I think I may be starting to sound like a broken record with all of my “nature” posts, but regardless, I’m writing about it again. I’m even stealing the title of Sarah’s post on Sunday, and rolling with it. Seeing as how we’ve both written about something we did together, I see no shame in making a “Part 2”
It feels odd, seeing as Christmas is just a few days away, that I am not deep into grief at this moment. Perhaps the distraction of getting ready for the holiday, having a young daughter, enjoying life with Sarah, work, or a million other things is keeping me from falling into the dark pit of despair and mourning.
Really though, it’s nature. Sarah and I have decided, and followed through with it, to go on a hike at least once a week. Northeast Ohio is blessed with a national park, state forests, numerous well-run county parks, and very varied terrain in a relatively compact area. This past weekend, we traveled to Mohican State Forest, resolving to spend a night in twenty degree weather. We’ve talked of going backpacking since we met at Camp Widow, and finally, we did it.
We went to the woods. This is truly when I am in my element, and I haven’t really been out with anyone in over two years.
There aren’t any poetic metaphors or grief-related anecdotes to describe. I was simply, wonderfully happy the entire weekend. I didn’t forget about Megan, mind you, but I wasn’t mourning her either. She wasn't much for this, especially when the temperatures dropped below freezing. I went out to the woods by myself dozens of times, Megan preferring to have a girls’ weekend at home with Shelby. Being out in the pines without her is not something new or triggery.
As Sarah and I donned our packs and stepped off on the trail, there were no thoughts of Megan being here. One foot after the other, plodding up a dirt path, I was not thinking of how much she would have loved to have been here, because she wouldn’t have, frankly. Her tiny frame wasn’t able to support a heavy pack very well, the cold air seared her lungs, and quite honestly, she was a city girl. She appreciated nature, but prefered interesting activities in civilization.
I, on the other hand, could easily stay in the woods for weeks. The silence you have out there is stunning. A crackling fire is my television. My running water is fed by springs and seeps coming out of a hemlock-covered hillside. My heat is generated by oak logs, freeze-dried noodles and coffee, and my home is made of nylon and goose-down, with a carpeting of leaves.
As Sarah and I set up camp and I kindled a fire, I wasn’t thinking about Megan. I was enjoying having Sarah with me, but still doing all of the camp chores myself, because that’s just what I do. I get lonely at home when nobody is around and Shelby is staying with a grandparent, but not in the woods. I’ve tried journaling more when I’m out, alone, with my nighttime world being a 20 foot radius that the fire illuminates, but I find that I can never really get the writing going. I’m not focused on anything, and that’s why I feel it is so beneficial for me.
We woke up (well, when I say that, I mean got out of the sleeping bag...you never really sleep through the night in the woods unless you’re very used to it) to a tent crusted with ice that formed on the inside from our breath. I did as I always do, leaning outside, starting the stove up for my morning coffee, only half outside of the bag. The hiss of the camp stove is calming in and of itself. After making our morning beverage, I crawled outside, grabbed a handful of twigs, and threw it onto the remaining coals from the prior night’s fire. After a minute or two, I fanned the embers into a flame, tossed a few larger sticks on, sipped some more coffee, and sat down. Sarah was still snugly inside her bag. I didn’t start thinking about anything other than the crows that were cawing off in the distance. I sat there for awhile, periodically loading more wood into the fire, and thought of nothing.
I was happy, without Megan. I was out in nature, embedded into it. Miles from the nearest paved road. For that 24 hour period, I wasn’t a widower...I was a backpacker. There were new experiences for me on this trip. Sarah and I played with our cameras at night, which is something I have never done. I slept in a tent in the wilderness for the first time in years (I’m one of those weirdo hammock campers normally). I left Sarah at the campsite alone at night to hike the quarter mile or so to the creek to get water, which is something I would NEVER have done with Megan. Just the same, I have a new experience of some sort every single time I go out, whether or not I am with someone. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
I realize that this isn’t for everyone, and I’m not suggesting that anyone just grab a pack and walk into the woods for a night. That would be silly, expensive, and dangerous. What I am suggesting, however, is that everyone find something they loved to do by themselves, and do it. Then do it again. I didn’t think about Megan not being here, because she wouldn’t have been here anyway. The mere suggestion of spending a sub-freezing night in the woods would have been ridiculous to her.
Megan wasn't in the backcountry with me, and it felt normal not having her there.