Off-Trail

The idea was long walks. Really long ones, like the entire Wildwood trail in one day. Walks long enough they could reasonably be called longwalks, one word.

Jeremiah and I have been talking about this for a couple of years now, though the urgency mostly belongs to me. He’s game to make most situations into a good time. I’m the one who needs to spell out beforehand what the value is. In the case of longwalks, the value is twofold. Just to be walking for hours at a time is the first. The second I’ve been having a hard time pinning down. Perhaps it’s to do with creating and completing a project unusual enough to take pride in. Something like that. I always lose interest because I get stuck just enjoying the idea of a whole day on the trail.

I don’t manage to actually do it, though. We talked about taking 6 days to walk Hadrian’s Wall on a long-planned trip to England, but we abandoned the idea; I don’t recall why. We had a plan for Wildwood on the summer solstice: 15 hours of daylight, 30 miles of trail. As the day approached, I was exhausted from working two jobs, learning a new job, and stressing out about all of it more than seems useful. I said we should go anyway. Jeremiah, as usual, spoke with the voice of sanity.

Yesterday we came back from a loop through our local state park. These last four years, hot summers and the arachnid population explosions that come with them have kept me out of there from late June to winter, but this summer has been relatively cool, and Tryon Creek remains an oasis of unwebbed green. It’s about 5 miles, the loop we like from our house through the park, and back through the central residential area of our town. I suggested, as we drew close to home, that we pursue a second loop, pushing our total to something like 8 miles. Nothing too intense, but I was thinking that we’d been in longwalk limbo for months, and we might make a token effort. Something to remember what it’s like to keep pushing when you’re tired, to reacquaint ourselves with the second wind, with dependence on the whims of weather.

Reasonably enough – we really were nearly home – Jeremiah demurred, and I found myself unreasonably annoyed. I’ve exhausted both of us for the past four months. Why shouldn’t he rest? If I’m not ready, that’s hardly his burden. I’m trying to reclaim my life, and I don’t know how. Longwalking was my idea, each of its plans my original brainchild. I need to reach for something that is mine, and, almost at random, I picked that. But I’m like a toddler reaching for her cheerios – excited, unthinking – and I cry when my enthusiasm is only enough to knock the bowl off the table.

***

Instead of long walks, I have long afternoons on the back patio. They’re all I can manage on your average weekday: work from 6 or 7 until 5 or 6, then I sweep the spiders from the maple tree and take the nearest comfort-novel and a glass of wine to its summer shade.

I am informed by the internet that it is warm today. 81 degrees Fahrenheit by now: 6:30pm. This is probably true, if you are moving, or in the sun, or around the corner from this breeze. Just now I felt the slightest chill, the river on the back of my neck.

Not my river; I’m home in Portland again, all the way home. This is the breath of the Willamette. I caught myself a few months ago calling this one “my” river, too. Is it? Twelve years, and still too soon to say.

The maple above me and the sky in her branches are the primary blue and green of a new classroom globe. Do classrooms still have those? I Swype a text about this to a friend; the keyboard wonders if I meant maps or mangle; maple takes several tries. This has also happened recently with fir, sycamore, and huckleberry. The dictionary my device uses is trained to commoner words. Since when do I live in a world where fir is an uncommon word?

The clouds are rolling in again, a silver mirror. Traffic roars, and I try to imagine a waterfall. Hydrangeas are starting to fade, one bloom at a time, bleaching from vivid to pastel. Midsummer is over, its intoxicating scent ripened and burst, now drying out like the grass. Late summer has a paler beauty I am always a little disappointed to see. I’m a little disappointed in myself, thinking that. I would prefer to see a thing for what it is, instead of what I wish it could be. 

***

There will be another weekend, another walk. A long one, even, if I can be bothered to plan instead of grabbing shiny ideas at random. I will find the path I left.

I’m not sure I have faith in this, in the sense of belief. I place my faith – you might as well call it ‘my challenge’ or ‘my desperate hope’ – in action. I will meet more deadlines, check more boxes, move closer to a workload I am comfortable carrying. At the same time, I will make more walking plans, and some I will find time to follow.

I will remember myself. It may take some practice.

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