As Sarah noted on Sunday, I stepped off into the mountains last Friday, disappearing into the wilderness on the border of Tennessee and North Carolina. It’s no surprise to any of you that have read my posts for these past two years that backpacking, in isolation, is the most transcendent experience that I personally can have. No matter how my wanderings unfold, they always mean something to me.
However, I haven’t really experienced anything new in the three plus years since Megan was first admitted to the hospital. I’ve went to familiar places. Places that I could ramble into, disappear for a few days, and feel the comfort and safety of a home away from home. Places that I had been to so many times that I could navigate every trail blindfolded and say “Hello, again” to every tree.
It’s been cold, rainy, and just plain miserable for the past two weeks. The brief respite prior to our Texas trip, where it was summerlike for a few days did nothing but remind me that May in Ohio is fickle. You can be sitting outside, sipping a cold beer in the sun one day, and the next, you’re protecting plants from frost and bundling up in winter coats.
Still though, this has been an exceptionally cold and wet month. The coldest in 12 years, and the most rain since 2011. We’re itching to be outside, but frankly, it just sucks.
Fairly often, I struggle to find something poignant or meaningful to write about on these Tuesday mornings...today is no exception. The thing that is circling my mind though, is the weather in May of 2011..the year Megan got her transplant.Read more
Way back when I started writing here for Soaring Spirits, I had posited a statement that when “my switch flips from suffering to determination, it is simply not possible to feel more powerful”. At the time, that was related precisely to losing Megan, and wading through the grief until I finally got up off of the couch, wiped the snot off of my face, and got to work.
I felt as if I could power through anything. A workout. A stressful day at work. Chores at the home or a general busy day. I quit feeling sorry for myself, effectively pulling my widow card as an excuse to be lazy, and breezed through anything with ruthless efficiency.
For the past year or so though, I felt as if I aged 10. I’m sore, tired, slow, and gaining weight. I’ve let the doldrums of everyday life evolve into a bad thing, and my determination, initiative, and drive has slowly waned.
I was “suffering” from complacency, not loss or grief.
The switch had flipped.Read more
It’s 2017. This is the 35th time that my body has traveled around the sun on this little rock called earth. In those 35 trips, I’ve been witness and participant to milestones of education and career, love and marriage, childbirth and parenting, sickness, and death. I’ve seen friendships both grow and wither. I’ve evolved from a curious child, to an outgoing teenager, then a determined Marine, followed by a devoted husband and father, on through to a caretaker, and then...a widower. I volunteered my twenties and early thirties to the life of a woman that I knew would not be with me to old age. We created a beautiful child that anyone would be proud to call their own.
Two years ago, on the first day of 2015, that life had abruptly come to an end. I was no longer a husband, but rather, a widower. My years of education and youthful curiosity were far behind me, a relic of my adolescence. I was beyond the pride that came with earning the title of Marine, for my country deemed me too old to serve by that point. My caretaking services, as sharpened and experienced as they were, were no longer needed in the advanced capacities they were capable of.Read more
As I wrote last week, I had made plans to go to a place called the Dolly Sods wilderness for a weekend of backpacking. I’d been planning for months, to return to this place that I was so familiar and comfortable with. A place that felt like home to me. As fate would have it, a fire ban was instituted in the area, which quickly put this trip into an unsafe endeavor. Being wet and cold at 4000+ feet in December is not something one just says “oh well” to.
“I hear her voice in the morning hour, she calls me, the radio reminds me of my home far away.
And driving down the road I get a feeling that I should have been home yesterday, yesterday.
Country roads, take me home to the place I belong.
West Virginia, mountain mamma, take me home, country roads.” - John Denver
However, I’ve spent many-a-night under the dark skies of the Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia. I’ve walked every inch of trail on that plateau, at 4000 feet, the highest in the east. It was the first place I backpacked as a civilian, apprehensively leaving Megan at home, alone, for a long weekend.
Two years after her death, and I had finally mustered up the motivation and fortitude to wander off into that windswept spruce forest again. For a few months now, I’ve been planning this trip, fantasizing about going back to the place I belong. Winding up the dirt road leading to the trailheads on the eastern continental divide, where boulders and stunted spruce trees greet the sky. Disappearing from civilization for even a few days, where i’m not a widower, caretaker, husband, father, or employee. That scene was to happen this Friday, December 2nd.
It was to be my first “real” backpacking trip since Megan’s death, and it’s been crushed, as am I.Read more
"The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness - John Muir"
Over rolling hills and through meadows full of goldenrod, studded with purple asters, I took a walk yesterday. It is almostautumn here in Ohio; officially just a few days away. My favorite season.is quickly approaching. So too was it Megan’s favorite season. Harvest festivals, halloween, hooded-sweatshirt-weather, the changing of the leaves, and big puffy lake-effect clouds dotting bright blue skies make it the most colorful and dramatic time of the year.
It’s been quite a long time since I stepped out for a hike on my own. As much as I enjoy and desire solitude, it is still more enjoyable to be with Sarah and Shelby on a walk in the woods. Between Shelby noticing every little chipmunk, snail and caterpillar (of course, giving any creature she discovers a name beginning with “Mister” and some variant of “fluffy, squishy, or slimy”, depending on species) and Sarah’s wonder at the environment of the woods up here, versus Texas (Maple trees are slightly more robust than Mesquite trees), I take as much in enjoyment watching them have the experience as I do experiencing it myself.
Watching them is something new to me, and I noticed it by being alone on this particular walk.Read more
"It is not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves. - Sir Edmund Hillary"
I’ve walked in nature my entire life. I’ve hiked, and camped in woods, deserts, jungles, alpine mountains, swamps, boreal forests, and caves. I’ve lived, overnight, in snow, thunderstorms, ungodly heat, wind, and cold. Mosquitos have eaten me alive, and bears have walked through my campsite while I lay in my hammock. I’ve been alone for days, with no cell phone service, and I’ve slept surrounded by 100 other people in the trees, each with their own stories.
I must have built a thousand fires, and stared at them for hours, each one like a new episode of my favorite TV show. I’ve laid on my back in a blueberry heath in West Virginia and watched stars frame the Milky Way, on nights so clear and cold that you hold your breath, because you don’t want the condensation of your own breathing to cloud the view.
I’ve also parked the car at a city owned garage in downtown, and walked through the concrete jungle. There are trees there just the same. Snow still falls in cities, and weeds still grow in cracks. The architecture is different, with even the most elaborate buildings paling in comparison to the beauty of a simple cliff face. Although nature is there, and is not nearly the same, it still has its benefits.
I'm always astounded at the things nature teaches me about life and grief. This week I went for a walk at a park near my new house. It's a wilderness park, with one trail that makes a 2 mile circle surrounding a prairie. For years, this area was farmland, and the park system has now preserved it to allow the landscape to fully restore back to it's original state. For miles all around, it is now an expansive prairie, flanked by thin fingers of woodland and bogland where the ground slopes low. Mike and I first found it a few weeks ago, and it has quickly become my favorite escape since moving to Ohio two months ago.
Firstly, not many people go there, so it's easy to feel almost entirely isolated in nature while you're there, which I love. Secondly, with the time of year, all the plants have begun to die off or go dormant, with their seed pods yawning wide into the brisk winds and tossing their seeds into the breath of autumn. From the moment I first laid eyes on this place, I was completely drawn to it. With dozens of varieties of flora, even dead plants create a kaleidescope of textures and shades – from browns to tawny yellows to silvery blues. For weeks I've been feeling a pull to go back here... to feed my eyes with all the richness of seeds and grains, cattails and milkweed pods, dried leaves and rustling grasses. To be surrounded by a place where death is beautiful...Read more
Prior to losing Megan, I was an avid backpacker. 5 or 6 times a year, I would meticulously plan a trip to the mountains over a weekend, and disappear for a few days. No cell phone service, no emails, no TV, no distractions. I am at my most calm and reflective while I am in nature.
It was a way to recharge my batteries and spend time in a primitive space.
It's been two years since I last spent a night in the woods. Megan’s organ rejection, and her subsequent hospitalization put a complete stop to any outdoor pursuits. My gear sat, collecting dust until a week ago, when I finally felt ready to leave the world behind and disappear again.
I can’t say that, to me, this moment was any less significant than our first Christmas without her, her birthday, or even meeting and dating Sarah. It felt important to be putting a boot on the ground again, for the first time knowing that I wouldn’t be returning home after a long weekend to Megan. The thought did not escape me that it also meant that the guilt I usually felt, that of leaving a disabled wife with a young daughter, was no longer present either. I was unencumbered...truly “free” for the first time in over 12 years.
That freedom is important. I had always taken my trips around Megan’s various hospital stays, procedures, and during “healthy” times. When I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I didn’t have a regular experience for a 22 year old. Megan and I met three months after my discharge, and she went in for a two week hospital stay the next day. Our twenties were spent months at a time, depending on whether she was admitted to the hospital or not.
With that said, last weekend I dropped Shelby off at my parents, sent a “bye for now” text to Sarah, and stepped off into the woods.