Running Away

I was talking to a couple of friends today about my upcoming trip to Seattle and my plans for a solo backpacking trip when I’m there. They asked me why I even wanted to go out into the wilderness by myself, and I had to admit I wasn’t sure. All I know is that after Jeff died, the idea took hold of me, and that every time I had an upsurge of grief, the idea came back even stronger, and now it just won’t let go. (The desire for such an adventure is a common reaction to grief.)

One woman said it sounded as if I were running away. Well, yes. Of course I am.  But then, I am also running toward something I can’t yet imagine. When I explained that the trip is a spiritual journey, a vision quest, the other women said she hoped I would find what I was looking for.

Am I looking for something? I don’t know. Do I expect to find something? Not exactly.

“Aren’t you afraid to be out in the wilderness by yourself at night?” they asked. Well, sure. But I think that’s sort of the point. To feel the breadth and breath of the night. To be aware of danger but at the same time bask in the vastness. To be afraid and in awe of the very world we live in. We’re used to thinking of the wild world as our own backyard, and yet the world exists in and for itself, without a single thought for the oh, so arrogant humans who live on the surface. Perhaps a respectful fear is a good thing to cultivate — at least it’s a recognition that we are not the center of the universe or the galaxy or even the world. In many respects, we are superfluous. If we did not exist, the earth still would continue revolving around the sun. If the earth weren’t here, we’d be . . . nowhere.

I try not to have any expectations. I know it’s dangerous to be out there alone. I know even experienced wilderness hikers get lost, get hurt, meet up with dangers — not bears so much, but clouds of mosquitoes, lightning, corroded trails, raging streams, and unleashed dogs are all very real dangers. And yet, I can’t let my fears dictate my future — otherwise, I’d never leave the house. (Being a crazy cat lady sans cats is as realistic a fear as any of those I might encounter on the trail.)

So maybe what I am running away from is that untenable future? Maybe what I’m running toward is a way to change what seems fated?

The way I see it, only good can come from seeking the goal. (Not necessarily the trip itself, but the push toward the trip.) Using hiking poles is helping my miracle arm. (The one that was broken in twenty-five places but now acts mostly normal.) Carrying a backpack is strengthening my body. Projecting myself into possible unpleasant situations is strengthening my resolve. Research is stretching my mind. Eating a clean diet is making me healthier.

At least, that’s the theory.

I’m still a long way from actually doing the trip, but every time I go to ballet class or saunter with my pack or forgo a sugary snack, I am taking another step on the trail.

And that seems as good a reason for planning on going out into the wilderness by myself as any other.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Advertisements

Sauntering

John Muir, an early advocate for the preservation of the wilderness, was involved in the creation of some of our national parks. Since so many hikers (those who have heard of him, that is) seem to revere him, I always assumed he was an avid hiker. Not so. He once said, “I don’t like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains — not hike!”

He continued, “Do you know the origin of that word ‘saunter?’ It’s a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, “A la sainte terre,’ ‘To the Holy Land.’ And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”

This might be only Muir’s interpretation of the word saunter because most definitions say the origin of the word is unclear. And yet, there is this from another source: “Usually the pilgrims [to Saint Terre , the Holy Land] — traveled in caravans for safety. Many saints, and good priests and bishops, from the East and West, preached against what they often saw in such journeymen as a spirit of uncertain and sometimes even scandalous restlessness. The French coined the word saunter to describe such peripatetic meanderings of vagabond types on their way to Saint Terre.”

Sauntering, with its connotation of a spiritual ramble, is exactly what I do. Even though I use the term “hike,” the truth is, I don’t really hike. Or even walk. I saunter. I stop to look around. Breathe in the ambiance. Listen to the stillness. Smell the air. Feel the holiness of the land. Touch the spirit of the place. Sometimes even reverently touch a rock or a tree. (Or, not so reverently, the ground, if I trip.)

I used to go on group hikes, but even though there is supposed to be safety in numbers, I never felt safe. I always had to “hike.” To go at their speed. To hurry to catch up after stopping to savor a place. So not my idea of a proper wilderness experience!

Although my dream is of an epic hike, for me the challenge and the joy would be the time spent on the trail, not the distance traveled. Although thru-hikers deny that that hiking one of the major trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail or the Appalachian Trail is a competition, there’s really no other way to describe it. The competition might not be against each other, but there is definitely a race against time, the weather, even one’s own ability. There are only so many months to travel the trail before the winter snows make hiking impossible, and so sometimes grueling paces have to be set. And sometimes people try to break the record of how long it takes to hike the trail.

Not my idea of a spiritual journey or even just a good time.

Now a saunter — yep, that’s for me.

20180107_113937.jpg

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.