Hike #1, November 24, 2017
I set goals that keep me engaged. So I signed myself up for the 52 hikes in 52 weeks challenge. I walk the first of 52 hikes. What will I learn by doing this? I have hiked 52 hikes several times in the last few years of my life. So why commit to an official counting and recounting? Walking and writing keeps me honest. Walking and writing about it can inspire others to take up walking. Walking and writing keeps me that much closer to the essence of living.
My first hike is familiar, a quick jaunt into the hills while the sun is warming the day for a while my sourdough bread is rising in the kitchen. I often choose this hike because I don’t have to get into a car to get to the trailhead, my breathing gets going strong as I go up and up to the top of Bandersnatch trail. I feel my body working, enough to shed layers and gloves. I’m healthy, I’m thankful, I love the feeling when my quads contract and move me up into the hills. The yellow light dances, filters through the evergreens and now bare black oaks, touch the tips of fine filigree ferns. The madrone trees ignore the seasons and shed their crisp leaves and bark in an ongoing brown and maroon symphony. I’m happy.
I meet the first dog on the Ashland Loop Road before I enter the trail. The owner grabs the dog’s collar to let me pass. I greet them. I meet the second dog, dressed in neon orange safety vest a little up on the trail. “Where is your owner?”, I ask because I don’t see a person following. The dog turns back around the bend and joins his owner. The owner puts the dog on the leash. I greet the owner. She unhooks the dog as soon as I have passed. Mm, why can’t people follow the rules of the trail? My dog-hiking sore spot is showing itself. I meet the second dog a little further up, owner talking on the phone. I ask if she can leash her dog. “Oh, I didn’t see you”, she says. She leashes her dog, I thank her for following the rules of the trail. She answers that she lets the dog off-leash by mutual consent. I’m not aware that I consented. I feel miffed, she’s playing with my head. I meet a father and daughter who have their dogs on leash and hold them close off trail to let me pass. I thank them. More people without dogs are enjoying an opt-outside day.
I’m on the downhill side of the trail now, enjoying the golden light through the trees. An overweight bulldog shar-pei mix with wrinkled skin ambles on the trail off leash toward me, another overweight small furry dog follows slowly with the owner. I stop and ask if she can put her dogs on leash. She puts the wrinkled bulldog on the leash and as I start to thank her, she says to me: “I shouldn’t have to do this if you could live without fear.” Now my simmering dog irritation is reaching the angry stage. “I’m not afraid of your dog”, I answer, I wish you would follow our community agreements. She walks on, I turn at the switch-back and see her unhook her dog again. I can’t contain my self and call out to her: “Yeah, make your own rules and don’t care about others on the trail!” Immediately I feel embarrassed for letting this issue get a hold of me. My happy equanimity is shot. I hike on wrestling with thoughts about people, rules and community-living on the trails.
A quarter mile later I realize I’m not seeing anything around me, I’m absorbed by the thoughts in my head. Then I remember what Thoreau said in his book Walking: "I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. —………..— The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is—-I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business do I have in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?” I look, smell and take some deep breaths to return to the woods.
I finish my hike, crossing the downtown area. When I come to the undeveloped land where the railroad tracks run, I take the short-cut home as I always do and cross the tracks where the sign to the North says, Private Property, no trespassing. I cross the tracks and break the rule. I’m no better than the dog owners.
My summer nomadic life has come to an end. The flow of travel, trekking, packing, unpacking, trekking, planting, harvesting and gathering is no longer coursing through my body, no longer dictating my daily actions. I’m in one place, going out for day hikes, cleaning up in the garden and protecting winter crops from oncoming cold weather where needed. I could travel if I wanted but my body is responding to the longer nights and wants to sleep more, stay warm, eat and fatten up. Hibernation is setting in and I’m at odds with it, I miss the light.
I think about nomadic tribes. They hunker down for the winter months or wet season; they send their children to school, fix their gear, make hard cheeses that need months to ripen, they sleep and tell stories. Do they miss the open steppes, the high ridges where they herd their flocks? Do they miss the hardship of living outdoors, packing and unpacking their shelter in pursuit of new grazing grounds, as they settle in their more elaborate winter housing and face the hardship of winter or wet survival? I’d like to know.
I believe our vacation patterns are a remnant of the nomadic life our forebears lived, the appendix of our life’s digestive track. My recent forebears were farmers. Their vacations were a 3-day trip away from the farm to visit relatives. The farm couldn’t survive without them away for longer times. The animals, the crops needed them to be present. Since we’ve become less connected to natural cycles by living in cities and small towns and buy our food from a grocery store, we can close up our homes, turn down the blinds, and go away for as long as our jobs and pocketbooks allow us. Flying in a plane, sailing across the water, driving a car or motorhome down the road, or for some, riding a bicycle or carrying a backpack, we become temporary nomads.
I’ve wanted to explore and travel since I was young. The urge to see other places, meet other cultures has shaped my world view. I have often felt more at-home on the road than settled in one place. My at-home feeling isn’t dependent on a home. When I roam the world, move about from place to place, I feel connected to something bigger than family or a local community. I feel connected to life on earth.
Yet, every year at the end of summer, I return to place and home. The tension between sedentary and nomadic life is the paradox of human existence, the koan we are given to enlighten ourselves. The tension between the known and uncertainty. Experiencing that tension teaches us about the essence of living.
So when I settle in for a long winter’s night, I already know that my sedentary life is temporary. The temporal quality of winter hibernation puts me in touch with the temporal nature of things, and urges me to make the most of the now. It is the same temporal quality of living I experience when I travel, because the traveling day, the place along the journey, the experience of a new place is always a passing one.
I will take the hint from the nomadic tribes who use their winter or wet season to stock up, fix gear, sleep (repair of the body takes place during sleep), and learn new skills I can use when I go out on the road again. I will send this old body back to school, study languages, write and read stories, care for minor ailments that need attention. The dried herbs and colorful canned goods on the shelf, the frozen veggies in the freezer, give me a sense of accomplishment and security. I can join in celebrations of thanks, welcoming the season with those who form my tribe.
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