Dirty skin, dirty hair.
I guess in some ways this is what I hoped 28 would look like.
The weight of nothing except the challenges we hand picked and the surprises that we didn't. The feeling of hard, warm earth beneath my feet and the matted, wild way my hair has started to curl. Each year, inching closer to understanding what’s really important to me.
Over the rise and fall of so many moons this year I felt as if the world was slowly trying to suffocate me. Staying stationary in one chair, in one small room, staring at an ever-changing selection of bright screens. It was life, but it wasn’t all life had to offer. Deep down, I knew that to be true.
As the fears of disease and death grew then ebbed then grew, I (the whole world it seemed) was caught in a cycle of wondering and canceling and planning and finally accepting. Accepting that life was the way it was now, for a while. (What a strange, but wonderful outcome, learning to accept that which we cannot control).
Masked faces, shuttered doors, loneliness and isolation. The gnawing sense that everyone’s mental sanity was fringing at the edges. (Those who were already frayed were unraveling. Those stitched together now pulling apart at the fragile seams.)
I had an escape waiting for me at the other side. A 2000 Toyota Sienna Minivan, to be specific. This knowledge–that the endless days of sameness and anxiety were coming to an end–allowed me some relief, even before I pulled open the van door and stepped into the desert.
Getting out wasn’t easy. It never is.
It took three days after I left the city to feel the grip of it loosen. The deadlines, the expectations, the calendar appointments…when you are caught in the swirl of it, it all becomes so real, so important. Now, on the road, with less service and even fewer commitments, I realize that the chugging wheels, the system of society, want us to believe that everything is moving at light speed. The internet only aids and abets. We can see people doing it all. Everything we're not. It's happening right now, right in front of our eyes.
But I spend all my time outside now, and I can see that time hasn’t sped up at all. The sun rises slow and early. The air warms along my skin. The hours stretch forward. A coyote walks down the dirt road as I sit and do the dishes. And the sun and moon continue to dance together, up and down, one dance, one rhythm.
What I think happiness is lately is simple: the feeling that I am not doing much, yet I am doing exactly enough.
Everything is slower now. Each movement, each action. More intentional. Harder, somehow. But more gratifying. I’m not in a rush, because there’s simply no where else to be. The tasks of washing and organizing and sitting–that’s what there is to do. Being is all there is.
I hope I can remember that on the other side.
The other day Kyle and I walked 7 miles with our backpacks to find an oasis in the desert. A warm natural spring tucked into the canyon wall. After we soaked, we camped on the sandy river bed, with a large bleach-white tree as our canopy. As the night fell, another hiker walked over the river towards us. It was getting dark and he asked if he could share our camp. I was initially disappointed that he was ruining our solitude. (Funny how we still seek isolation after a year and a half of being forced apart). But after we spent the evening with him, I remembered that one of the most special parts about travel is the souls you meet along the way.
He was hiking the Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 miles from Mexico up to Canada. One of the most demanding hikes in the US.
An Iraq War Veteran, he’d hiked the Appalachian Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail and the CDT once before. With a pension, and only 37 years under his belt, but a lifetime of tragedy already behind him, he did the only thing that seemed to make sense: he walked.
I've been thinking about him since he left us that morning, with only his trail name as a piece of contact information and thousands of miles left to go. I don't have to wonder what he's doing, because I know. There's beauty and sadness in that, somehow.
Each year I feel as if I inch closer to the same truth. Some understanding about what it means to be human. Something that’s so simple and right there in front of me, but still too elusive to fully grasp. Something I am not yet able to articulate, because maybe it’s not something you put into words, but something you have to feel.
It's something about being still.
About letting go.
About coming back to this moment, right here, right now.
It’s about being outside with the flies, and accepting them as the buzz around you.
About being outside with the moon, and accepting that it may be so bright that you can’t see the stars, as you had hoped to, but still reminding yourself how magical it is to simply bask in its glow.