Fixing to Walk. Care to Come Along?

“But the beauty is in the walking — we are betrayed by destinations.”
― Gwyn Thomas

These shoes were made for walking. It's time to break them in.

These shoes were made for walking. It’s time to break them in.

A palm reader once told me I was one of those people who didn’t need to travel to learn about life. I was one of those people, she said, who understood that all life contains could be encountered in her own backyard.

This is a good thing because, although movement and travel have been part of my life, home has been the bigger part, especially since I began working out of my house 12 years ago. The more I am here, the more I am here, is how it seems to go.

In my last blog post, though, I outed myself as a yearning walker. A pilgrim in search of a journey that was not just metaphorical.

I wrote that a woman sometimes “needs to let in the wind, rain, sun, and to feel the blisters on her feet harden. She needs to let her body lead her sometimes and to trust it no matter her age.”

It appears that I am not alone. Since writing that post, I have been involved in conversations on email and Facebook with other women who travel hundreds of miles by foot whenever they can or who have been thinking a long time about starting out on a pilgrimage. Each woman has her own reasons, her own goal. Some have called themselves “wanderers” rather than walkers.

The common thread seems to be that we all see the difference between a direct encounter with our physical world and rolling through it in a car or flying over it. Some of us know a certain restlessness that sharpens in the wake of passing time. Some of us want to sink into the world instead of our smart phones or our busy-ness and just see what happens. One writer, not a walker, said something the other night that resonates with me still: “I want to live in my story. I’ll know then what there is to write, if anything.”

But.

This has been a significant year in my life journey. Good news came in the form of a book deal. A new novel is starting to emerge. This is the work I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a kid. To do it right requires as much planning and being present as preparing for and starting any kind of extended journey by foot. Much is going on with family and friends I hold dear. On top of that, my body delivered a bruising reminder during the holidays that it can limit my plans, or at least my ability to execute them, at a moment’s notice. Ironically, I fell ill the very day that I bought my new walking shoes and am only now getting to wear them.

Like most folks, I have learned that I can’t always do it all or not all at once. So, this may not be the year I lace up my shoes and walk the entire California coast from Mexico to Oregon.

A walk of a lifetime.

A walk of a lifetime.

It can be the year, however, that I walk some of it. It can be the year that I ask more of my body and my mind than I did last year. I can walk wherever I happen to be and notice people, smells, colors. I can set goals for distance and miles walked.

I’m aiming for 800 miles or about 15 miles a week by foot. I don’t know where I’ll walk, only that I will walk. I will leave the car at home more often and use my feet to get to places I need to be. I will walk in places I know and places I’ve never been, starting here in my own city. When I walk, I will not listen to music or talk on the telephone. I will look, feel, think, seek encounters. I will smile at strangers. I will open myself up to possibility. I will take one step at a time and maybe, at some point, it will become clear to me why I am walking and where I am going.

Selfishly, I know that reading what others can teach me about their own desire to feed body, soul, mind, or art by walking will help me get out the door on those days when it is hard to imagine leaving my desk. Maybe you have a long-held dream to walk the Camino de Santiago, or to walk from Maine to Washington along the border with Canada. Maybe you are walking that walk right now. Maybe you take people on walking tours for a living. Maybe you are a photographer who ventures by foot to nearby or hard-to-reach places to bring back images that tell a story. Maybe you are one of those people who know how to notice the the world in the course of an amble from your door to your mailbox.

With this post, I am creating space on my blog for dispatches from the journey, not just mine but for anyone with a story or thoughts to share about your journey. Progress. Things learned. The planning process. A poem. Discoveries. Meditations. The flowers, animals, people you encounter along the way. Books that inspired you, guided you.

I am going to look for you and link to your posts or reblog them here. I also invite you to get in touch, let me know about your walking journey and write a post here or send me a link to a post from your own blog and I will happily reblog. If you are a photographer and want to share the sights you captured along the way with more folks, let’s connect. This invitation goes out to men, women, old, and young. Anyone with two feet, a walk or desire to undertake one, and a desire to share the journey.

At least once a month, I will post in the new section “Walkers: Dispatches from the Journey.” Hope to catch you along the way.

P.S. Happy New Year! Whatever your hopes and intentions for 2015, may you find them in the months ahead.

Journeys and Thanks

Dear Fellow Travelers,

With my last post “A Journey to Now,” I wrapped up a month-long celebration of journeys and books. Each post  focused on a particular journey and the book that either took me or came along for the ride. Because this month also encompassed my birthday, always a milestone in life’s journey, I celebrated by sharing the books I mentioned. I put the names of all those who commented or “Liked” a post into a program at Random.org and drew names.

First, thank you to all for taking the time to read and let me know how you felt. I appreciate every single connection, old and new. Here are the winners of all three books.

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Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey’s STATE BY STATE from Road Trip, One Page At A Time went to Camille at Wine and History Visited

This looks just like the cover of our copy of "Stranger"

This looks just like the cover of our copy of “Stranger”

Robert A. Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND from Strangers in a Strange Land went to fellow blogger Fat Bottom Girl Said What?

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A signed copy of Katrina Kenison’s MAGICAL JOURNEY will go to Beth at I Didn’t Have My Glasses On.

Thanks everyone. Here’s to the journey we are all on, alone and together.

A Journey To Now

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In May I was feeling the loss of an old friend very deeply. It was his birthday month and a year since the last time I’d seen him. May was the time he’d normally be wrapping up his training for the Mount Washington Road Race in New Hampshire’s Presidential Range. Unable to run last year, he and I made breakfast for his fellow runners after their training run. He died of cancer last November.

His absence was palpable, like a deep bruise that throbbed every day. I was conscious that my grief was not only for my friend but for myself. This appalled me. Here I was, surrounded by more love than I ever thought would be mine, a family that is large, multi-faceted and very much alive, and a chance to do what I’ve always dreamed of doing. I was, and remain, grateful for all of it.

But struggle and confusion persisted. How is it possible to hold loss and grief and joy and gratitude in one heart all at the same time?

Around this time, I started to read Katrina Kenison’s memoir, “Magical Journey”, one of two books I’d given myself for Mother’s Day. Within, I found a fellow traveler grieving for her own old friend. “She’s been gone three months and I’m still not used to the world without Marie in it.” A few pages later I realized I had tears in my eyes as I read about Katrina’s loss as if I were reading about my own.

“The stark, absolute absence of her— of her life, her face, her hello on the other end of the phone, her name popping up in my e-mail box, her presence here on earth— has begun to grow, as Sylvia Plath put it, “beside me like a tree.” I live in the dark shadow of that loss, the shape and color of my own life changed by the too-early end of hers. And I know now, in a way I never quite did before, that time is contingent and that anything can happen.”

I lost myself for a few days in the story of Katrina’s journey. It was triggered by a convergence of events that unfold for all of us in one form or another: the unexpectedly premature flight of her youngest son from the nest, the loss of her friend, the end of a job she had loved, the approach of menopause, and the impending arrival of her 50th birthday. Among other things.

When these events are listed like this, it is perhaps tempting to say, “that’s life isn’t it?” Children grow, friends die or leave, our bodies change, and we get older. I’ve said this to myself, usually when I am feeling anxious or worried or unbearably sad. I see it now as an attempt to sidestep the emotions that come with loss and the unrelenting reminders that nothing, absolutely nothing, is permanent. I am learning the long, slow, hard way that the key to growth and peace lies in how I respond to that single, incontrovertible fact.

In “Magical Journey,” Kenison is a pilgrim in the land of impermanence. As I read her book, I felt as though I were taking each step with her, sometimes forward, sometimes back, and sometimes into familiar territory. When she described finding herself suddenly untethered to the daily routines of childcare, I remembered the first year after my son went away to school. when coming home from work meant coming home to a lonely silence and a strange, unsettling feeling that I often tried to ignore by throwing myself into work or hitting the gym. Like Katrina, I came to understand that the crack in what she calls the container we’ve built for ourselves represents both an ending and the beginning of whatever is next.

“Sitting here alone in my slowly brightening kitchen, I wonder if my early-morning restlessness could be preparing me for an awakening of my own. And if perhaps what has felt so much like an ending might also be a beginning.”

What I came to appreciate most about “Magical Journey,” however, is that  there were no discussions of “bucket lists” or developing action plans and strategies for the second half of life. In fact, Katrina spends a lot of time being still and grappling with not knowing exactly what is coming.

“Instead of continually wondering, “What’s next?” we can bring a spirit of inquiry into the present moment. We can be still, and more considerate toward ourselves. When it is too dark to see, we can listen instead. We can ask, “What is my experience of this moment?”

In the stark new silence of dawn in her once-noisy home, she writes her way to understanding and starts to pay attention to her inner guide. Her journey takes her from that kitchen, to immersing herself in yoga and learning to teach it, to a marriage counselor with her husband, to old friends, new friends, and then to helping others through healing practices and leading memoir workshops. Those are the stops that are easy to describe and are, indeed, rich and very powerful experiences but she didn’t get to them though by following her old expectations or the expectations of others.

“It seems that an honest answer to “What now?” isn’t going to have much to do with my youthful aspirations or definitions of success. It will rise from deep within, … My real task is not to try to reinvent myself or to transcend my life after all, but to inhabit it more fully, to appreciate it, and to thoughtfully tend what’s already here.”

We learn from each other’s stories. This is one of the oldest ways that humans have helped each other navigate the years between birth and death. Mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, friends, perfect strangers – they can come along at exactly the right moment with the right words or just the simple companionship that makes you realize you while you must make your own journey through life, you are not alone.

In writing about this stage of her life, Katrina touches on the changes that come to all of us. Loss. Love. Children. Letting Go. Hanging on. Not knowing. Learning to trust and live in a world where nothing is permanent and time seems short. Reading “Magical Journey” helped me to remember that ultimately the place we’ve been headed all our lives, the place we must truly learn to inhabit, is now.

One final note. As I sat down to write this, I visited Katrina Kenison’s blog only to find that she has encountered yet another reminder of life’s fragility and the need to let the current moment guide our actions. She had been planning to write many blog posts and ask that readers consider buying a hard copy in the books stores while they remain. The death of a young friend has led to a period of silence and I would like, because I feel so strongly about this book and know many of you will find it a beautiful piece of writing, to ask you to consider buying a copy if you do not win the copy signed by Katrina Kenison that I have waiting for the winner of my drawing on August 8. See below for more details on that. And thank you.

With this post, I wrapped up a month-long celebration of journeys and books. Each post focused on a particular journey and the book that either took me or came along for the ride. Because this month also encompassed my birthday, always a milestone in life’s journey, I wanted to celebrate by sharing the books I mentioned here. Beth of I Didn’t Have My Glasses On won a SIGNED copy of “Magical Journey” by Katrina Kenison, by being among those who left her thoughts or “Liked” this post. Congratulations! By the way, the winner of the drawing for “Stranger in a Strange Land” is “Fat Bottom Girl Said What?.” Her blog is lively and sometimes heartbreaking. Check it out at http://fatbottomgirlsaidwhat.wordpress.com.

Road Trip, One Page at a Time

With this post, I begin a month-long celebration of journeys and books. Each post will focus on a particular journey and the book that either took me or came along for the ride. Because this month also encompasses my birthday, always a milestone in life’s journey, I want to celebrate by sharing the books I mention here. Each post will come with an invitation to leave your own thoughts and, by doing so, enter a drawing to win a copy of the book or books in that post. It’s a way of saying thank you for the wonderful welcome during my first six months of blogging here. I’ve learned so much and look forward to learning more.  Let me hear from you! Happy travels and happy reading. Congratulations to Camille at Wine and History Visited who won the drawing for “State by State, a Panoramic Portrait of America.” Next post: Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein!

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I was late to discover the book, State by State, a Panoramic Portrait of America. It was published in 2009 but it turns out that it came to me at the perfect moment, the way the best books always do.

It took me a little while to realize just why the red, white, and blue volume beckoned to me from the “Librarian Picks” shelf at the local library. Then it hit me. It’s July, the anniversary month of my first road trip ever. Thirty nine years ago this month, my barely-younger brother (we are the same age for three days which makes us Irish twins), and I wedged ourselves into my mother’s green Pinto station wagon, drove down the dirt driveway to US Route 2 and turned right. We came back six weeks later. In between, we saw 18 states and 5 Canadian provinces, celebrated my 18th birthday and his 17th with our first legally-purchased beer in Denver, and never thought about the world the same way again.

Lots happened on that trip that we wished hadn’t. Lots didn’t happen that we wished had. In other words, it unfolded the way most journeys do. It challenged us. It drained us. It thrilled us. It left us wanting more.

My brother went back on the road a year later and began a series of trips that took him to every state but Alaska by the time he turned 26. It took me longer. Nevertheless, that first road trip became a reference point for all future trips. Once, I found myself driving a rented car from Oakland to Sacramento for work and as I motored through orchards and past acres of green leafy things, I was seized by the freedom that comes with being alone in a car, in a new place, in motion. I was single then, my son was already launched on his own journey and lived two thousand miles from where I’d raised him. The sense of discovery born on that first trip with my brother came back to me and I stopped the car near a town, found a phone booth (yes, a phone booth) and called him at work.

“Let’s do it again,” I said. “Let’s take two weeks and pick a place to drive and just do it again.”

He laughed. In the background I could hear the sounds of machines shaping the wood that he and his crew made into furniture. In his laugh, I heard the “no” already forming. He was a dad now. He was working with my father to build the furniture business. He couldn’t just pick up and go.

The moment passed but a new realization lingered. Once a journey is over, it can be recalled, never re-lived.

Still, echoes of that first trip and all those I’ve taken since grew louder in my ears as I read each of the fifty essays in State by State. Although inspired by the Federal Writers’ Project state guides, editors Matt Weiland and Sean Wilsey, did not set out to recreate them. Instead they asked “a mix of novelists, reporters, cartoonists, a cook, a playwright, a filmmaker, and a musician” to show us around.

Jonathan Franzen “interviews” the state of New York, Ha Jin paints a portrait of the Georgia town where he bought his first house and started his family. Dave Eggers gives us all the reasons that Illinois is the best state out of the fifty, and John Hodgman earnestly explains the importance of being Massachusetts.

Some of the writers write as native sons or daughters, others as outsiders. In every case, the perspective is personal and piercing, and, as in Franzen’s interview and Hodgman’s essays, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

The pieces also struck old chords for me. Heidi Julavits opens her piece on Maine with, “By the time this essay is published, I will already be in hiding…” She understands that calling herself a “Mainer” requires a string of qualifiers and explanations that add up to this: you may have a birth certificate proving you were born there but there are degrees of “native” and it doesn’t do to overstep by claiming any authority over what a Mainer is or isn’t.

That made me laugh and sparked a rueful sense of identification.  I grew up in neighboring New Hampshire where my family has lived for nearly 50 years, a drop in the bucket that nowhere near assures us “native” status.

This kind of thing will happen for any reader, though. Many of us came from one of the fifty states. Others of us found our way to one or more for work, love, school, or just curiosity. Part of the fun is seeing if the essayist got “your” state right. For example, Will Blythe does a beautiful job of being a New Yorker traveling the roads of New Hampshire but, like most visitors and the swarms of media types who cover elections every four years, never ventures into the upper third of the state. He missed the heart of it. And I say this from the completely unbiased viewpoint of one who came of age there.

Of course, the minute I opened the front cover and saw the definitely not-to-scale map of the country inside, I did what anyone would do: I counted how many states I had set foot in. The answer, I was happily surprised to discover, is 48.

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I started to read the essays about states I already felt some connection with and then I stopped, went to the beginning and went through alphabetically. You’d never plan a real road trip that way but was a wonderful way to sink into the diversity and also to find the common threads that run through the tapestry that is the country. In every case I was in the hands of a guide whose unique voice and experience left me completely satisfied, and also wanting more.

I loved this book so much that I bought two used copies after I returned my library copy. I’m keeping one but would really love to share this book with another intrepid reader and traveler. If you’d like it, write a comment and let me know how many states you’ve visited, or your favorite state and why, or an adventure you had while traveling through the U.S. I’ll add your name to a list and on Tuesday, July 16, I’ll use Randomizer to pick a winner. Then I’ll get in touch to make shipping arrangements.

Thanks and, selfishly, I’m looking forward to learning from all you fellow travelers.

Right after I found this book, I came across this truck parked along one of my regular walks. This is one way of logging the miles and places one travels on life’s journey:

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