Hiking changes real estate. I remember house hunting with my family when my siblings and I were kids. No. Under a metal spiral stair case. Trapped between two thick yellow paint strips slicing the road in half. No in the yard. No that doesn’t fit in the yard. In the closet of a bedroom big enough for two, no, no more kids sharing bedrooms.
I would describe it as exactly the opposite on a hike. I spent innumerable miles studying, imagining, dreaming of how I could make little flat patches on the sides of mountains, bareheaded bald spots on top of them, chilly Laurel stuffed hollows between them, into cozy fireside home for the night. No was in my little book of miles, my stack of shelter names and water sources and spectacles along the way. No was circling bare plastic in water bottles or a food sack stuffed with crushed Ramen wrappers and crinkly, metallic skin still plastered with bits of authentic peanut butter. I swear I could make anywhere home. Is that a superpower? An antithesis to the performing escape artist. My ability, my talent, the special skill I am about to demonstrate, I’m really good at home.
Which isn’t a tent, a nice high firepit, a picnic table someone slid up underneath the shelter overhang, which is against the rules, and an answer to the prayer of every hiker in the rain passing through. It isn’t safety or security, there is none, save the insomniac canine stretched out on the leaves, ears sharp and crisp and up as early corn. It isn’t the view, though I’ve woken up by some doozies. I’ve slept sideways on slanted ground. Bent my body crooked as a snake in the shade to lie between the rocks. I’ve packed up my entire camp at nine at night because a strange man who had asked for food started staring at my dog, Eggs, like she was finally living up to her goofy namesake, hiked over a mile in the dark, shining no lights so he couldn’t see which direction we went, and set up camp in the pitch black not three feet off trail. Woke up to find out I’d slept beside an overview, woke up to carrot colored sunlight tickling hundreds of miles of central Virginia up out of a tough and too short sleep. I stayed one night down in this sopping wet valley dug by a wide shallow tongue of water called Dismal Creek. I know. I read the sign. The opposite of warm. The closest to freezing I’ve ever come when the temperature wasn’t freezing. It’s not a rule, it’s not even advice, so much as it is an observation, that one should always have trepidation about staying in a place where even the water is running.
I could make anywhere home. Often, I think of campsites I scratched out myself, circled rocks and crushed my snow angel tent shape flat in the leaves. I wonder if anyone else has stayed there. I wonder if a ranger found it first and scattered the rocks and ruffled up the forest floor to cover the tracks. I wonder if perhaps there’s some territory in the afterlife where one has to go back through the world and revisit every place we ever left DNA. Gather it up like autumn leaves to lay down bedding in the latchless stalls of heaven. I wonder.
Every night, I’d get my set up established, my shelter that packed down to the size of a loaf of bread, and expanded enough to hold me, my gear, my dog, room to spare. I almost always built a fire. Water boiling. Pour some wine if I had it. Slipping the dog slices of warm cheddar as if I hadn’t asked permission. I’d get out my notebook, wipe the excess ink pooled at the ballpoint of my pen, and wander. Pages. As my dinner grew cold. I’d shove all my dishes and food into a compression sack and send it up a tree on a rope, and I’d climb into my tent with my notebook and my pen, a bright white light emanating from the center of my forehead, and I’d write.
And that’s my superpower. That’s how I stay anywhere I go.
I am real estate.
I am home.