The whole world beats a drum named Repetition, and when it echoes we call it Affirmation.
As I walk along the final few miles of trail with my hiking partner, she calls out the name of things and I repeat. Our feet tread the earth, over and over in a quiet rhythm. Routine is such an easy glove to wear out here, out among the forests and streams. We’ve been walking together for over a week–my partner and I–and the journey’s end is just below, underneath the Mogollon Rim, in Pine Arizona, hundreds of miles away from our intended endpoint. Strange, how the earth pulls you places.
As we pick our way down the rocky descent I let her slip ahead. We’re following a crack in the earth, hundreds of feet down. This natural path, used by humans for centuries as a navigational route to the Rim above–an ecosystem full of forests, shade, water and soil-life–seems familiar, as if the route is a collective human memory. Today we use it to find an ending. I let her slip ahead and take a moment to pause, dipping my hand into the rolling stream next to me. I think of M.O.
Amazement, she said, and she was right.
For hundreds of miles I’ve used American Primitive–one of Oliver’s poetry collections–as a guide of sorts, but here among the ferns and wildflowers I realize its been something else entirely. The poet-physician was writing a medical script, with the natural world as the prescibed cure. When I set out from Arches back in early March I was thinking, “Sir bear, sir bear,” but by the time it was over there was a whole litany of proverbs bouncing around inside my head.
Saying, it was real
Saying, life is infinitely inventive
Saying, what other amazements lie in the dark seed of the earth, yes,
Listen, whatever it is you try
to do with your life, nothing will ever dazzle you
like the dreams of your body.
What we long for: joy
before death, nights
in the swale–everything else
can wait but not
from the root
of the body.
Certain lines I read over and over–repeated–until their words were fixed and sturdy in my head. Their syllables formed beams, foundations, windows, and rooms; I found I could take these hollow new houses and fill them with flowers, canyons, mountains.
Life became a dizzying mix of my body, M.O.’s words, and the natural world. So as the conclusion drew near, as I could see the broad valley of Arizona reveal itself below me, I had a great sudden realization.
I am drawn forward. I am not tired. I want more.
I caught up with Madeleine and we walked together. We talked of food. We met two other hikers and one of them pulled a fiddlehead fern from the ground, pinched the leafy head from the body, and handed it to me to eat. I tasted like something made from water and earth, and I wanted more. Madeleine and I continued, resting only briefly. We laid out tents and sleeping bags so that the sun might dry them as we ate our meager lunches. We took a wrong turn in the afternoon and off we went in the wrong direction–drawn back toward the Mogollon Rim. By the last mile of the trek, we were both charging downhill, eager for food, eager for resolution.
We walked in to Pine Arizona just in time for the local brewery to serve us dinner. The occasion wasn’t momentous–but it was real nonetheless. At night we camped under the stars, behind the brewery, on a sand volleyball court. This is how you live on a thru hike. I shoveled a handful of cookies into my mouth for good measure as I crawled into my sleeping bag, and it seemed appropriate. As I turned over and settled in for the night I closed my eyes and thought:
Not tired, not tired, not tired…