Almost a year ago, I was in Washington, D.C. with my Dad and his wife. It was New Year’s Eve and I’d come from visiting my son and his family in Tahoe for Christmas. Flush with holiday cheer, I started out on what I assumed would be my first of fifty hikes in 2020. That was the goal I set, anyway, on that gelid January day in DC. I wondered whether I’d set my sights too high, wondered if I pushed myself, could I get to 60 hikes. 5 hikes a month, I thought. I should be able to fit that in.
Well, I’m happy to report that as of Dec. 22, 2020, my stats are good. The resumption of my relationship with Lake Hollywood has radically changed the number of walks/hikes I take from one every week or so to five or six each week, making my goal of 60 hikes this year easily graspable. In fact, with 971 miles logged as of 12/22, I’d be foolish to not aim for 1000 by year’s end. 28 miles in 8 days. I feel compelled.
I’ve learned a lot about being on the trail this year. In spite of the familiarity of the path, there are always surprises along the way. In spite of the solitude of most of my hikes, there were still moments of communication with others…
While walking this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about the path through life. I’ve mulled over the various scenarios I’ve discussed with my Dad for what is needed to keep them safe in their home. I think all of us imagine the best life scenario to be a journey from complete vibrancy and independence to instantaneous death in our sleep one afternoon late in our 90s. But reality dictates that few of us get that wish. Our bodies play tricks on us as we age, making the things we take for granted now distant and poignant memories.
Yesterday morning while walking, I started thinking of metaphors about the trail and aging. Here are just a few:
- It’s all down hill from here.
- Walking in the sandy stretches makes me feel less stable.
- The view’s pretty great from this elevation!
- My bag of trash is pretty full. Maybe I’ll drop it off at the trashcan and walk the last mile unencumbered.
- I don’t mind my solitude today. I am good company and I am able to make this walk.
I recorded about three minutes of myself striding purposefully along the trail, noting the changes in sound as I stepped from a dried dirt path into a sandy section. Listening now, I hear my steady pace, the rustle of my phone within my coat pocket, the vibrancy and strength of myself as I am now. I cherish my ability to wake up and dress myself and get in my car. And to walk 971 miles in a year.
Also, I’ve been thinking about how we mustn’t lose sight of how we feel now, in the middle of this strange unworldly experience. The conscious way we make decisions about who we’ll see and under what circumstances. The power of a note or package we receive signaling that a family member or one of our friends is thinking of us. We mustn’t lose the sense of gratitude we have for these virtual or epistolary outreaches. Or the sense of power we have to do the same for others. It’s been a bumper year for empathy. Fields and fields of opportunities to imagine what others are going through as they struggle with the loss of everything familiar and sustaining.
A year of love and outreach. Yes, hundreds or maybe thousands of hours spent in serious meetings on zoom but so many hours, too, spent reconnecting with long lost friends as we all realize the value of our shared histories. Today I had a holiday zoom with some colleagues from work, one of whom is retiring at the end of this year. As she described the process of packing up her house in preparation for their move, she neatly summed up the emotional process.
I struggled a bit with the idea of leaving, but now I’m at the going part and I’m excited.
That so resonated with me. Looking over your shoulder at what you are leaving behind is a painful and melancholy state. It is a state of loss. But the moment when you turn and face the future full of potential and anticipation; that is a state of promise. I think of it as getting in the car and punching in the address on the phone and watching with pleasure as you get closer to the destination. But in order to go, you need the address.
Or do you?
Last night I watched the convergence of Jupiter and Saturn at a live sky watching party from Mt. Wilson. Was I at Mt. Wilson? Hardly. I was on my computer at home, guided to the live YouTube event by a thoughtful friend. We listened to the astronomers describe what we were looking at with about 10,000 other people who chatting with each other and asking questions answered in real time while we watched an historical moment not to be replicated for another five thousand years. Could we have imagined that happening a year ago?
It’s been a year of self discovery. What do we do when we are suddenly gifted time to be together or in my case, time to be alone? I’ve spent a lot of the time productively, learning new skills, dismantling some bad habits, embarking on a mental fitness program equivalent to the 971 physical miles I’ve walked. This morning as I began my walk, fueled by some Zabar’s coffee that came in an unexpected and lovely gift basket, I conjured what I might write today, fragments coming to me through the chill of the morning as I bowed to pick up the most trash I’ve ever encountered on this circuit. I chuckled aloud when I found the stone elf adorned with more detail. I thought about what I could find in the brush that would make him sillier, to cause my fellow traveler to smile. Tomorrow I think I’ll bring along a piece of ribbon to lay under the gently curved stick which is his mouth. As if to say
I see you. You have impacted my life in a very small but very positive way. We are playing together, though we don’t know who each other is, or when in the day you have passed this spot.
Maybe for now that is enough of an address to end the leaving and begin the going.