Te Araroa Coda

Back a month now, and it’s high summer in my beloved Pennsylvania countryside, the deep and stony oak forests and the sudden powerful brewing of dark thunderstorms on the impossible luminous green of farm-blanketed valleys. The generous land, the abundant and loving hearts of my friends, the return to a place where I feel held, known, hammocked in this weave of care.

All of which is good, because I’ve come back and discovered that the thing I was doing with this hike isn’t over yet. Let me explain: of course the trail is just a trail, a line you follow through forests and over mountains and along roads, but it’s also a technique, a way of organizing life and letting go of attachments, a technology of divestiture and a distiller of meaning. And as a practice, it begins before you set out and it continues long after you return.

Here’s what I mean. A trail may be a way to absolutely dismantle and rebuild a life.

Before I left, I quit my job – left a career where I was considered competent, dependable, trustworthy, where I’d had a lot of fun and gotten to do many rewarding things. I set down that sense of direction, set down the positive regard of others and the structures of reward and reinforcement that shepherd us through the working world. I set all of that down and I left it behind.

And then I set aside everything I couldn’t carry in my backpack and found myself leaving more things behind along the way. I ended up with fifteen pounds of gear and whatever was inside me – and I found that this was an almost absurd richness. I walked away from all my possessions, all those external markers of who I was and what I’d earned and how I wanted other people to see me. I set all of that down and I left it behind.

And when I got back home, I realized I wasn’t done setting things down. So I walked away from a marriage and a home, both of which I’d built with my partner over years. I laid those things down. I left them behind.

Viewed one way, I’m now alone and drifting around Pennsylvania in my truck. And to be fair, this is how it feels to me a lot of the time. But when I’m done with my daily cry, I see the world as it now appears to me – as a place of abundance, a wellspring of life and beauty. And I see myself as a creature in that world, and as enough.

So if you want to burn your life down and see what thing you might find in the ashes, maybe consider going for a long hike. (I say this tongue-in-cheek because it’s funny and ridiculous and, obviously, terrible advice to give anyone – but I’m also completely serious.)

I will observe that the fewer pieces of armor we gird ourselves with, the more we feel the worlds around and within us. It can be raw, and it can hurt – but it can be powerful and beautiful and very much worth the work and the pain. Is this yet more terrible hiking advice? Sure, if you like.

And I think I’ll leave you with that. Best luck to all of us on our journeys and wanderings, and don’t be afraid to leave it all behind.

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Comments 3

  • Ellen R : Aug 2nd

    Best of luck to you. It was a delight reading your posts of the Te Araroa and following your journey.

  • Margaret Brittingham : Aug 3rd

    Have loved reading your blogs and the insights that have come with your travels. Like the Phoenix, you are starting anew. Keep up the blog. You are treking in a new landscape now,

  • carolyne : Aug 5th

    Shari –
    Welcome home! I have finally now read all of your posts. What an incredible telling. I’d love to meet you for some PA wild time. Xx


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