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Now that Trump has completed his first 100 days in office, I’d love to take him on a hike on the Pacific Crest Trail and show him the Cascade-Siskyou National Monument in Southern Oregon in its spring glory. I want to show him the diversity of trees and flowers (I counted 50 flowering species on a June day!), the ancient geology of a piece of earth that has not been subjected to glacial movements. I want to point to the far vistas of the Cascades to the North, Mt Shasta to the South-east and Mt Ashland to the West. Once Mr Trump experiences the comforting trump-a-thump of his heart, and the relaxed tiredness that sets in after miles of muscle movement, when he inhales the refreshing air, I may yet be able to change his mind on his “review” of the usefulness of our National Monuments.
Of course this isn’t going to happen, you say, he’s too busy playing golf and making “deals”. Well do I have a deal for him! How about an American infrastructure upgrade: building trails! This project will provide plenty of environmentally friendly jobs, it will reduce health costs by improving the workers’ health, diminish the great divide between the left and the right by working in teams. We can have prisoner teams, drug rehab teams, illegal immigrant teams, Wall Street hob-nob lobby teams, Silicon Valley teams, DeVos charter school teams to name a few. In exchange for a week of trail building the prisoners get “good-time” on their sentence, the jobless drug rehab people get to pay the benefits forward and take others on the trail, the illegals get points toward legal status, the Wall street guys get a tax break, Silicon Valley techies get to choose between a tax break and counting the hours as creative time working off-site, the charter school teams will do the math for DeVos on free outdoor education versus voucher paid religious education. We can connect trail heads with public transportation, build more wheel chair accessible trails with money saved on lowered cost of housing prisoners, on fewer drug rehab programs, ICE salaries, lowered expenses in lobbying favors, lowered scientific and tech development costs since studying nature is free on the trail. Americans will walk more, enjoy their country more, and become grateful for the beauty the president makes available to everyone. America will FEEL great again!
But seriously, at this 100 day mark of the president in office, I want to remember all the hikers who have completed their first 100 miles of the PCT. All you walkers and hikers and trail angels are a force that make America Greater all the time. You are an inspiration to the depressed and the stressed, you embrace the veterans, the mentally unstable, the rich and the poor in sharing the trail and supporting all who walk the trail. You teach the children, our future, that there is more to life than collecting stuff. Every step you take on the trail is a step toward a better America, another cheer for our National Monuments. You are the ones who rouse support and build more trails. Walk on!
“But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.”
As translated in The Zen Poetry of Dōgen : Verses from the Mountain of Eternal Peace (1997) by Steven Heine, p. 61
I touched the wall!
Before walking North from the Mexican border on the Pacific Crest Trail I wanted to touch the much debated WALL. The corrugated metal pieces rattle in the breeze, the brown and dirty yellow paint match the surroundings of desert sand and rock. Peek holes let me see the other side, more sand, rock and chaparral. It’s an ugly wall, the number three —— a gang sign I recognize from my years of working in juvenile corrections —— hovers above my pack. Who are we to draw this wall in the sand? Who am I, white Northern-European woman, to be living on the freedom side of this wall? A side of the wall where I can walk without fear of being picked up, of being deported? In Tijuana I can even cross this line to the other side, get my teeth fixed at low cost, taking advantage of the lower standard of living on the other side. I have it all, freedom, health, money, a prospering family. I’m here at this border to walk a section of the trail that leads North to the Canadian border, 2650 miles away. I want to meet myself in the desert, the dry, rock strewn chaparral, with displays of naked bushes burned in wild fire, where occasional trees hide in narrow canyons along a flowing creek, or hug a cold ridge at higher elevation, waiting to sprout their leaves. It is spring, a long wet winter has soaked the ground and a great shout of wild flower color and perfume has burst out of the dry, sandy soil, moving North with me. At two miles an hour each day brings a new landscape, different blooms, far vistas of what is to come. Like an illegal crossing the border, I have my one set of clothes. My spare belongings comprise a shelter for the night, a warm sleeping bag, a pad, a small cookstove, water bottles and a filtration system, a warm jacket. I have food for a few days. My basic needs are met. I am the lucky one walking North.
After eight days I arrive at a resource center for travelers, where I can pitch my tent, take a bucket bath with warm water, wash my dusty, dirty clothes, connect with the virtual world via a free WiFi connection. The Resource Center in Warner Springs is a refuge for hikers. Hikers are the refugees of a fast moving, stress full world. For some the stress maybe the dangerous risks and abuse of a career, for others the stress maybe modern living that robs them of the connection with nature and natural rhythms. At the resource center volunteers offer free fruit, a hamburger. It is Sunday and many hikers are camped out, waiting for Monday when the post office will open and give them access to a re-supply package. The camp looks like a refugee camp, a temporary haven on a long journey toward personal freedom. People share experiences, talk about how far they are going, the blisters, knee and back pain, the loneliness they feel. They relish the moment of being clean, the ease of sitting in a soft chair for a few hours, the company of fellow hikers for the evening.
Hikers hike their own hike, walking to their own moment of freedom, be it in accomplishing the length of the trail, or in learning to live moment to moment, mile to mile, in sun and wind, cold and heat, at the mercy of the natural forces all around, lifted up by the exposure to the natural beauty, supported by breath and movement and dreamless sleep at the end of each day of physical exertion.
I walk and carry my little load. Dogen Zenji talks about the practice of “home leaving”. I hike my yearly hike and do my practice of home leaving, trying to grasp the 63 possibilities of becoming “awake” in each minute, every 70 steps I take.
This is as close as I’ll ever come to understanding the plight of an illegal immigrant leaving home and walking to a better life, a refugee leaving family and country and walking to freedom and safety. When miles no longer matter, when I recognize that my legs are stronger than my mind on a long uphill, when I know my vulnerability alone in my little tent at night far away from any human contact, I surrender, I come home to the place. I let go of the need to be anywhere else and find my freedom.