Pre-Reflections of a Solo Woman Flip-Flopper
I don’t remember why it dawned on me that hiking the Appalachian Trail is how I should spend most of my time this year. I do know that when the thought struck, it was one of those moments that was so startling I audibly gasped. I hadn’t thought about doing it in years. Probably not since the one night us kids, mom, and a family friend spent in a shelter just off the AT. It had to have been 20 years ago.
Out of nowhere, this desire felt emotional, as if I was being gripped by something remotely familiar and safe. I saw a trail through a fisheye lens in my mind’s-eye for a moment, expanding and contracting back into place. It had always been in my bucket. I felt a sudden and great relief; to know that I could spend months on end outside, leaning on trees, and summoning sources in the quiet. I had doubted my pain for so long.
At this point, I had been home completing some prereqs at the community college and had a semester wide open to do with what I wished. I was in the midst of clarifying murky codependent waters and forgiving myself. It was hard to blink outside of this hermitlike process that I had been in for the past year. I couldn’t help but wonder if this idea was brought on by a sudden need to distract myself with something new and exhilarating, and wasn’t convinced of its authenticity because of the level of my depression and anxiety.
Like the Appalachian Trail, there is a hike marked by white blazes near my house. The winding road leading to it slithers alongside Deer Creek; capillaries of which are watershed from Pennsylvania. The river weaves through state parks of northern Maryland, eventually flowing out into the briny dark waters of the Susquehanna River. The short three-mile trail bumps its way around the bouldered edge of Rocks State Park. It tramples along deposits of what used to be a collier pit; a local coal source. The trees are young but among them are ruins from 1785-1886, peeking out of the earth from a time when early industry struggled to survive in Maryland. Laden with stone and crumbling concrete, there is an old furnace cracked down to its foundation, reminiscent of the Liberty Bell.
Alongside this story exists the account of the Susquehannock Native Americans. People who, as recounted, would use this land to bury their dead. This beauty lies ancient and permanent, its energy is static. Once at the high point of the park, you are met with an alive landscape. Massive rocks jut out and form a lookout point dubbed: The King and Queens Seat. If you gaze directly down, you will see Deer Creek, and across this river, there is the sacred land of the dead. It is marked private and is full of whispering pines.
Healing things made sense intellectually, but put into practice was a whole other matter. I needed to slow down and breathe deeply into the places that hurt, but the internal panic was hard to simmer. I started going to meditation; taking comfort in the words “rest in the presence below the mind.” In the woods, I had more clarity; I could see the wounds and name the infections. Through thunderstorms and icebound pathways, I reveled in the gelid rain and was held captive by steamy mountainsides.
“…Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;
Overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,
dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,
so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week;
and throwing it away,
and making more.”
-Tony Hoagland in What Narcissism Means to Me
As I hike around the trail, I know deeply that I will always be held by the Earth.
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