When I got your cancellation text, I was already standing at the trailhead filled with misgivings. The wind had a sharp bite, a vicious little nip from winter saying it wasn’t dead yet… Already I could picture a spring day bullied by an ugly wind and temperatures that stubbornly refuse to budge. After the beautiful days we’ve been having, it was a slap: a personal affront to my holy much-deserved day off. I stood there thinking about all the chores and nagging duties and promises I’ve left behind… My body was protesting that morning too. I felt old. After a week of physical work, my back was stiff and my feet hurt. Even the damn day bag felt heavy when I slung it over my shoulder. WTF? How did a simple hike become such a burden?
I got your message (which I’d kind of been expecting), slammed the Jeep door closed and started walking. Just the act of turning my back and walking away started to turn my mood as it always does. You know the feeling once you start out on a backpack you’ve been planning for months? Those first few steps away from the car are liberating. Well, even a short hike, now, feels much the same way. Once you start walking, the other stuff—the doubts, the bills, the chores-- melt away. The trail was pretty much empty that cold Friday morning. I passed a woman walking her dogs within a quarter mile of the trailhead. And one elderly volunteer was checking the wilderness register two miles in. That was it. Even the swimming hole, which is packed with partiers in warmer days, was completely deserted. As I hiked further into the canyon, the wind all but disappeared. And after an initial struggle finding the right temp—taking the jacket off, putting it back on, taking it back off-- I finally heated up to where I was comfortable in short sleeves.
There’s a quote in Aron Ralston’s book (made into the movie 127 hours) where he describes the singular joy of solitary hiking. “This is my happy place…solitude, wilderness, empty mind. The invigoration of hiking alone, moving at my own pace, clears out my thoughts… a kind of walking meditation. Although it's ephemeral, the general well being that accompanies such a moment will boost my temperament for hours or even days.” He so gets it. No matter how crappy a week I’m having, no matter the looming crisis, I have not found anything that can’t be put into perspective through a little sun, sweat and dust.
Ah, my friend, there’s the rub isn’t it? We, as over-educated, underemployed members of the working poor, have worked our asses off to carve out a niche—a family a home, a tenuous grasp on the American dream that is ours until the next month mortgage payment or next catastrophic medical bill. We’ve put up with crude co-workers, demanding employers, sacrificed our bodies to the cause, built families that count on us for our responsibility and dependability, become an our own most detested authoritarian figure to try to imprint our values on the decadent next generation and, at the end of the week, what is left?
Often times, not much.
A sense of humor helps, I’ve found. While in my youth I used my wit to skewer others around me, I find these days that most of my satire is aimed at myself. The very few readers I’ve attracted on my blog site think I’m too hard on myself, but they don’t get it. It really is funny to me. Sure, it’s the kind of ironic humor that Buddha or Coyote or Kurt Vonnegut would appreciate but... “If I had to do it all over again,” I start to tell my son. And then I think. To be completely honest, I have no idea what I’d do differently and, in fact, have a growing suspicion that all roads might lead to the same place. There might be some cosmic hand that led me to this place, this magnificent desert, for a reason and career, dreams, ambition and wealth have very little to do with it. In the Bible, Job was punished by the devil because God loved him so much.
In the large scale this suffering, long hours, physical exhaustion, meager pay are little things. They mean nothing. Historically it may be that a prosperous and leisurely middle class was nothing but brief aberration of which we just happened to get a glimpse. A hundred years ago, workers were toiling 12-15 hour days with a day off every three weeks for wages that didn’t satisfy the rent. In a few more years we might be back at the same place. Maybe this is what we were meant to be. They, like us, have to be satisfied in finding pride in taking care of our families and the hell with ego-induced spiritual enlightenment and self-actualization.
In the meantime, walk to the window, look out, open the door, and get the hell out for even a few minutes. Walk to the top of your mesa. Walk down the fucking street. Even a few minutes walking the dog still relaxes the mind. Our schedules appear to be irreconcilable (@%$# retail!) but, with the Arizona summer looming like the proverbial elephant in the room, soon there will be long summer evenings and glorious desert full moons. And six packs of microbrew.
Until then, keep the faith.