The end of the trail

Have there been seeds of dreams planted inside you in the course of your lifetime that are demanding to be nurtured? Are you nurturing any? Time is short. Experiences are many. Let’s get going. Here’s one that speaks to my point. I’m looking for more.

In 2003 I could feel the growth of a dream seed in my guts.  It was demanding to sprout. It needed the sun, but it asked too much of me. I tried my best to ignore it. I really did. To see this dream through would require leaving my teaching career for at least six months.  Didn’t matter; it had to be done. I had to attempt the 2,175-mile thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. It stretches from Georgia to Maine. Friends thought I was crazy. From the very moment I voiced my intentions they would ask, what? Why? Where did that come from? And I’d tell them that I think a seed had been planted inside me long ago. It just took time and life’s experiences to fully grow it.

The Sowing: I remember being stretched out on the yellow shag carpet of my grandparent’s living room playing a game of Jacks by myself as the late afternoon sun slanted in through the front room’s window. This had to be somewhere around 1970. I was 10 years old, or so. The mail had just been delivered and Gram had received a package from the National Geographic Society. This was big. National Geographic magazines occupied “altar-like” status on the coffee table in their home. They connected us to the rest of the world; places I could only dream of going. Inside that package was a book, “The Appalachian Trail”. The book was filled with picture after picture of grungy hikers toting heavy loads in awkward-looking backpacks. The terrain they covered seemed remarkable in its variety: green hilly meadows of flowers, muddy trails winding around earthbound roots, exposed rocky mountaintops, and long green tunnels of trail.  It was mesmerizing. People really did this? Gram and I spent hours with that book. Not reading much, just staring at each photo straining to capture the essence of the hikers’ experiences. I dreamed it was me out there on that trail.

A seed was planted that afternoon. A seed whose packet label might have read, “Yes, dream it. Then do it”. Thirty-four years later that seed had grown into a dream demanding to be fulfilled. Time, work, relationships, and smaller journeys had nurtured its potential. My body and soul knew the truth of that seed for me.

The Reaping: I quit my job. And in the spring of 2004 I set off on that trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia with my young golden retriever, Jack. Six months later I stood at the finish, atop Maine’s Mt. Katahdin. I had done it. One dream down. How many more to go? What other seeds have been planted and are waiting to burst forth? I’m looking now; scraping away the topsoil in search of another experience.

BTW footnote: Things always work out, don’t they? After completing the hike I was re-hired; this time in the one room rural schoolhouse an hour from town, and that job provided another experience I will never forget.


Crack Open the Gates

Notice anything new lately? Anything caught your eye in a way that has asked you to stop and look closer? I’m on a mission. I’m out to see what I can see, feel what I can feel, fully experience what comes at me. This new awareness shocked me one recent morning on a cold jog down our dirt drive. I may never be the same.

I’ve done this run a bunch of times. There are the neighbor’s farm animals grazing in pastures, big sky and wispy clouds above, crunchy gravel and dirt below, snow-capped mountains off my left shoulder, and my dogs alternately loping and stopping to sniff a patch of ground here and there. I’ve seen it a lot. Always enjoy it, and always feel so much better for having been outside breathing hard before my workday begins.

This run turned out different, though. “Paper Airplane”, the new music from Alison Krauss and Union Station was playing in my ears and filling my head and soul with a fullness I cannot adequately describe. Good music has always had that effect on me. My fingers ached because my gloves were too thin. Frozen mud ruts on the road were doing their best to roll my ankles over. My nose was running and I was anxious to begin generating heat. Out of nowhere I felt and heard a rumbling. A fast, relentless drumming sound that came bearing down on me from behind. “Duck, Sharon, duck!” was all I could think as the sound and movement flashed by my right eye in a blur of power. Oh! It was the neighbor’s new Palomino on the other side of the fence along the road. I stopped running. I had to. The power of his flight demanded that I look. He got to the top of the hill, turned around, and came on back. He raced past me again with his head held high and back; almost like he was checking his speed. His hooves hit the ground hard and I could feel the thud of each one. He stopped again, wheeled around and charged back up the hill. Even the dogs had stopped at this point and were watching him. All I could think was, “Now that is power, and this is so worth watching”.

That’s when the gates of awareness seemed to unlock and open. Suddenly, what I had been missing, while lost in the music, was visible and I greedily drank it in; the thin white three-quarter moon high in the southern sky, the smell of the fresh hoof-churned dirt, the round chest muscles of that horse, the cocked head of my dog, Jack, wanting to go on. I saw the clear edges of the fence posts coated in a thin frost. A meadowlark perched on a barbed wire fence, pushing his broad yellow breast forward, sang out and we all looked. The images and sounds and smells wouldn’t stop. In that minute and a half my senses were cracked open and awake. I stood there gawking at my world. And the rest of the day was different.

Now I want more.

What have you noticed lately? Are you moving through your life following old patterns that dim the magic of each and every moment?

Crack open your gates of awareness. You’ll be amazed at what is out there.