Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Walking with Ghosts

May 28th, 2017

Walking with Ghosts
28 May, 1968–28 May, 2017

Henry David Thoreau wrote the first modern treatise on the philosophy of walking— On Walking —arguing that one of wandering’s primary values the possibility of genuine solitude, something he prized perhaps more than most. Walking is not only a way to be alone. In fact, it might teach us about the impossibility of solitude, or at least make us attentive to its complexity. In the “Solitude” chapter of Walden he notes, “However intense my experience, I am conscious of the presence and criticism of a part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator, sharing no experience, but taking note of it, and that is no more I than it is you.”

Walking—real walking—means walking with ghosts. It is easy to celebrate the idea that after breaking out of quotidian space and industrial time you will somehow be one with the trail, but, as Thoreau makes clear, that singularity is multiple. Nietzsche, another great walking philosopher, has Zarathustra exclaim in frustration, “There is always one too many about me…Always once one–that maketh in the long run two.” The Nietzschean “two” is not a mind magically hovering over a lump of flesh, but instead is a plenitude generated by the walk—the path, the wander, and the wanderer. (Another lesson of Zarathustra and the trail is the poverty of the mind/body dualism.)

Nietzsche’s “two” is a prompt to follow out the vectors of the multiple, the play of the ghosts. Still suffering from a torn muscle in my knee, my walk today was short—not one that offered sufficient distance or time for genuine thinking—but it was haunted. On this day 49 years ago my mother died. I was only eleven at the time and recovering clear memories of her remains difficult. Still, she haunts my life, nudging me at surprising moments, occupying my thoughts even when I’m not thinking—which is perhaps the definition of haunting.

Without doubt wandering brings cues that call to presence something or someone long absent. As William Carlos Williams, in the middle of a section of a poem where he is taking a long walk, says:

Memory is a kind
of accomplishment
a sort of renewal
even
an initiation, since the spaces it opens are new places
inhabited by hordes
heretofore unrealized

I remember with great clarity standing beside my mother pushing a roller dipped in a muted orange masonry paint up the concrete walls of a bathroom in the basement of the Woodstock Presbyterian Church. I hear her on Wednesday night in that same building rehearsing with Ruth Rhodes, the organist, and Marion French, the other soloist, for Sunday’s service. But I also remember with more clarity than I want Leo Snarr, my father’s best friend, collecting me from the Woodstock Elementary School’s lunchroom just after I had bought an ice-cream bar (probably a Fudgesicle or a Refresho—6 ¢). I sat in the back of his car, he in the passenger seat, his wife Mary Sue drove. He turned, put his hand on my knee and told me my mother had died (she was only 44, an age I have long since passed). At that moment I was double—in shock, I held my ice-cream loosely until Leo took it, but I was also thinking about how should I respond. I lived what Thoreau describes—“part of me, which, as it were, is not a part of me, but spectator.”

I often recur to that moment. Obviously an intense experience, but also one of real insight into the multiplicity of being. Walking is an act of presencing. To be crossing a loose scree field above cliffs demands an intensity of presence often not experienced in daily life. Learning of the death of a parent is another form of intensity, but even there, Being is not concentrated into a single luminous point, but rather continues moving as part of “hordes heretofore unrealized.” We always walk with ghosts.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

June 28

July 1st, 2016

June 28

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Once again, I must take a break (see Hiatus) from long-distance trekking, this time to teach in the Georgia Tech Oxford program a course on the literature of walking. Instead of stopping WalkingHome completely, I will try to write up some thoughts on the material we are reading and, where possible, connect to any short walks I can squeeze in. Introducing others to the complexity of what seems a simple act of walking can be difficult, but I have found Robert MacFarlane’s The Old Ways does a fine job. Layering precise description with personal narrative and with cultural and literary history, MacFarlane prods his readers to think closely about what seems the mundane. Regarding literature, his gambit is simple but profound: one can understand literature (along with history and culture) by walking the landscapes that produced it. Edward Thomas’s poetry is known differently after walking the chalk downs and the Ichnield way, and of course, one comes to a different sense of self and indeed a different sense of “knowing” through such embodied experiences. This is an argument I have long been sympathetic to. I once taught a class on Thoreau’s Walden where we framed up his house using only the tools he could have used: axes, broad axes, adzes, mallets, chisels. The Walden we read (and the one I continue to read) is simply a different book because of that experience. Of course re-reading is always a transformation, but I now feel Thoreau’s words through the vibrations of an axe-blow up my arm.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 30

May 1st, 2016

April 30

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Leon to Hospital de Orbigo 32 km. Enjoyed my hotel room with a late start for an uneventful day. After making my way out of the city which had stark shadows from the bright morning sun, and then some suburbs, the path moved out into the fields, first on a muddy track but finally just a long straight road that looked very much like the road to nowhere Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard walk at the end of Modern Times. It was a Saturday and one small village had a table with fruit and juice set up for pilgrims. The orange juice here still amazes me. My new shoes kicked up a blister — first I’ve had in many months–but completely expected. An early lunch in Choses de Abajo and watched a German Shepherd follow a couple of pilgrims for at least 5 km. They disappeared and soon he was following me. Very sweet dog, but every step took him further from his home. Midday and I crossed paths with Gloria and we walked together the rest of the day, finding ourselves late afternoon at Albergue Verde, a very strange place with lots of guitar playing, pseudo-spiritualism, and assorted mumbo-jumbo. The place was very noisy and busy. They grow a lot of their food and served a great meal. The place was full of many of the pilgrims I’ve hiked with, but was, in a word, crowded.

T. Hugh Crawford

April 29

May 1st, 2016

April 29

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Puente de Villarente to Leon 12 km. A short morning stroll through the suburbs with good company brought me to Leon, home of an impressive Romanesque church and a gothic cathedral with some of the finest stained glass in all of Europe. After many nights of Albergue snoring and uneven sleep, I opted to spend a little extra money for a single room in a hostel– my own bed with sheets, a shower, and even a television (and no evening Albergue curfew). Saw many pilgrim friends–the three North Carolina hikers, Gloria, Sophia, Michelle, Elena, Rudy, Jens, but I missed saying goodbye to Noeleen who is abandoning because of nagging injuries. Replaced my shoes with some new Salomons, not sure they are the right ones, but at least they fit. Leon is an interesting town with a brew pub–first IPA in months–and lots of free tapas.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

March 17

March 18th, 2016

March 17  last day of Annapurna Circuit

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Finishing the Annapurna Circuit left me a little sad. On walking out onto the Simon Guest House deck that morning I knew that it was the last time I would be looking out on the massif I’ve been circling for almost three weeks. The peaks remain infinitely interesting as the changing light creates shadows revealing intricate formations that disappear as the sun moves on. Also there is no clear endpoint like Bluff or Kirk Yetholm, which is as it should be — a circuit has no end. Still, I found myself hiking down from Ghandruk to Kimche only to discover a long, dusty road down to the main highway to Pokhara. Not a way to spend the morning so I caught a wild ride bus from there– much more stimulating than dodging trucks and scooters in the dust and the diesel on the road down. On the walk to Kimche, the trail was completely flagged with stones and uneven steps, and I passed many people bringing up materials to Ghandruk and beyond. No porters carrying refrigerators on their backs, but plenty of people carrying bags of rice or sugar, lots of plastic drainpipe, and a pack train of eight mules carrying up sacks of something. At an early stop on the bus, a strikingly beautiful woman in traditional dress got on along with three huge bags of dried corn–easily 100 lbs. each. She and the bus helpers (conductors?), maneuvered them through the door and stacked them in the aisle, on the way to a market point about five km down the road. She seemed so slight but, like so many people living in a place where almost everything is carried by hand, she was strong and capable. Initially the road (not an accurate term) wound back and forth down narrow switchbacks with scarcely inches between the wheels and the edge which dropped off precipitously. It was like an amusement park ride, except here there are no regular inspections of the vehicle or the road. In this upper area tending to the flatland, there is an older architecture that is different from what I have been seeing. There are stone farmhouses, broad across the face with two stories. On either end are single-story rooms with sloping shed roofs, but the main house includes a bank of second-story windows with intricately carved casements and screens. The eaves have wooden brackets where they often hang ears of corn or basket materials to dry. Across the long face is a wide flat terrace where the farm produce is processed. After a long and winding ride down, the bus got to the highway at Naya Pol; then the driver opened it up, passing every vehicle he came near, blasting his horn, slamming his brakes, and swerving on and off the narrow middle band of pavement that made up the highway (the rest was gravel, potholes, and general rocky obstacles). This went on for quite some time until we arrived at the Pokhara bus stop, still quite a distance from the lake area where I had booked a hotel along with the rest of the tourists. Rather than a taxi, I opted to walk (guess I felt the need to make up for my short trek this morning) and spent an hour crossing the city past motorcycle repair shops, tailors, and open sewer/waterways. The Adam Hotel (booked via the web for good rate) is at the heart of the lakeside district near coffee shops, trekking stores, bars, and momo (dumpling) shops. A good place to unwind and organize the next adventure.

 

T. Hugh Crawford

Day 67 South Island Odyssey Begins

November 8th, 2015

Nov 6 day 67 Wellington (via ferry) to Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge 13 km 4:30-7:00

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The South Island Odyssey Begins
Caught the 9:30 InterIslander ferry to Picton. Absolutely crystal day, I could feel everyone’s enthusiasm for some warmth and sunshine. Crowded boat, but I found a seat on the back atrium sundeck. Good views without the jostling of the already drinking crowd, and I got to talk with one of the librarians from the National Library, where I hope my students will do some research in January. Arrived at Picton just in time to get a quick bite to eat and catch the mail boat, which after stops in nearly every cove on the sound, dropped me at Ships Cove, the beginning of the Queen Chatlotte Track and Te Araroa on the South Island. Hectors dolphins sported beside the boat as we made our way over. This is a trip I have taken three or four other times, and the peacefulness of the coves and bays always amazes (of course they are also subject to severe weather, a characteristic of the entire country). The Queen Charlotte is an “easy tramping” trail, perfectly graded, so I made the crossing to Furneaux Lodge in quick time, and was happy to feel very strong hiking throughout. Ever since the Tararua’s I have felt tired and lethargic walking, almost weak, so it really felt good to be feeling good. Hoping to get a running start at the South Island, so it was a good sign. I have always wanted to stay at Furneaux. Eaten here on the way through a number of times, but haven’t spent night. I got a great bunk room looking out over the bay, really comfortable, wish I could linger longer. Planning a weekend trip in January which will definitely involve lingering.

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