I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Hiking as salvation

Me, a modern hiker (taken by Bob at Maple Grove)
Since I have spent the past decade going out on hikes of varying difficulties every Thursday, I think I am stronger now than I was ten years ago. I've gone through numerous pairs of boots and a couple of backpacks, until I found one that I really like. I've got water in an internal hydration pack, and always plenty of food. And the ubiquitous trekking poles.

I realize now that I have always been an active person. Sometimes you have to get towards the end of one's days in order to look back and see a trend that would be obvious to anyone else. When I lived in Colorado, I took week-long backpacking trips, carrying everything I might need and a fairly heavy pack: dried food, sleeping bag, tent, camping stove and fuel. It was hard to start with such a heavy pack, but as the days went by, I not only got stronger, I also fell into the rhythm of the trail.

At the coffee shop last week, one of my buddies showed me a link about a book that he said made him think of me: Grandma Gatewood's Walk. I went right to the local library's website and put a hold on this book. Once I received a notice in my email that it was available, I picked it up and brought it home. Yesterday I began to learn about Emma Gatewood.
At the start of her 2,000-mile hike
In 1955, when Emma completed the entire Appalachian Trail with only a homemade knapsack slung over her shoulder carrying a few supplies, a blanket and a shower curtain for rain, no sleeping bag or shelter, I was simply astounded to learn about her adventure. She was 67 years old and had 11 children and more than 20 grandchildren by then. But Emma was no stranger to suffering: she had an abusive husband who would beat her repeatedly, going so far as to break her ribs and teeth, making her unrecognizable.

I found this interesting article about her in Adventure Journal. It sums up what I'm learning from the book, written by Ben Montgomery in 2014, many decades after her death, to celebrate the woman who saved the Appalachian Trail by drawing attention to its deficiencies:
The public attention she brought to the little-known footpath was unprecedented. Her vocal criticism of the lousy, difficult stretches led to bolstered maintenance, and very likely saved the trail from extinction. Author Ben Montgomery was given unprecedented access to Gatewood's own diaries, trail journals, and correspondence. He also unearthed historic newspaper and magazine articles and interviewed surviving family members and hikers Gatewood met along the trail. 
In reading about Emma and all that she endured during her lifetime, I realize that all those years of suffering made her stronger and more determined than ever. Where one person would just give up or decide to die rather than overcome such difficulties, another will get up and keep going. It's very inspiring to me and a reminder that one's state of mind can help you make it through whatever difficulty you're facing at the time.

One thing that I'm beginning to understand in my own life is that all the exercise and hiking that I do is not only good for my body, but also essential for my peace of mind. They don't seem like they're closely connected, but they are. When I read about someone like Emma and think of putting myself in her shoes (Keds sneakers), I realize that I have resources inside me that I haven't even plumbed. I do hope I won't have the chance to find out how deep they go. But you never know what lies ahead in the path of Life. When I despair about the state of the world, it tends to make me sad and defeated, just the opposite of what I need to be feeling. So reading inspiring stories about people who overcome enormous obstacles without a shred of self-pity I find to be very uplifting. I'll finish the book today, and I only started it yesterday. You wouldn't think it would be that kind of page-turner, would you? But it is, well written with some history included as well.

Yesterday I made a lot of progress in my garden, with my dark glasses and wide-brimmed hat protecting my eyes, and I can only hope that I will not be forced to discover how one gets along without central vision. However, someone like Emma would not let a little thing like macular degeneration hold her back.I found this quote from Anne Morrow Lindburgh that says it all for me:
I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.
Ah, yes, that about sums it up. Now my heart is full of hope and the day beckons me to enjoy whatever comes my way. And if suffering is part of it, I'll just remember to add a few additional elements to change the flavor of the day. I do hope that whatever comes your way, dear reader, it will be delightful and inspiring, too. I wish you well until we meet again next week.


Marie Smith said...

I saw recently the report of a stoudy linking exercise the prevention of depression. It is good to see evidence supporting what I have always believed. Stress in your life, get moving. It has always helped me. You write about it so beautifully Jan!

Anonymous said...

It's nice to exercise the way you do, blending the physical with the spiritual. Who has not suffered? It's what makes us human.

Linda Reeder said...

Another uplifting Sunday morning post. Thank you. I've gotta get going, running late this morning. I finally got a full, long, good night's sleep, and I have things to get done. My motto is "Just keep moving".

Far Side of Fifty said...

Sounds like a great book for everyone to read! You are blessed with a strong will to exercise and the strength in your body to accomplish many more hikes:) You are lucky! keep on keeping on!

Arkansas Patti said...

Wow, what a woman!! That trail has broken many a person much younger than her. Love Anne's quote and how true. Exercise is a total stress buster and stress is a huge contributor to much of todays ills.

Elephant's Child said...

She sounds like an inspirational lode star. And I am not in the slightest bit surprised that she spoke to you.
And love that what was good for her, led to benefits for all.

Gigi said...

I love that quote! I think the majority of us have no idea what we are capable of...

Have a great week, DJan!

Red said...

All your physical activities aid you in having good mental health. You go with groups so all the better for good mental health.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, thank you for introducing us to the book about Emma. I will go now to the library website and see if it's available. If not, I'll put a hold for it. Like you, I find that reading about indomitable women helps me as life takes its twists and turns.

Have you ever read the books that Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about her flying with her husband as they mapped out the early airplane flights for the airlines like TWA? I read all her works back in the 1950s because I was writing a paper on her. She writes so well (you probably know "Gift from the Sea"--a series of essays--and "the Unicorn"--a book of poetry) and those flying books are fascinating. I think one of them was "East to the Orient." At least that's the title that comes to mind.

She was an indomitable woman for sure. Peace.

Rita said...

My Mom has macular degeneration and has had to get shots in her eyes for years (89) but it has never stopped her. She's still in choir, plays cards, bowls, and goes out to eat every chance she gets. She is a social creature by nature. ;)

When you look back over the decades you can see what has been most important to you...the activities that you NEED. No matter how awful I feel--days when I can barely move--I have to write in my journal every day even if it is only a couple of lines. I learned that I get to feeling ungrounded when I haven't been able to create something with my hands and feeling stagnant if I am not learning something new. We each require fuel for our souls in some form or another.

You need physically challenging activity but you also need intellectual stimulation--with all your books and movies/documentaries. I don't think the macular degeneration will slow you down much. Especially with the hiking and walking. If it gets to the point it is hard to read, there are always audio books. Where there's a will there's a way. And you, Lady, have the will. ;)

Galen Pearl said...

Oh, I loved this one and your last one too. (Speaking of grandchildren, I've been chasing mine around the last week or so, so I'm behind in my reading. I appreciate your honesty about your own parenting path and loss. Thank you.) What a remarkable woman you profiled here, and of course, you are following in her footsteps! You are an inspiration, truly.

b+ (Retire In Style Blog) said...

You made me happy DJan. A hopeful post always does that to me. Be well.

John's Island said...

Hi DJan, “I do not believe that sheer suffering teaches. If suffering alone taught, all the world would be wise, since everyone suffers. To suffering must be added mourning, understanding, patience, love, openness and the willingness to remain vulnerable.” What a wonderful thought and thank you for bringing it to our attention. I recall my dad telling me that I would learn through my adversities. That has proven to be so true and having the right attitude, as suggested by Lindburgh, makes all the difference. Thank you, as always, for sharing. Hope you have an excellent weekend ahead! John