. #2 Was location and walkability for daily needs. I’d searched for a week. When I stood on the porch of a small Pueblo style home surrounded by sage brush, I watched the sky put on a late afternoon light show that was awe inspiring. My heart jumped. I knew this view would enliven me and fuel my creativity, encourage my daring with nature, and pull me to the trail again and again. I asked questions and did my due diligence, checking everything on my list. At the end of my week’s stay, I made an offer on my new home. I was pregnant with a move!
I wanted a winter to let things unfold. Lucky for me, escrow in Taos takes at least 4-month due to lack of title companies and Covid lay-offs. I had time to be pregnant with the move. I could do my shedding and selling at an easy pace in Ashland.
The last Trimester
I’ve entered my last trimester before this new birthing in my life. When escrow closes on the Taos house in March, 9 months will have passed since I decided i'd move that day in July. What started as an idea is becoming reality. I’m putting one foot in front of the other as I solve one problem after another. The skills and resilience I’ve developed in long distance hiking have helped me. Many aspects of a long distance hike — such as figuring out logistics, developing trust things will work out, working hard during the difficult stretches, knowing when to take a zero day, getting support crew lined up by using trail angels — are similar when preparing for a big move. It takes stamina, resilience and trust.
Resilience, Stamina and Trust
If you’re a hiker and are thinking of doing long distance hiking, you will not only discover new worlds outside yourself when you get out there, you will discover and build resilience, stamina and trust inside yourself while you’re hiking. Distance hiking will help you in your decisions about the next phase of your life. Let the trail teach you!
I’m on a big journey. Moving from a place where I’ve raised a family to an unknown place by myself, is transformation in the big league. A place “as far away from America, as you can get in America”, my son-in-law says. 36 Years ago I arrived in Ashland with a husband, a 2-month-old baby girl, a 2-year-old daughter and a 9-year-old son. We had no money to speak of, so we bought the cheapest house available in town. It was the 80ties recession, and we got a mortgage at 11.7%! During our life here, we built another house and owned commercial property. Nothing spoke “home” like this place, though. This house grew with us as our family's needs changed. And I’m now selling this completely transformed house.
A NEW PHASE
My needs are changing. The children have grown. They’ve moved away and have families of their own. I buried my husband 11 years ago. In this place, I grieved and learned to live on my own. Because there was no WE and OURS anymore, I remodeled the house to make it mine. I planted a peony bush on my husband’s ashes in the backyard. Each spring, the peonies make me smile and I realize that love endures even after death. I embarked on travel adventures, took up rowing and long-distance hiking. After retiring from my day job, I became a published author. I lived my life and found happiness again.
Though I am blessed with strength and good health, my aging body tells me it’s time to live near those who care for me beyond friendship, beyond adventures, beyond inspiration. I’m moving to another state; it’s a place so different, it may as well be another country. From green forested hills to high desert mesa with the Rocky Mountains in the distance. My youngest daughter and her husband are establishing a “back-to-the-land” community. I will have a role there. My presence will matter; They welcome my life experience and talents and I can take part to the degree I’m able as I age.
SHEDDING A LIFE
Moving is one of the known major stressors one can encounter in life, on par with childbirth, marriage, divorce, career change. I’m making the journey from one home base to a new one. Each day, since I decided to move in July, I’m engaged in taking steps toward my goal. Like during a pregnancy, I experience feelings, anxieties, and excitement. My sleep is affected, my body aches when I move boxes and stuff. Instead of growing a baby inside me, I’m shedding the skin of a householder life. Memorabilia, kids’ toys, kids’ artwork, books, excess bedding, kitchenware, furniture, you name it, I’m Marie Kondoing it! I no longer need to house and sleep kids, when they come home; I no longer host groups, bake and cook for an army, organize neighborhood support groups, tend a family garden. The pandemic forced a transformation and catapulted me into being more singular; satisfied with my own company, and not in need of big entertainment. I’m desiring a simple life.
LIVING WITH MEANING
I want inner explorations; meditation, artistic expression. I want time to go slow and not be burdened by to-do’s. I want to do what has meaning to me, not what life demands of me. A small home, a small easy-to-manage garden, one bathroom will do; a living room for three visitors instead of seven.
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