Living in Wyoming, USA, I once became fascinated with the book Seven Half-Miles from Home by Wyoming artist and naturalist Mary Back. Suffering from circulation problems bad enough to kill her, Mary was eventually unable to walk more than one mile. Determined not to stay inside, she plotted out seven half-mile trails radiating out from her house, one path for each day of the week. Every morning before breakfast, she took a different route—out half a mile, back half a mile.
“Each walk brings her home through another world—the world of the living river, the boggy meadows and swamps, the fence rows, the thickets, the forests, her human neighbors yards and gardens, and the desert. All these worlds form a great circle—the circle rotates around Mary and she around it.” (From Crossing Wyoming by David Romtvedt http://books.google.com/books?id=jePgvysXwyMC&pg=PA21&lpg=PA21&dq=seven+half+miles+from+home&source=bl&ots=2xZk15p-aY&sig=TLC-0qB7x5XyvQbiQ08KPlOqcAs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=v5eSUanuKq684APmroCIDw&ved=0CE0Q6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=seven%20half%20miles%20from%20home&f=false .)
I love the intimacy of Mary’s paths, how each led her home—but I also love how she understood that within a half-mile radius of her home existed a world so large in scope that it would take her a lifetime to know every nuance, every season, every tiny inhabitant.
In the essay collection Hiking Alone: Trails Out, Trails Home, http://www.collectedworksbookstore.com/book/9780826343291 New Mexico author Mary Beath writes, “The land itself wraps you in a new skin. But you also feel your own skin turn inside out…You swallow the landforms and open meadows and forests whole; and they swallow you.”
Circling the world. Swallowing the land. What is this hunger for many of us to leave our comfortable domesticated lives for the discomfort of nature’s rocky and arduous trails?
American author Gail Storey http://www.gailstorey.com/ promised not to suffer when she agreed to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband. I’m not talking a half-mile trail here. I’m talking about a 2,663-mile trail from Mexico (south of the border) to Canada (north of the border). Amazing!
“I was shocked into my own existence,” writes Gail after hiking a sleet-covered switchback while being pelted with wind and ice, “born wet and confused on all fours on the muddy earth, deep in the loamy musk of it.”
Yes, we do yearn for this primal reconnection, this reentry into our origins. Not all of us, but enough of us that we hunger for stories like Gail’s because they remind us that we are not alone in this yearning, not alone in our desire to balance the exhale of our frantic lives with the inhale of nature’s calming balms.
Gail’s husband Porter estimated the trip would take six months, beginning with late spring storms in southern California, and culminating with early fall blizzards in northern Washington. Each chapter of I Promise Not to Suffer begins with a reference to distance, which helps us get our bearings: We’re this far from Mexico. We’re this far from Canada.
For the reader, though, the journey is not so much a linear undertaking marked mile by mile on a map, as it is an emotional journey—taking us into the depths of our own lives subtly and gracefully as Gail navigates the emotional terrain of woman, wife, partner, and daughter. She does this far more gracefully than she was able to navigate the physical terrain of the PCT (she portrays her occasional “ungrace” with a witty, humorous flair).
This is a funny and poignant read. And so artfully crafted that it’s easy to miss the simple elegance of her prose. Gail is a fool for love, and when she waxes poetic about Porter, I find myself enthralled. “When he holds me, light-boned against his sculpted muscles, I know I’m being held. No matter how deeply I look into his gray-green eyes, I never touch bottom.”
Nature can cradle us like that too, sheltering us within sculpted river alcoves, offering us majestic heights from which our dreams take flight, or drawing our gaze down to the tiniest Bleeding Heart, reminding us that the pulse of all we love beats deep beneath every step we take.
Recipient of the 2013 Wise Woman Fellowship from A Room of Her Own Foundation and winner of the 2013 Colorado Authors’ League “Best Blog of the Year Award” for her popular blog All Things Literary. All Things Natural, Page Lambert is the author of the memoir In Search of Kinship (Fulcrum Publishing, a USA Rocky Mountain bestseller), and the novel Shifting Stars (Tor/Forge, USA Mountains and Plains Book Award finalist). Her writing is widely anthologized, appearing in dozens of literary collections. Her most recent story, “The Widow of Loreto,” was just published in Huffington Post as part of their 50 FICTION 2013 series http://www.huffingtonpost.com/page-lambert/featured-fifty-fiction-the-widow-of-loreto_b_3274218.html?utm_hp_ref=featured-fifty-fiction.