Walk or Smell the Roses?
The last time I wrote a blog, wildfire smoke was obscuring the sky and depressive feelings were gnawing on my brain. As always, things change. I escaped for 3 weeks to a green country with blue skies and now that I’m back on the West Coast, fall arrived with blessed rain. The air is clean. Between rains, the golden sunlight streaks over the dried grasses on the hills. The garden harvest of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and other summer specials is abundant and a cool wind touches my face on morning hikes in the hills. All’s well in my world, as I sit to write with a last red rose from the garden on my desk, perfuming the air and delighting my eyes. Outside rain clouds, hesitant all morning, are dropping their wet load. What will fall bring us?
A respite from wildfires, for sure. A reduction in Covid-19 cases? Maybe. A 2-month-long peak of hospitalizations in my county is declining; elsewhere new upticks of Covid-cases get recorded every day. We have to live with and keep this virus under control as best we can. Will we get a sensible infrastructure bill through Congress? A social services bill? Will the immigration crisis at the border wax and wane like the pandemic? Will the summer hurricanes and tornadoes make room for extreme winter weather? Will the reduction of natural gas output in Europe tighten our energy consumption across the world?
So many questions, so few answers. We must live life to learn the answers. We must keep going; live through the fallout of our mistakes to learn what works and what doesn’t. “We’re all in this together”, is the motto of politicians and world leaders. Do we live by that credo? Do you? Am I?
I walked this summer in vastly different places: desert, high mountains, blooming moors and wet lowlands. The basics of walking the trail were the same wherever I was: carry your load, find water and food, carry water and food, find shelter for the night. A simple life I shared with those who are migrating, walking away from climate extremes, bad political situations, or to join family in far-flung places. There was a time when people migrated across this world. They didn’t run into borders. Insurmountable mountains or wide oceans were the only things halting them. People traveled along rivers, through valleys and across plains. Essentially we are all nomads. A recent discovery of footprints in New Mexico (click for article) points to early migrants coming to the Americas, earlier than scientist had known.
As I walked all summer, I felt happy when my legs were moving and the vistas unfolded around me. I felt happy when I curled up in my small shelter for the night, my belly sufficiently full. I moved my DNA as one author (Katy Bowman) calls it.
When I read about Haitians (click for article) coming from Chile, crossing mountains in Equador and Columbia, 45 mile wide tropical swamps in Panama, to get away from racism and find a better life in the US, I can only relate to the tip of their mountain of pain and effort that goes into such a journey. My 300 mile journey on the PCT had difficulties for sure, but I had calculated these difficulties. I knew what elevations were ahead of me, how much water to carry to the next water stop. Haitians don’t have a Guthook App on their phone to tell them how much farther it is or how high the next mountain will be. I had to maneuver around a trepidatiously balanced rock blocking the trail, but there was a side trail if I couldn’t make it around the rock. I always had my trusted Garmin-Mini device dangling off my pack. One push of the SOS button and Search And Rescue teams with helicopters would come into action. The closest I came to real danger was in Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, when the wildfires nearby flared up and caused a heavy smoke obscuring the landscape. We hustled to walk in the opposite direction, back to a road, and a ride to a safe home to re-group. I imagine once you start a journey from Chile, there’s no going back to the danger you left behind, just like there was no going forward toward the danger on our smoky trail.
I walked in the east of the Netherlands where villages perch on hillocks, 36 ft above sea level, not the -6 ft (!!) below sealevel of the paths I crossed through the fields. I walked across dunes and dykes that protect villages from the storm tides coming in from the North Sea. After being inundated by water (the last time this happened was 1953), people returned and built better, bigger dykes. The Dutch are feverishly reinforcing dykes and creating flood plains as they await the rising sea level that will come with climate change.
For the migrants of the world, there’s no going back to where they came from. They have to keep going toward something better. The determination and hard work migrants display comes out of desperation. A desperation I only touch on when a fierce 45-mile-an-hour wind blows across the sandy desert, forcing me to buckle down and keep walking the 5 miles that will lead to shelter.
How do you migrate away from climate change, from corrupt government, from racism, from poverty and hunger? Some gather their few possessions and start walking. Others remain in place because they don’t have the means, the strength or wherewithal to walk away. After a summer of hiking and walking, I can sit in my home with the sky cleared from smoke and smell the roses. Humans talk themselves into comfort. The wildfires, floods, hurricanes and storms will be back. Racism and corruption will continue. Will you build bigger “dykes”, fight harder to resist the inequities, or will you start walking?
YouTubes of summer hikes are posted on WW50plus page
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