It’s been far too long since I felt the sting of an icy wind hitting my face. Months have passed since I lazily stared into a campfire of my own creation, with nobody but my own self to discuss it with. I haven’t dunked into a mountain creek after a long march, and I haven’t been woken up by annoying crows, rather than an annoying alarm clock.
I have every opportunity to walk off into the woods for a day or two. It doesn’t cost much, other than the gas to get there. Winter has never stopped me either, in fact, I favor the winter when I’m out in the “back-of-beyond”. There are no insects, no stifling humidity, and most of all, no people. I can be truly alone with my thoughts, my triggers, and my memories. I can process the self-pity and pessimism that rears its ugly head every so often, without a facebook notification, ringing phone, or a TV interrupting me.
I don’t have any real excuses as to why I haven’t at least taken a day or two to be alone in nature in the past 4 months. But oh, do I sure try to find them. I have slowly been becoming grumpier. Angrier at minutia. Pessimistic and spiteful at the situation that I was thrust into. It’s a negative feedback loop...the more I NEED to be in those woods, the less I have the ambition to get up and go.
I’m using all of the tricks to talk myself out of it and avoid. I think it’s time to have a discussion of these finer points with myself. A “heart-to-heart”, if you will, with my own. It’s a time where, as I wrote over three years ago not long after Megan’s death, I need to flip the switch from suffering to determination. To dust myself off, climb out of my fighting hole, and just friggin’ DO IT.
Let’s talk, self. Have a seat and lets discuss the reasons your ambition is all but gone.
“You bathe in these spirit-beams, turning round and round, as if warming at a camp-fire. Presently you lose consciousness of your own separate existence: you blend with the landscape, and become part and parcel of nature.” -John Muir
It is no secret that John Muir inspires me to no end. While my love of nature and being in the wild places has done more to heal and calm my soul than any other aspect of my life, Mister Muir made it his religion. Every time I step into the woods, I lose connectivity with not only my cell service provider, but with the likes of the modern world. What wild refuge would John Muir have found in today’s endless series of hashtags, shopping centers, gluten-free water, and email? What would his sermons be in this year’s existence?
“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul” - John Muir
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.
This past week, in between various errands and chores and work tasks, I took an hour or so to go for a walk at one of my favorite hiking trails nearby. It’s been on my mind ever since, for a few reasons. I don’t really take time to myself out in nature anymore like I used to. Life is so much busier now and there just never seems to be time. More like I always seem to find 50 other things I “should” be doing. So it was a real treat to spend a few hours just going for a walk.
I walked a short way down the trail before returning to my car, which happened to be parked at a little pullover on the side of the road, just in front of a creek. There’s a bench I know of, just past my car, that sits overlooking the creek. I went to sit for a while, and discovered a little painted stone someone had left on the bench. It was gold, with a smiley face painted on it, and the word “Happy” written clearly by a child. It brightened me even further, feeling like a sign or confirmation that I need to do this more for myself… get out in nature on my own so that I can truly connect with it. Little did I know there was an even bigger sign in front of me, with a beautiful lesson...
Way back in September of 2012, Megan, Shelby and I took our first backpacking trip together. Shelby was only 5 years old, and Megan was almost two years past her lung transplant. I meticulously planned the trip, choosing the Blackbird Knob trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness, in West Virginia. I was already intimately familiar with it, knowing the various campsites, creek crossings, and hills along the way, but neither of the two of them had ever been.
I chose it because of the safety factor. I knew that we could ramble in about a mile before we came to a creek that I wasn’t comfortable having them cross. Just downstream from that point, there was a beautiful backcountry campsite where we could spend the weekend. I limited them, purposefully, so that I didn’t have to worry about Shelby trying to rock-hop across a fairly sizable creek, slipping, and being washed downstream. Nor would I have to be concerned with Megan, who was still getting her feet under her on dry, flat ground in her recovery, experiencing the same.
This past weekend, Sarah, Shelby and I took our first backpacking trip together. Shelby is now 10 years old, and Megan has been gone almost three years. I barely planned the trip, deciding on Monday that we should leave on Friday for the Blackbird Knob trail in the Dolly Sods Wilderness. I’m still familiar with it and all of the campsites, creek crossings, and hills. While Shelby had been briefly acquainted with it, Sarah had never been.
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
There are days that make you look at the places you are arriving more than the ones you are leaving behind. Mike and I spent most of the afternoon yesterday out hiking. It was the first warm, sunny day we’ve had in ages in Ohio… and it put me in an especially grateful mood just to be existing and feeling the sunshine. We went to a big overlook high up on a ridge, one we hadn’t been to in over a year. It looked out on the river, which snaked and curled down through the valley below.
Afterwards we drove down into the valley to hike around by the river that we had just stood above. It was an area neither Mike nor I had ever hiked before… and it led us to a beautiful cascading waterfall that came out to meet the river from a side creek. It nearly took my breath away. We remembered seeing this very ravine a year ago, from far across the river, not knowing how to reach it. There was a deep feeling of accomplishment about finally discovering the way to get to this spot - particularly as it was quite on accident. I mentioned to Mike, I could sit here all day and watch the water tumbling softly down the thin plates of shale on its journey to the river.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