Fearing A Walk In The Woods

I have long been drawn to the idea of a long hike in the woods. The Pacific Crest Trail is so close to my home. My older sister used to ask me to hike it with her, as I’ve mentioned before. I have a friend who plots out a solitary hike into the back country every summer, figuring out where she wants to go and getting the needed permit. And then off she goes, with all she needs on her back, up into places like the Alpine Lakes wilderness. I asked her once if she wasn’t afraid, out there alone, and this petite woman looked at me as if she didn’t understand the question.

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There are a lot of books about people who have gone off on long treks and I read many of them. Some, that are so popular movies have been made from them, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I didn’t like at all. Some make me laugh, like Bill Bryson’s A Walk In The Woods, although there is a lot in that book that isn’t funny. And then there are some, like Walking Home, by Lynn Schooler, where every page is a story that resonates with me, even though it starts out with a terrifying bear encounter.

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Another friend of mine recently told me about a hike she went on. Two women, packs on their backs, take off on for a few days on their own, into the wilderness, like it’s just another jaunt around the block.

I even follow a group on Facebook called ‘Fat Lady Takes a Hike’. I thought it would be inspiring. But then I look at photos and think ‘Fat? Her?!?’

And so, like I’ve written briefly about before, I daydream about striding forth, life on my back, to daydream in the forest and find stories in the trees.

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Then reality steps in.

I remember the horrible story in the news a few years ago about a mother and daughter murdered on a hiking trail. Experienced hikers, but someone found them out there alone. The murder is still unsolved.

I think about gear. When we go camping we need a big truck. How would I fit all that into a backpack? Clearly I’d have to go shopping for equipment based on weight. I know many people base their needs on how many ounces that cook stove will add to the pack. And I wonder how many ounces my bottle of blood pressure meds weigh, or the pad of paper and pens. The camera. The extra pair of eye glasses.

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And what about the pillow? And the thick pad of memory foam?

I think about being old and definitely not the lean hiking type. Aching knees and hips. Sore lower back.

Then my thoughts wander down the path of fear. That would be easily solved by taking along the husband. He knows how to read maps and compasses. He knows how to orienteer. He knows how to tie a multitude of knots. He knows how to cook over a fire. He knows how to fix everything. I’m always, always safe when he’s around. And I’m never ashamed of my limitations around him. I wouldn’t worry about lagging behind or slowing him down or being a hindrance.

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But I don’t think he’s ever had any desire to, shall we say, shit in the woods.

Am I afraid to walk in the woods? Not as long as I leave my imagination at home. I love being out in the woods. But I do have an active imagination. What if a bear comes along? What if a cougar stalks me? What if I fall out there and break a leg? What if I got lost?They couldn’t use my cell phone to ping my location and find me because I have a little old flip phone.

What if I got out there and gave up and turned around and disappointed my companion and let myself down?

What if I learned my dream was just that?

What if I failed?

What if I was too afraid to take one more step?

What if I was too afraid to take the first step?

I think I’ll just go reread Walking Home and continue dreaming.

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The husband’s office

 

Prompts, Exercises, and Those ’70’s Songs

Seems like writers can’t go anywhere without being challenged to do writing prompts or writing exercises. It used to be I felt they didn’t teach me anything, especially when compared to books on writing that made me learn the craft better. Then when artist Lisa Hsia sent me regular prompts, I realized they work great for warming up preparatory to working.

Yesterday, while trying to clean the office, I got distracted by piles of paper scraps – those vital pieces that aren’t organized so we can find them when we need them. And yep, I found a list of writing prompts/exercises. This one caught my eye: Seventh Grade Soundtrack.

Knock Three Times by Dawn. This was hugely popular and I was embarrassed when it would play. Why? Because what kid wants a mom who loves the same song they do? It would play on the TV and mom would sing along. She’d sit in her chair with dad on his end of the couch, puffing his pipe. I’d be lying on the brown and yellow shag carpet in the middle of the living room floor with siblings scattered around. We were the remote controls of the time.

Black Magic Woman by Santana. I liked this song but always felt a little uncomfortable, a little lost, knowing there was something I was missing out on, didn’t understand, didn’t yet know. Of course that meant I also felt just a little racy and grown-up listening to it. A future not yet grasped but on the distant horizon.

Mr. Bo Jangles by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. There was a deep craving when I heard this song, that I also didn’t yet understand. I was writing stories by then but didn’t know how deep that went in my soul. I only knew that when I heard this song I ached to know the story, what happened, why, what happened after. I wanted beginning and ending, not just middle. I still do.

He Ain’t Heavy He’s My Brother by Neil Diamond, during the year we’re talking about. I still listen to this song and it still brings up melancholy feelings, the hope for society, the sadness that we’ve never attained the goal; back then the realization that the hippy era was fading without having accomplished world peace. And now, the realization that so much time has gone by and we still haven’t. I wish this was a theme song now when reading the news about the refugee horrors.

Oh my gosh – One Bad Apple by the Osmonds, I Think I Love You by the Partridge Family, I’ll Be There by the Jackson 5. Instant flashbacks to slumber parties. With girls, now women, some now grandmothers, all still my best friends.

Slumber parties!

Slumber parties!

And way too many to write about all the memories attached to them. But I’ll list the titles here as my Seventh Grade soundtrack – the songs I loved as I transitioned to Junior High wearing the hated skirts and knee socks (no pants allowed, let alone jeans), cat eye glasses, freckles, not fitting in, horribly shy, blushing at everything, a story world more real than the real world, daydreaming on the school bus.

Indian Reservation (Raiders), Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling (Fortunes), Ain’t No Sunshine (Bill Withers), Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves (Sonny and Cher), One Tin Soldier (Coven), Sweet City Woman (Stampeders), Draggin’ the Line (Tommy James), Rainy Days and Mondays (Carpenters), The Drum (Bobby Sherman), Me and You and a Dog Named Boo (Lobo), Joy to the World (Three Dog Night)…

I need to stop. I’m starting to sing out loud. And now I’m warmed up to go do some writing.

How about you? What memories are attached to your seventh grade soundtrack?

Wild Book Review

I live near a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada. One of my sisters wants me to hike it with her. I admit it’s tempting. But I’d have to spend too much money in gear. And find a pack big enough for my bed.

One thing that whetted my fascination with the trail was reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, which is about his trek along the Appalachian Trail. While he can be a bit hard on the forest service, the book made me laugh.

So when my sister gave me Cheryl Strayed’s new book, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, I was excited to read it. Unfortunately the excitement didn’t carry through many pages.

The author hiked the trail to deal with a life that spiraled out of control after the death of her mother. The book took loss, and put it in a unique setting. The writing is polished, the pace moves right along, and the people she meets on the trail are interesting. And in one case scary.

What seemed to be missing, for me, was balance. Meaning by about two-thirds through, I decided I’d had enough navel gazing (and I have to admit, what felt like whining) and not enough of the trail. When the author finally had her breakthrough in dealing with her mother I felt relieved, as if I could now get on with the business of hiking. Unfortunately the book remained on the same path. I wanted more details than just how heavy the pack was or how many toenails remained at the end of the day.

There are a lot of uncomfortable passages and one scene with a horse that is terrible. None made me think or question or grow. They just made me squirm. And I think the analogy Strayed tried to draw with the memory of the horse didn’t work.

In the places where the author did talk about the trail, she did okay with descriptions. I could see the views and feel the weather. But it felt like a tiny snippet of trail, which then segued into a large hunk of grieving. The problem for me, then, was a lack of balance between outer and inner worlds. Plus the fact that, to be honest, the inner world got a bit tiresome.

If you want a book on moving forward after loss, on a life that was self-destructing and slowly pieced back together, then this might be worth reading, though I found it more self-centered than similar memoirs. If you want a book on hiking in the wilderness, read the Barefoot Sister’s books, or Bryson’s.  His may not be about the PCT but when he realizes his friend just chucked all the toilet paper over the cliff because it was too heavy, you’ll find yourself standing right next to him.

In Wild, I never found myself on the trail.