I don’t even need to really get Judy on board, I know she’s just bored. With this episode in our lives, and everything. I can barely pick up on her little voice out in the hallway so sweetly chastising those children back to bed. Lord knows if it was the ringleader, or all of them, in cahoots again. God those are scary times. They put the boy out on a mattress they found by Lake Murray. I caught them riding an exposed septic field on the upturned roof of the dog house. And the oldest boy and the middle girl set the back wood on fire and denied it even to the faces of the firemen. Confessed in just disgusting, snotty tears that night. It was awful. All the worst definitions of pathetic. Judy has the patience of a person who grew up a smart mean child. The really alluring way a witch woos a princess. A worm doesn’t stop being a worm just because there’s a fishhook in her.
I know it may not seem exciting, but to me it is like living scripture, I am walking twenty miles on faith that another traveler left a message in a journal that will inform me which direction to head for the next twenty. I quite possibly have never worried about my son’s safety more so than I am being gripped to shreds by right now.
Worry is the lightest thing that’s too heavy to carry. I decide to leave it here in this shelter, in this journal, where I snored so hard I shook the mice from the rafters and awoke with a black bear cub and its mama curled up beside me in our den. I burnt the paper that held my breakfast. I filled every watertight container I have brimming with the lifeblood of this magical, wonder-filled forest.
And before she left, pack on, boots laced tight, hiking poles in one hand, Hailey hugged me, a good hug, full of that same lightning that passed through her hand into me last night. When that insurmountable intergenerational distance melts away at warp speed and through so much time and experience, we stand equals, young and old, both able to imbue one another with the exact form of energy the other needs. She may as well have thrown gasoline on the fire last night. She made this old footsore man feel young again. For a flash in a pan. For five minutes. And she got to see her father, in me. Hundreds, no, thousands of miles, distance be damned, it’s all distorted through the filter of emotions. Every mile. So many thousands of feet, maybe ten thousand or more foot steps.
Knowing that doesn’t make taking one any easier.
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.
Almost more frightening than seeing a bear is someone telling you they saw a bear. An older guy, older than my dad, who, if you saw on the street, you’d call homeless, but out here in the woods wearing a backpack with a red bandanna decorated black paisley tied around his head, just a hiker. Supposedly, who came around the corner and surprised two bear cubs up a tree. Never saw their mother. He says. But had a sense she was nearby. He tells us this as he is headed in the opposite direction, toward the almost can’t be called a town a few miles behind. Where we ate cheeseburgers and charged our phones and filled two collapsible water-bottles with cheap fizzy gas station wine. Dad and I. This guy is filling our heads with thoughts of bear and I swear I can smell every ounce of that half pound burger I ate called the hiker, ironically, likely pieces of it beneath my fingernails, grease left off in my scant facial hair. Old man hikes on but we really don’t, we’d walked all day and by design were camping close-by, maybe a few dozen yards from the place he treed the cubs.
There used to be a shelter here, but it burned down and all that is left is a giant set of concrete steps and the half buried slab it leaned on. The site isn’t popular. I can tell because of how little walking it takes to gather up a waist high pile of firewood so I can light up these woods right until the buttcrack of bedtime. Dad teases me about it. Less than an hour and a young man comes bee-bopping down the trail buried between two earbuds. He sits on our orphaned steps and talks to us about joining the army at the end of summer. And this trip is one half vacation, one half training. He can’t be in his mid twenties. One of those ultra lightweight backpacks stitched with the word Osprey. He hikes light. Carries very little water. Trusts his legs to get him more. He started further back than we did, and he isn’t done for the night. By his projections, another six miles before dark. His stories are scary-exciting like inheriting land or landing that new job. Red tee. Spiky black hair. Sweat sheened tan skin and built skinny strong. He did not stop to get a burger.
I have to drink most of my wine because my wine bag busted from the carbonation. Dad goes to tent an hour before my firewood is spent and I dirty up a couple pages and watch the flickering darkness for the twinkling of bear eyes or old men who smell like damp tobacco and liberal patchouli. The trees catch hot breath off my tall fire and juggle it between branches, busking for my attention, and I give it to them, two ever-open quarters I flick out from my pocket, like boomerangs, always seem to fly back to me whenever whatever I gave them to is finished.
I’d rather see a bear than hear a story about seeing one.
If I knew it was there in the dark staring back at me licking its lips.
Even that would be easier than waiting.
Roan is a mountain.
I saw as clearly in person
as if it were a dream.
I heard this little boy speak.
In the rusty hinge of a screen door.
He called out to me. Daddy.
Four years before he was born.
Have any old water bottles, backpacks, vintage camping or hiking gear from the collecting dust in your garage? I’d love to take them off your hands and put them to use! Project Local (my non profit) is making beginner backpacking/survival kits to give away, and all donations are welcome, even broken items, I have a special talent for fixing busted backpacking gear 😉
Just comment here or send me a message and we’ll work out the details of getting stuff picked up or shipped out, and thanks for all your help!
(More projects coming soon!)
What I want to say here today is about how we build towns in low places.
Now I don’t mean lowly, or head stooped, or humbled. I am talking altitude.
Down between the bases of barriers. Mountains. Like rivers.
We even seem to dig valleys deeper.
So everytime I come close to town I am walking down.
It strikes me in this moment that this is not a rare
or new or unusual instinct for a creature to have.
In fact, going over the historical math, we, as a species,
have a longstanding history of stacking lives up high in low places.
So it makes sense so much of our myths are full with fear of floods.
Waters rising. Of frantically fleeing above.
And I want to say the answer today is not a bigger boat.
Or a taller tower, higher stacked along quartz clay barriers.
It’s simpler than that.
So simple in fact.
It fits in a backpack.
Hanging from the dented shoulders of just about every person
I’ve met and shared space with on an average hiking day.
A little food. A liter of water or two. And some shelter.
A sort of parachute to carry you once you abandon the plane.
Climb away from the town we built up tall in a low down place.
We are intended to fear floods the rest of our lives
for never following mountains to their full height.
And see, even then, land sandwiched by sea.
What I want to say here today.
I don’t believe a flood could swallow this place any more than oceans already have.
I want to reconsider how many myths were written by people who only build in valleys.
Never lived out of a backpack. Clearly haven’t climbed high enough to know
there are places in this sort of place that will never be touched by floods.
If you don’t believe me, you should go. Spend some time with mountains.
Just be warned. After a month or so,
you may have to find new things to be afraid of.
I love this country.
Seated against a tree in Virginian highlands.
I love this country. And, I know what all that means.
Mountain pillars float above foundation streams.
Tall rooted sunlight schemes wiggling green.
I love when high wind sweeps low and stillness quivers.
Feel this shiver as it slinks along my spine.
Ends up near my mind.
I love a cup of wine.
I love to breathe smoke.
To nurse fire.
I love the country where I am.
Gnats wings electricity near my ear.
Fire molesting moist wood.
Hesitant to burn.
Begged to be left alone.
This country is my home.
And I am anything but inclined to protect it.
On my feet.
Wide hip pictures of horizons
and boot prints on the trail.
I love this country best.
I love it with footsteps.
With my time.
Houses. Jobs. Farms. Goats. Careers. Left behind.
By definition. They are not this country.
Which was here long before we were.
And will remain so long past I. Us. We.
Lovers of continents we can’t understand.
There are better ways than words to say it.
Steers that aren’t really steers sideways stare at us from between two big bowed branches of hollow bone. Crickets creak tree lines as steady as creeks creak creek bottoms. Sun sings sweat on shoulders with a sharp shiny soprano singing voice. Crows caw call us all back on our feet. Back backpacking miles repeat. And grass. Sweeps us off our feet with the subtle prayer of protein green. It is all made into a choir within me. A world of wild sound woven into harmony. The quilting consciousness that is humanity. Our mission. And it may yet prove to be enough just to sit and listen.
Starting in August, I’m going to be hiking the Appalachian Trail for a few months, to end up in upstate New York. The goal being to pursue my creative writing and other artistic ambitions full time for a while. I will also leave behind my main source of employment, as well as the farm I have come to depend on. After planning, training, and saving for almost a year, there is still a lot I need, and will need especially during the walking months.
I just want to let everyone know, I am open to accepting all forms of help in this endeavor. I have already had a few people who live near the trail offer a place to stay and a warm meal along the way, and some truly amazing friends will be caring for my animals and farm while I’m gone. A trip like this would be a lot harder, maybe even impossible, if I was on my own. Any help that you can offer is more than appreciated. It will be recorded, remembered, and eventually, repaid.
If you know someone who lives near the trail, or hear about a short term employment opportunity between here and there, or even just a heads up about an interesting place to visit, please let me know. Anything from a few dollars, to backpacking tips, to information about the areas I’ll be passing through, means the world. It helps make this adventure possible. Any and all contributions are going to support me during my hike. Once I arrive, I will be able to arrange for employment and my needs will be much more predictable.
Just let me know if you have any questions about specifics, food and gear and the whatnot’s I’m still sourcing. I have a paypal.me set up, for anyone who wants to help monetarily, as well as a Patreon account, which is a new service that supports start-up artists, connecting them and their art directly with patrons who want to support them. Both links are listed below!
If there’s anything else you think could help, do not hesitate to reach out: firstname.lastname@example.org
And for more information about my trip, my art, my farm or just in general, check out: http://www.jeremiahtrent.com