This week, the world forgot it is November and started acting like it is January. He had unseasonably cold temperatures, and, as I write this, we are bracing for snow and sleet. We may wake to snow on the ground tomorrow, and we’re still two weeks from Thanksgiving. In their flair for dramatic, more-serious-than-it-really-is language the meteorologists explained a super typhoon had smashed the Alaskan islands, unleashing the polar vortex on the lower 48 states. They make it sound like some new dimension has been opened, releasing some sort of evil weather spirit.
The whole week was not filled with malevolent ice spirits, though. On Monday I met my good friend Zach, for a hike at Land Between the Lakes. We’ve been talking about camping or hiking for months, and we were finally both free at the same time. When we started, I asked Zach how much he wanted to walk, and he said he was good for anything as long as we weren’t trudging back in the dark. With it being about 10:30am, I felt that was certainly doable, and started looking for a ten miles-ish hike we could arrange. We parked one car at the end of our route and took one to the start. It turned out to be perfect hike weather, possibly the last really nice day for a good bit, based on the current air.
This weekend, my sister threw a first birthday party for her daughter Adelyn, so Allyson and I made trek down to West Tennessee to spend time with my family. I started my audio project, taping family members telling me about their lives. I’m excited about taking these recordings, and having a story that documents my family and how I got here. I started with my dad, getting him to talk about his childhood. As a kid, he lived in Nevada, Texas, Oklahoma, Texas again, and then Tennessee. It’s so interesting to me to think about my dad in the time he was the age his grandkids are now. To wonder what he was like, how the world has changed since. To think about these different moments in all our lives at different ages. How we were different, how we were the same. Looking at how the dots connect, and the crazy paths they traveled to make it to you, this day, typing on a computer as the rain and snow approach.
On that warm Monday, Zach and I took a trail that hugged Kentucky Lake. There were all these inlets that at one time were creekbeds emptying into the Tennessee River. Then they flooded it, and they became little bays. The water was so blue, and the maples were this beautiful yellow. Zach and I caught each other up on the other one’s life, we talked movies, and we talked the general state of the world. One gauge of a good friend is how easily you break into conversation no matter how long it’s been. Zach and I managed to talk for most of our day-long hike. There were moments, though, like when we were crossing between two hills, coming into a spot where the trees rose up a little taller and the breeze made them dance, their yellow leaves swirling all around us. Zach stopped in front of me, and I knew exactly what we were doing. He talked to me about resisting that urge to take the selfie and post it, to focus on living in the moment and enjoying it while it’s there. He said some things should just be for me. We stood next to each other, quiet, awed by the world surrounding us.
I’ve been reading a book called 1491 that talks about North and South America before Europeans started exploring it and drastically changing it. It talks about how scientists are starting to believe there were LOTS more people here than we used to think, if fact it talks about how a lot of what we thought we knew might be wrong. The section I’m currently in talks about how no one is completely sure when Native Americans crossed over from Asia, how many times it happened, and how there are lots of confusing clues about them. I think about how exciting it must have been to walk into a completely new world with new trees and new animals, to be the first person to blaze those trails. That polar vortex from the Artic must have had so much more to do with their lives than it does today with us when we simply worry with breaking the coats out of storage and where to set the heat. Can you imagine, traveling in from Alaska, like those winds hitting us down here in the Southeast? Can you imagine being the first human to walk up on the Yosemite Valley, being the first person to see the Earth bubble and fizz at Yellowstone, the first person to step to the edge of the Grand Canyon and look out not knowing what to say? When did the first people crisscross the ridges next to the Tennessee where Zach and I walked, without seeing another human the whole day?
As the sun approached the western horizon, Zach and I came on a sign with mileage markers. It said our destination was still 4 miles away. The sky was already the orange and purple of sunset. We looked at the other side of the sign to see how far away our starting point was. It didn’t have an exact mileage, but best we could figure we had already walked about 12 miles. I looked at the map again—it still looked like it should be 10 miles, maybe 11 or even 12, but not 16. Nothing to do at that point, though but keep walking. Zach was good natured, and I was grateful. I think he felt, like I did that this time we were spending was something unique, and more time of that could only be a good thing on a day like this. By the time, we reached the car, we were trudging back in dark. We finished our trip under stars and trees, with the path clear enough to see without flashlight. It reminded us of nights we spent as Wilderness Directors, ending our days walking back to the tents through the woods by the moon. My dog Digby followed us, just like the camp dogs used to. I carried him so, though, because his little legs had walked many miles.
When I got home, I got a text from Zach, telling me the tracker on his phone told him we had actually walked 18 miles, 36,000 steps. I expected to crawl to work the next day, but I was hardly sore at all. Zach messaged me and said he felt much better than he thought he would. I promised him the next hike we take will be one I’ve taken before that I know the exact mileage of. Still, I feel like we did something this week we’ll talk about the rest of our lives. I learn more and more that I don’t want to have complete control of where I go, to just follow something intriguing or interesting. There’s plenty I don’t know about yet that change and miscalculation will have to lead me to. Damn, think of all the sites to behold, all the stories to tell.