“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” – Henry David Thoreau
Before this past weekend’s hike, my friend Maria checked our compatibility on the app “Costar” and it said something to the effect of “skip stones with Liz, she will celebrate your discomforts.” If by skipping stones it meant tripping over rocks, and my celebration of discomfort to be laughing at it, then yes that was a very accurate astrological reading. Our weekend hike took us out to a section of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland, to Black Rock Cliff and back for a distance of 7.42 miles and an elevation gain of 961 feet. It was not a difficult hike for us physically but we did tackle some emotional baggage we had been carrying. There was some incline in the beginning with steps to ease the ascent, but after that it leveled off. The vistas of both Black Rock and Annapolis Rock were breathtaking. Maria and I have a lot in common, we are both Aquarians, Reiki practitioners, foreign language teachers, divorcees, people pleasers and adventure seekers. We lovingly refer to our hikes, and our little hiking club as “ecotherapy” because that is exactly what walking in the woods with friends is.
While we both stumbled over rocks on the path, our conversation centered around the idea of “there” after I mentioned that I am not “there” yet. I keep feeling like I am coming up on a turn, a sort of paradigm shift and I am convinced one day I will wake up and realize I’ve arrived at that mythical spot, I’ve turned an imaginary corner. What that looks like specifically, I’m not sure, but I feel like I will know it when it happens. Maria, in her guru-esq way, reminded me that there is no “there.” All we have is here and now. I started Googling this concept and came across Thoreau’s quote. A few hundred years later, humans are all having the same discoveries in the woods, or in self-reflection, that he told us about already. I read Thoreau in high school. I lived near, and frequented, Walden Pond. Unfortunately, I did not learn what Thoreau was trying to teach, rather I learned to analyze Thoreau, the Transcendentalists, and the impact culture had on their beliefs. I wish I had learned his lessons then, rather than the teacher’s instruction. As a teacher now myself, I am amazed at how many of my students told me that they meditate when I asked them about their daily routines. The incredible stress that social media places on people plays a part, in my opinion, of having to pull our heads out of our asses and realize that what we have around us is pretty fucking great. Living in the present, not for anyone but ourselves, is hard. Picking up our heads from our social media is increasingly hard. Imagining a better life with a new partner, or a happier existence with someone in the future is futile. Yet, the escapism of imagination is alluring and I often find myself having to reign my brain back in. I am reminded of the parable in The Alchemist about the oil and the spoon. If you walk with a spoonful of oil, and try to get to your destination as quickly as possible without spilling a drop, you miss the wonder of the journey. If you spend too much time enjoying the journey, none of your oil will be left once you’ve reached your destination.
Giving our full attention is one of the greatest gifts we have available to offer, at any time, to anyone. We get so caught up in the shit flying through our own heads, or scrolling on our phones while someone is talking, that it is rare we stop and give that person our undivided attention. We are losing our connection to one another, often while we try to “connect” virtually. And while I appreciate the here and now, there is still part of me that relishes the destination. It’s part of the new way to divorce, right? Women turn to something extreme after divorce as part of their “recovery?” Cheryl Strayed’s trek up the Pacific Crest Trail and countless others have turned to hiking and the woods after a divorce, or similar journeys of self-exploration. My nutrition coach recently told me that she also became obsessed with the idea of hiking the PCT and backpacked in Nepal after she left her ex. An article from The Huffington Post from 2012 basically says that women who are successful post-divorce choose their happiness. They make a mental shift from victim to survivor. What better way than to literally go out into the wilderness to survive?
I came home Sunday riding that post-hike high, set out to write about “there” but shortly after I arrived home, I found myself in the midst of yet another spat with my ex where I threw out, and received some really ugly low-blows. He hurt my feelings, but failed to break my spirit. Instead, I refocused my intentions to “get hard.” I don’t want to be soft, or needy. I want to be strong, and independent. I want to hike the length of the Appalachian Trail in sections (starting in Maine and making my way south) over the next few decades. Rather than sitting and dreaming about what this will look like, it was time to take charge, thank you rage, and identify the destination, a “there” if you will. I suck at planning, so people who know me well are a little worried that I am just going to show up at the start of the trail in flip flops with no map. So my first few steps have been to buy Jeff Ryan’s book The Appalachian Odyssey as well as the AT Trail Data Book 2021. I have also picked the start date in August, started to figure out who will watch my kids and work on buying the necessary supplies and making the necessary arrangements.
Walking along the few miles of the AT Sunday, Maria and I tripped over rocks because we were either admiring the beauty of the woods, or lost in conversation, but beauty came from that in the form of laughter and bonding over shared experiences. When it comes to my future plans, I have to have a destination set in stone. I do want to get “there” even if there is no “there,” even if a little bit of the proverbial oil gets spilled from my spoon.