I met a hiker while getting some water coming out of Hot Springs NC. The day was unseasonably hot and the water source was rare. In the middle of the trail bend was a hole with gushing water as if the bathtub facet was turned on full blast. No creek above or creek below, just a hole with gallons of water pouring non stop. Water that runs through the mountain always blows my mind.
I threw my pack down and searched for my filter. “Good Wolf” came up the trail, huffing and puffing, face all red. Bearded and stocky, he also took off his pack eagerly to get the water out of this miracle water hole.
When I set out to hike the AT I didn’t have a designated cause or person or reason necessarily, except a calling that was so strong, it could not be shaken off. The decision felt so right and it became a schematic mission. Meanwhile, I thought of so many people I had lost in the past two years that would have loved the idea of me on this trail. Since then, part of this walk started to be a walk with the people I have lost.
“Good Wolf” sat with me for a while as most hikers do, asking questions about each other, where we are from, where our next stop is and anything that the random conversation floated towards. I noticed that he had a couple of small American flags in his pack. The ones that people put in their yards on national holidays. When every ounce counts towards the pack weight, most everything you carry has a meaning that would be worth it’s weight. “Good Wolf” said that the flags were for his brother and actually, his ashes were in the Nalgene bottle right next to it. He has sprinkled it at every state he walked through and intends to do this all the way to Maine.
One of my best friends lost her son during my hike. I was less than 100 miles in, at the border of Georgia and North Carolina when I got a message through the sketchy cell service. Her son was still so young. Unexpected tragic death. I thought of every which way I could get down there for the funeral. But the logistics was too complicated. Getting on and off the trail was too difficult to navigate and I gave up. I told her I am so sorry. I told her I will be walking for him. I wasn’t sure what that meant but it felt right. I suppose it is like praying for someone but in this case, a long long prayer.
I lost a friend last spring. She was my rock for many many years. She was in her eighties but her illness came quick and hard and within a few weeks Marg left this world. As the person who was like my barometer of values, her departure was and is a hard one. With COVID, I was not able to see her before she left. The family shared with me some of her belongings, one of which was a cashmere sweater. I remember her wearing it on her small frame, fuzzy and soft. The heather gray color matched well with her silver curly hair.
This sweater now travels with me, warms me every stop I make to rest and at night when I sleep. The sweater feels like my beloved cat Lobo who Marg felt a special connection to and now I feel both are with me all the time.
To me Marg has been on the hike with me even before the official AT hike. To me, she appears in flying creatures; butterflies, birds and dragonflies. Things that flitter around me, celebrating this world. She had that walk that did not show her age, defied gravity. On rainy days or exceptionally hard climb I feel she appears and quite literally, I smile or chuckle because I sense her spirit and lightens my heart.
Many friends have asked me what I needed and they wanted me to send me things. I need many things but mostly food and anything else I can not take with me just for pleasure, so I always feel bad to say I do not need anything. I have found a solution however to have people send me pins to tack on my hat so they can travel with me on my head. I have been getting some pins and my hat now is like a car with a bunch of bumper stickers. They provide notes, messages and impressions to those I meet. I have pins from people who have passed. They travel with me and gives me courage to complete. Their life encouraged me to enjoy life, their spirit pushes me closer to Maine, each step I take.
Upon thinking about my friend’s son’s untimely passing, I thought of how to ease my friends sorrow. I realized I had no words but that I am sorry and sad and can not comprehend the immense pain this must be. I have always told people that I have very few things I am afraid of but my ultimate fear is losing my daughter. I walked a while and a few days with tears welling in my eyes when I thought of my friend at the side of her sons coffin. She said it was a nightmare to witness her son in the box, that she collapsed and wailed. The vision is all to vivid without being there, the pain so excruciating I can feel it in my chest.
Nature is a cycle of life and death. When immersed in it day after day you encounter life of birth and death in every direction. It is the only way this planet revolves in, a cycle of life and death.
I felt serenity in creeks and rumbling rocks. Water is a regenerating force that nourish all beings on this planet. Mushrooms thrive on a erect but now dead hemlock tree creating a cycle of rejuvenation. I learned a new term, nursing log, where a fallen tree become a planter like platform for new baby trees. I witnessed a perfectly healthy looking young tree fall for no apparent reason. It just came down and that was the end. I would pass by a big tree that came down assuming due to a storm, sometimes with fresh leaves or flower buds intact, never to open. I touched the trunk and said thank you and I’m sorry you have fallen. But somehow I know now that nothing will be wasted in this death. That it will nourish a new life. There will be a gain in the death and this is just nature. We can not stop it or we will cease to exist and the earth will stop working it’s magic.
When walking alone in a vast forest of a mountain range, it is apparent that I am just a spec of life. With my gears I lug around, I can barely survive the elements in this cycle of nature. Meanwhile the little birds, tiny millipedes and deers and bears walk about, eat from the earth, sleep on the soft leaves and designed to survive and thrive with what they are born with. I feel the immense disconnect and ill equipped nature that is us human.
With all of our wits and gadgets we can not avoid death, the ultimate power of nature we will never conquer and that, is okay.