John expresses doubts on the first day of his hike…

What I wouldn’t give to drop down and hike on all fours like a dog. Or push off each step like that young woman ahead of me. I’m trying not to look at her backside. But she is young, and strong, and bold, to be out here almost all alone. A girl and her dog. Disappear into a fog. And I follow. A fire to sit beside and dry my socks and blur my mind in a sip of whiskey and a cup of wine and speak for a few minutes with company of like-mind and listen to problems like mine and sleep as if no morning will ever come again. Wrapped tight like a mummy, no plan for resurrection. Not only is tomorrow going to be a new day, it is going to require a new John.

This old one isn’t cutting it.

It isn’t thyme.

That’s the thing about journals and wine, they’re nothing but juice without time. Your grocery lists and garden designs will be worth at least a sideways smile in four or five years. But in ten to twenty, or thirty, to eyes still reading long after yours have entered the book, your handwriting, not just that one of a kind chicken scratch, but an undeniable image of your hand, alive, writhing, a little list that led you on your way out into town, strangers who stared you down, held the door for you, nodded hello. It takes fifty years to even know the value of what we’re losing when we exclusively hunt and peck every thought under threat of the launched arrow of a backspace key. You can type a cocktail, squeeze words, add liquor, pour out every sort of juice. But you have to hand-write wine, and more than that, be patient for it. One virtue that has been entirely and purposefully written out of education. Society. Culture in general. Patient people make poor consumers. Patient. Stubborn. Frugal with money, but always giving away food. Journals, and handwritten things, and stubborn, patient people who like to work with animals every day, who like four chores and sixteen memories and three bruises on every dinner plate. Who get a bit of therapeutic benefit from shedding tears over a thirty year old grocery list that somehow grew into a treasure of incalculable value with nothing else added to it but time.

Life. All have same secret ingredient.

If you don’t know, don’t worry, it comes for you too.
Be patient. It isn’t thyme.

Roan Michael

This little mountain.
He will know where he is going before he ever learns where all he was.
Held fixed within a body with legs. Static. Sitting still. Car seat. Buckled in.

Seventy five down eighty one.
Running away from home again.

Little hill.
Mini mountain.
Rooted like water.
To nothing, nohow, not ever.
Falling into beds like snow.
Royalty raining over drought plagued nations.
Little king.
Four tires rolling.
Strapped to a back. Strolling.
Don’t just put a pin in it. Go bowling.

Move. Make it tonight.
Between parental continents.
Mountains arise. This one too. And soon.
We’ll see him like we never have before.
With eyes.

The Pulpit


The mountains I cursed. The rain I out-poured prayers against. Some footsteps I used to walk. And some I just tried to crush the earth. As if I could. Mind hard as fossilized wood, and feet as white as chalk. I had this trick, for climbs, long ones, three, four hours maybe more, every step a foot higher than the last, don’t look up. Don’t glance toward the top. I would stare straight forward through the curved bill of my cap like a horse head cradled by blinders. Not until the walking levels. Or until the sunlight grows an arch around the rim of treeline, and there are no other ridges above your head, and you find yourself in some sharp bald spot you didn’t believe existed until then. People think you’re having such a hard time when you pass them. People think all kinds of things for the few seconds until you’re out of sight and gone.

So many of them. So much hey how are you, how’s it going, you doing all right, where’d you come from, where are you going, how is the water up ahead. All the way to New York? Well good luck, better get going, hurry up. Where are you from? Almost a thousand miles from home. No, that can’t be right, Pennsylvania can’t be two hundred miles, well, it is a three hour drive. That adds up.

That sunset just before Three Ridges. Wind came in that night and swept it out and I suspect no one will never see that sunset again. Rifle shots at seven AM. Strangers asking if I’m afraid of hunters. Wonder why I’m not wearing their favorite color. Shenandoah was like a burgundy and gold encrusted crown on the regal head of northern Virginia. And Maryland wishes it was bread so bad. But someone has to be inside the sandwich. There have to be some things in between. Neither here nor there. And such places tend to build monuments to history, to heroes who died there but did not live there, or lived there, but died somewhere else. I remember climbing the wide gravel path cut into the side of Mount Vernon. Rust red signs with mildewed once white lettering, walking us through President George Washington’s American life. A lady with two huge skinny as a rail Greyhound looking sharp-headed dogs who had no intention of containing themselves around mine. Coolly bouncing black fur barely glancing their frantic direction. I remember her apology. Her promise. Her dogs are not really like this. The things we swear to strangers.

On top of The Pulpit. Overlooking dead Pennsylvania hillsides. There was rusted blood red and lemony gold and hunter green evergreens going into winter bold. Black birds with flat wings glide at the top right corner of the scene while a couple who badly want to talk to me console their dog who is afraid of heights, and is white as a ghost.

We walked twenty four miles that day. Cursed a few mountains along the way, and honest to God, and anyone else who would listen, I wanted to claim that pulpit. That jagged path like a broken staircase still had a little skin from my shin. I earned it. And I always carry a sermon.

I just want to be a flash of color deep down in a valley. A streak of orange you didn’t expect to see looming there so late into autumn. My voice, hundreds of feet in the air feathers ruffled against thermals.

Preaching to an audience who already knows the war between blessings and curses
is coming to a close. We all exist now in a state of perpetual both. In fact, the mountains I recall the best, are the ones I cursed the most. 

Now New York

After building a humble homestead in rural North Carolina for the last ten years, I craved change. I uprooted. With my usual dash of melodrama, I decided to take off on the Appalachian Trail and I hiked to New York. A new start. I followed my heart with my own two feet and landed beside Lake Ontario beside the love of my life. We needed a challenge. North country winter and lake effect snow and generators humming throughout the night. It is a snaking kind of confused direction to try and follow. Different. Nothing more specific. Just not what has already been played out. And that is exactly what I have walked into. New. In a few months I’ll be holding a child in my arms who will make me a father. Two months of nothing but walking. In order to discover just how much further I have to go. Forever. Which is the exact prescription I never knew I needed but somehow wrote out for myself many months ago. When we started planning this hike. This high speed chapter of our lives. This oncoming child. Chasing change. Like it was one of those little letters on a compass. A spinning arrow that refuses us to settle.
Has made us hesitant to root too deep. For now. Like the little boy in her womb. We will carry home with us whenever, wherever we go. This homestead has legs. Why settle for it, when you can carry it instead. And uncover an entirely new meaning for the phrase walking home. That is what I learned over eight hundred miles that lie between here and there. How to carry it with me. Home is like love. It only exists buried in my chest somewhere. Buried in the couch. Our son buried in her belly. It is a heavy love we bear. But never too heavy to carry.

Hiker noise 

Click. Chuff. Scrape. Tap. The left. Right. Left. Tick tick tapping canines while deep grinding molars together. Tsh, through lips, slips, ugh drum.

Ugh drum. And a hum. 

A hike is coming on strong right along.

Write alone. Up in the monster’s cove 

when he should behave

and sleep like how tired he is. 

Huh huh. And an ugh.

Snore like lions roar. Trick trick trick. 

Dud thud drops a mouse on the shelf. 

Being disgusting is its own form of stealth.

And no one can see where they don’t look.

Where a world of rodents gets left off the hook.

No one here fishes the shelters. 

They’re there though.

Boo. Says the wind. Booo. 

Says the bolted in ceiling.

Roof anchored down wears wind like a crown. 

While foreign shores try to snatch it away. 

This noise-chorus-full dark place we stay. 

On top of a mountain. 

Mount. Don’t know the name. 

Overlooking Burke’s Garden.

Where God got booked in. 

Gave over its thumbprint.

Just the same.

Mount. Sour Apples. 

Or Sour Apple Pond.


Out Here

All these letters in the alphabet. Every one is alive out here. 

Tall rooted t’s and unholy white o’s

in punctuated rows casting shade 

beneath the base of a great bright orange one. 

U bent creeks and double u springs,

bubble where, bubble up why, 

right into the bottle before dinner tonight.

X marks a place where two t’s met their fate 

and p’s and q’s and r’s and s’s

are scattered around like autumn leaves. 

This is where we learned to read. 

Where we scavenged language like food to eat.

Too late we learn it wasn’t food. 

And walked off long bark wrapped lists of options. 

Berries growing a’ la carte, ripe off the branch. 

Motivation. My friends.

Brains did not learn left to right and slowly down 

beneath disciplinarian hands and furrowed crowns.

But digging up brown. Swallowing worms with black finger nails and scratching around. 

Picking up putrid little p’s praying 

each one isn’t poisoned. 

Capitol G’s crawling lugging along their shells. 

All these letters in the alphabet. 

To taste, touch, see and smell. 

This is where we learned to eat. 

Out here. 

Looking for something to read.

Not in that order.

Groseclose. Atkins. Not in that order.
Knot Maul Branch Shelter.
Because settlers could not afford the iron.

Grouse cut loose just up a head, at the nose of the dog, scouting ahead.
The sound their wings made punishing air and us for coming too close.
Early morning. Before nine. More importantly. Before coffee.
Eight birds was just enough to fooly wake us up.
And scare the dog. Most famous of us all.

Mount Rogers. Does he happen to be related to mister?
All I want to know is who to blame for all these blisters.

Wilson Creek. South Holston.
Seven Holsteins dead stare eyes static mouths chewing leftover breakfast.
Dear mom,
I’m writing to say I’m hiking the entire Appalachian Pasture.
It’s swell. Throwing legs over ladders in bolted crosses across barbed wire.
Like a rustler. Like a thief. Mom, I may never leave.

My backpack is become a part of me.
Full. In the most intentional manner imaginable.
Stuffed. With stuff for each and every day,
of the three to come. And six in the past.

If you wanted to come.
You only had to ask.

Bastian. And then. There is Bland. Not in that order.
But just after Abingdon. Then back here again.

To track Appalachians. North.
Until the mountains end.

Keep no living heroes

None of my favorite authors are out here tonight.
Familiar smoke twirling above a dying fire.
All too well. Similar to the places they dwelled.
Lobster bisque. Didn’t clean a dish.
Ash tray brimming.

Two wet logs laid side by side
in a fire-ring of heavy white rock.
Mortared brick mantle caked by fire dust.
Half eaten tomato sausage biscuit.
Made from scratch.
Flour printed pen on butter dusted paper.

Scratching. Dragging wagging lines and loose dotted I’s
and night light spotted eyes. Retracted back.
Glimmered green.

Is that them?
My imaginary collective of favorite authors.
Not out there. Not here.

I have no favorite authors.
I keep no living heroes.

All I have are peers.

A Ragged Poem

If you could see my hands right now, you would read a ragged poem. Skin I won’t miss and some bits I do, and ash from so many different fires. At least five or so across fortyfive miles of mountains. If you could see my feet right now, you would be doing better than me. Foundations can’t always be seen. Doesn’t mean this house isn’t strong. Though it does have its own form of mouse. If you had had my night last night, you would’ve heard them too. Scratching up walls next to you. Being bold. Head covered not just for cold. If you could feel the warmth I’m beside, touched by flickering light, and listen through the insects, and barely see the starshine, it still would not be the same. Not my. Not I. But you. And yours. I call it mine. Though I am sure, It goes by different names.