Tuesday May 18, 1999
Moezass and his father picked us up at a road crossing and took the group of us back to his house for the next two nights. His family has owned this land for six generations, starting back in the late 1700’s. It started with about 1,000 acres but over time has been whittled down to 80, still that’s a tremendous amount of land. They raise cows, corn, alfalfa, hay, and tobacco which has been good to their family. Moezass was born here, his father was born here, his father before him and so on. Moezass wonders who will be the one who will take the family business and continue it. There are not very many choices, either him or his two brothers.
Wednesday, May 19, 1999
Star Wars Day. I did not care for the movie and I missed the quiet of the woods.
After the movie we went to Walmart and felt out of place. The smells and sounds of things seemed loud to my senses. I did purchase a few things like a new tiny flashlight to replace my headlamp and a box of ice-cream sandwiches. Everyone bought their own box of dessert and we all sat quietly and gleefully eating them the entire 20 minute drive back to Moezass’s home.
Last night I had a very difficult time getting to sleep in the basement of the house, it was way too warm. I tried the couch and a recliner, didn’t work. So I moved upstairs and tried the couch but it was still too warm and the couch was too soft. I rolled over onto the floor to try that space out. That wasn’t working for me either. Everyone had been asleep for hours at this point while I tossed and turned and getting exasperated. Then I realized I had the ability to sleep outside, I had all the equipment, I sleep outside every night and its not hot out there. I went onto the back porch and laid out my sleeping pad and bag in the cold early morning air and I was peacefully asleep within minutes. When I woke up this morning there were cows standing just a few feet away from me in the brisk spring morning, chewing grass and just staring at me. I was happy and content to continue sleeping since we were in no hurry to pack up and drive back to the trail. When I did get, I stood and stretched, looked around at the beautiful day, and slowly made my way into the house. Inside there was chaos and noise, apparently nobody could find me or my equipment and thought I had either run away or been kidnapped. They were rushing around looking in every corner and calling out my name for the previous hour. I knew where I was. I wasn’t worried. I was outside, where else would I be?
Thursday, May 20, 1999
I loved the rest for my body at Moezass’s house but I found that I really love the trail, I love hiking. As we waited for our ride back to the trail Sam-I-Am took turns cutting our hair, we took turns tearing around the farm on their ATV chasing cows (and unfortunately getting sprayed with cow pies as the wheels turned them up), and hunted for ginseng roots.
Moezass brother Caleb knew how to search for them and taught us what to look for. We had heard that these mountains were filled with them, but I didn’t know how to identify them. To the Chinese the root is a gift from God and is able to cure just about every sickness and to prolong life. China thought they were the only ones in the world to grow it until 1715, that’s when it was discovered growing throughout the southern Appalachians. It has never been found elsewhere. At first the Chinese were skeptical that the American species would match the quality of their own variety but it was soon found to be acceptable. This began a very colorful trade with China. It also brought with it a new profession to those who lived in the mountains, and if often brought troubles as people began to fight over it. The root of the plant is spindly shaped, having a woman-like shape and hunted by people known as sang diggers. They tend to be more nomadic people who walk far into the mountains and into the depths of the forest to find their treasure and are always ready to defend themselves to defend their prize. I wonder if the sang diggers ever come across the whisky makers and have little turf wars. Add to that the mushroom hunters and its pure chaos. Some people have chosen to try and grow it but that is a slow process of waiting, seven years is what it takes to grow to maturity, totally not worth the wait when you can just go get shot up over the wild variety.
We made our way back to the trail in the afternoon but there was nobody trying to put any miles in their feet. Moezass dropped us off and the returned home to get ready to fly out Saturday to visit a possible Graduate school in Montana. When he returns home in a week he’ll decide if he will move there and accept the teaching position they are offering him. He will be back sometime the first week of June and is confident that he will be able to catch up with us. Already I miss Moezass and look forward to his return.
Friday, May 21, 1999
“It is better to travel alone than with a bad companion.”
The Appalachian Trail becomes more beautiful with every step north into spring. Progressing through the Virginia Highlands is my favorite section so far. The trail was not hemmed in by trees but had great open views of the mountains. I loved seeing the rocks that burst through the green grass, the clouds rolling in from the east, and mountains in the distance as far as I could see. Several times I came across clusters of wild ponies who would come up to me without fear and sniff my body and backpack. I think they were looking for food on me, trying to master the art of yogi.
:to obtain food from someone without payment or trade.
Originating with Yogi bear the cartoon character who was gifted at acquiring picnic baskets of food.
I feel like I need to apologize to everyone who encounter hikers on the trail or at state parks we may walk through. Something in our brains has snapped, something has happened in our brains that we cannot control. There is an urge within us that we cannot control. We have turned into the zombies of the hiking world. We shuffle our feet forward looking for one thing, food. Because we are victims to our appetite it is a common practice of every thru-hiker to yogi. We are attempting to feed and fill the unending and demanding harassing hollowness of our stomach. We do not want to yogi, we are embarrassed and ashamed, but we are weak. We must do it for survival. It is compulsive. Forgive us. Our pride is gone and we want food, preferably something with cheese or ice cream. Many hikers have become masters of persuasion, skilled at relieving people of their precious burden. It takes boldness, patience, a keen eye, and, most importantly, no pride.
Ben and Blake might be the last two guys to have taken on their trail names. They are now known as Dutch and Spoon. Ben’s last name is Holland so he became “Dutch” while Blake got his because sometimes when he was asleep a few nights ago in a shelter filled with hikers, he curled up to Perma-Grinn and spooned her. This startled her when she woke up. This wasn’t the first time he has done this. There was already a warning label attached to him but this time Permagrin named him. They are a few days ahead of me now and are now leaving messages in the trail registers for those of us who went to see the new Star Wars movie. Their messages aren’t kind, they are trash talking us about our priorities. They wonder how committed we are to the purity of the trail. Their legalism doesn’t bother me. I just let them live with their frustration, why do I need to carry it? I believe they are only jealous that we went to see the movie without them. How could we pass up such a moment? How often do they come out? I was nurtured and raised on the Star Wars story, it’s the background thread of my life. Good for me to go.
After a few miles of hiking I started to pass by a shelter and saw a woman who was sitting at the table in the middle of camp looking into the distant sky. That was an odd, the shelter was empty as the hikers who had spent the night left earlier to pound their miles for the day out. I looked around and saw that she still had clothes hanging from a branch and her backpack was open with her belongings scattered around. Something didn’t look right so instead of passing on down the trail I greeted her and made my way to the shelter to sign into the register and read any comments others had left. The latest entry was two pages long.
I learned that Quantum and her hiking partner split up this morning. Quantum shared that her partner Sleep Jean insulted her and mocked her in front of others. She was embarrassed and hurt. She was surprised because they had become good friends over the last month and she believed they were really growing close. Quantum’s vent then changed direction as she began to say how she could never believe in Christianity because of the attacks and judgments Sleapy Jean had put on her as an atheist. She said it seems that if Christians can’t “win”her then they attack, demean, and would devalue her. As I read her words I hurt for her.
I sat for a few minutes on the shelter floor trying to collect my thoughts and decide if I should do anything. I took a few deep breaths and then I walked over to the table and looked into the eyes of Quantum asking if that was her name. When I had first arrived I hadn’t noticed that her eyes were red and puffy. She still seemed very upset, trying to control her shaking breath and didn’t really want to look at me. She nodded in affirmation. I said, “I read your two page journal entry in the register and I am sorry for what has happened to you. I’m sorry that Sleepy Jean insulted and hurt you but I am even more sorry that it was a Christian who did it to you.” Quantum lifted her head and gave me her full attention with sadness in her eyes. “I am sorry that many Christians become arrogant, prideful and elitist, but that is the opposite of what Christianity is supposed to be. I ask for your forgiveness for Christians, though many will hurt you again in the future, and that makes me sad. And it angers me that many do this. My wish for you is that this does not close doors for you in reaction to paths in life but that you will see human nature for what it is.” She accepted my apology and thanked me for speaking. She said it really helped her. I told her I was really looking forward to catching up with Sleepy Jean because I am not certain she has a good understanding of what Christianity is and have a few words I would like to give her. This brightened Quantum. I then told Quantum that I hoped I could run into her again so that we could talk more, she said she would really like that. I doubt I will see her again but I really would enjoy talking again.
I moved on alone, my mind spun as I reflected on what I had read and said. Then the self-reflection questions came creeping into my mind and I couldn’t shut them off. How good am I at just enjoying and loving others, accepting people where they are in life? Is there a way to challenge others and to not make them feel criticized? Is it my job to even challenge others when I feel I do such a poor job trying to be who God wants me to be? How do I simply love God and follow Him? It seems so easy to judge and critique others and feel elevated as I push them under me. Stepping on others is easier than just looking for the face of God myself. But if I look at the face of God I fear that all my sins will be exposed and I will die from the pain of shame and humiliation that would follow. I honestly do. There are times I can’t face my own failures so I hide behind a pointing finger drawing attention to the failures of others.
How do I see others as God seen them? If I was to do this I think it would lead me to death of my paradigm, my way of acting and patterns of faith. If I want to follow Jesus, it means I have to keep dying to myself, to die to my dreams, my vices, and my inferiority’s. I hate that. I really hate that.
I think I hide behind criticism to keep others at arm’s length because I fear people won’t love me if they know me.
I think I love people, affirm them, and walk with them through pain and struggles because that’s what I keep hoping someone will do for me. I desperately want someone to accept me, the me that’s not complete but on a journey towards growing to be a better man, a better follower of Jesus, a man who is healing from junk inside his heart that he desperately tries to stuff and keep hidden.
I do want other to know Jesus in a radical new way because I feel I was given a wrong view growing up. To not just see Christianity as a worldview or just a religion but to experience God, to move towards God’s heart and to find that God will respond to our heart. God begins a relationship with each and every person where they are in life, not after they reach a certain mark on the ruler. I don’t know how to have an intimate relationship with God. I talk like I do and maybe I do. I don’t know. I do know that what I have with God isn’t what I dream it could be. It’s not what I wish it could be. It’s not what I’m satisfied with. And what scares me is that I don’t know if God will like what he sees inside me if I get real and vulnerable and raw with Him. My head knows the truth but my heart causes me to run. And I run a lot. I wonder if this hike is me walking towards God or running away and trying to hide from Him.
“The cat, having sat upon a hot stove lid, will not sit upon a hot stove lid again, nor upon a cold stove lid.” Mark Twain.
Saturday, May 22, 1999
Today I am motivated by the music playing in my mind by the Proclaimers with a few alterations. “And I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 1,665 more just to be the man who walked 2,165 miles to drop down at your door – da da da dum, da da da dum, da da dum did de da da da da dum.”
When I reached the shelter there were several people there making dinner and setting up for the night. I met Sleepy Jean and got to know her a little. It wouldn’t be fair to jump down her throat for an issue I only know one side of and its not my job to make her talk and share her side of the story. I didn’t share that I had met and talked with Quantum. When an opportunity came up I did ask some questions appropriately to try and gauge where she was in her faith. She was raised Catholic but does not seem to follow that path anymore. She seemed to be just a sad woman stuck in her ways and views. Her faith was a turtle shell of weight that she carried and could hide in if she needed. The more we talked the more I felt sorry for her because she seems to have no joy in her life. Any frustration or anger I might have had slowly dissolved as we talked. There was nothing there to get angry over, she thinks she is Christian because it’s how she was raised and not a result of a heart transformation by an encounter with Jesus. She wasn’t hungry to learn more than she knew already. She had no desperation. I let the conversation trail off because I don’t know how to help a person who thinks they have the answers and is no longer trying to grow, someone who is content being ignorant and arrogant. That is a deadly mixture. I never offered any rebuke on behalf of Quantum, I don’t know how it could help either of them or myself. Wadi, just go eat dinner and head to bed.
Monday, May 24, 1999
I hiked into Atkins, VA, mile 543 to get my mail drop and other food supplies. There were several other hikers coming in and a few others on the way out, and apparently most of them were staying the night at the Village Inn. Several invited me to take the rest of the day off with them, I’m a simple fish, I was hooked. We went to the local restaurant and we ordered the left side of the menu and feasting on a half-gallon of ice cream at Dairy Queen. V.P. told me that his initials stand for Vanaprastha, a Hindu religion name given to someone who begins the third stage of their life. Where they leave their responsibilities to wander into the wilderness to become a forest dweller. The goal is then to learn how to live a life of simplicity leading to enlightenment.
V.P. is sure he will make it half way to Maine – and he expects to wake up one morning and say “its over.” It has been a repeating pattern in his life in all areas and it bugs him that he does not know how to break the cycle. He struggles to stay committed and focused when the emotions and excitement fade. By his own words he says he is a divorce case just waiting for marriage. He graduated from college with a mechanical engineering degree, but he is burned out on that already. He is just another guy looking for something in life that will give him purpose and direction.
I have heard those same words expressed from many voices with many different words. So many of the hikers are on a pilgrimage, where they have separated themselves from ordinary life with the hope of finding some kind of transformation of mind, spirit, and body. For some it is a journey of renewal and empowerment, as they focus the direction they already have.
Religion has answers to the ultimate issues of my life, good and evil, heaven and hell, but I struggle to figure out how to integrate it into my daily living that has little to do with heaven and hell. For many, a pilgrimage asks how the physical world can address the spiritual world, how can these two worlds come together? Many people hope that in nature the spiritual can be made concrete, tangible for them to hold and observe. But a pilgrimage is not only a religious act but can also serve as an expression of future aspirations and provides hints and clues of a destiny. It feels like things are being shed and I’m learning what’s behind my present mask that I wear.
Originally a pilgrimage was to a site or shrine located away from the pilgrim’s place of residence. They were believed to be places where miracles once happened, still happen, and people hope will happen again. For many pilgrims the journey was a form of penance, to purify oneself through the pain and discomfort of travel so that one’s prayers would be amplified. In some cultures the act of separation from ordinary life also involved the wearing of especially designated clothes. Mohammed wore such clothing along with a specific chant. The center of his pilgrimage was on complete devotion and submission to God and to bring harmony to beliefs.
A pilgrimage is a rite of passage of a sort. It enables initiates to move in transition from a defined position in society to another. A challenge has been met through separation and then there is re-incorporation with more honor and respect given. My brain is falling asleep, maybe I will continue this thread of thought on this another day.
I’ll end with a quote. “The terrible thing about the quest for truth is that you find it.” Remy De Govrmont (French critic)