Walking Home

reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

Walking to the Smoky Mountains, Day 1

June 4th, 2021

Walking to the Smoky Mountains Day 1, May 29

Day 1 Amicalola Visitors Center to Three Forks 15.1 miles (Approach Trail, then 6.1 on BMT)

Walt Whitman opens his “Song of the Open Road” with enthusiasm that is hard to match:

Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

I aspire to light-hearted, healthy and free. Like so many finally crawling out of the husk of pandemic solitude (much like the 17 year cicadas emerging in the woods, dazed by the open), light-hearted is probably not the operant mood. And the joyful sort of health Whitman describes will only result from working hard to transition into a post covid world. Which is just to say, I look forward to feeling light-hearted and light-footed, soon I hope.

I have chosen “a long brown path.” The Benton Mackaye, named after one of the founders of the Appalachian Trail, is a 286 mile footpath beginning on Springer Mountain (the point of commencement for the AT) winding its way northwest through the North Georgia Appalachians crossing into Tennessee then touching North Carolina before traversing the Great Smokey Mountain National Park, ending near Davenport Gap. Unlike the AT, the Benton Mackaye, though well-maintained, is uncrowded, often remote, with little of the support system enjoyed by hikers of the Appalachian Trail.

In true trekker fashion, I included the approach trail up from Amicalola falls (which added 9 miles to the trek—a lot on the first day, a mere whisper on the last). There the path mingled day hikers, weekenders, and some AT section hikers. I think I was the only one heading off on the BMT. There was a large contingent of Boy Scouts on a preparatory hike before leaving for Philmont Ranch in New Mexico. Confident, exuberant, and loud, I was happy to be walking a different trail (though we did camp together at Three Forks, a point where the two trails cross).

I think I come at this trek in a mode different from all those others documented in this blog (and the many I took before starting WalkingHome).  The need to flush away what has felt like some kind of pandemic-induced fugue state is front of mind, so I find myself desiring more from this saunter than I expected from others. In the spirit of Whitman’s “Open Road”:

Now I re-examine philosophies and religions,

They may prove well in lecture-rooms, yet not prove at all under the spacious clouds and along the landscape and flowing currents.

******

Let the paper remain on the desk unwritten, and the book on the shelf unopen’d!

Let the tools remain in the workshop! let the money remain unearn’d!

I have to admit that today I unable to leave behind lecture rooms, unwritten papers, and books on shelves. Throughout the walk I was preoccupied with life back in the flatlands. And I have to further admit that, even though my gear set-up performed well (see Inventory), my body did not. 15 months of the same thing, day in and day out, have clearly taken their toll, and I suspect it will take some time to get back to trekking fitness (mental and physical).

But, for a sense of optimism, I turn once again to Walt:

The earth never tires,

The earth is rude, silent, incomprehensible at first, Nature is rude and incomprehensible at first,

Be not discouraged, keep on, there are divine things well envelop’d,

I swear to you there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell.

Allons!

 

T. Hugh Crawford

In Patagonia Day 42

March 31st, 2018

In Patagonia Day 42
Valparaiso: La Sebastiana, Pablo Neruda’s house

There were no seashells, there in Neruda’s house. Maps, boats, and bottles, but no shells. Pablo, where did you leave them? And why is there no trace, except a mother-of-pearl inlaid table which I’m sure didn’t come from your beachcombing? They said you thought water tasted best when drunk from green glass, so there is plenty of that, even an oversized bottle of Brut by Fabergé cologne which made me think more of Joe Namath than the words of a great poet. Joe in a full-length fur coat would be out of place next to your jar-shaped fireplace, French carousel horse, or your chair of the clouds. But the words, those you traced in green ink every morning high upstairs in your study were of that same color—distinctive and flavorful. And there in that room is an American from New Jersey —the looming photograph of Walt Whitman containing multitudes even in Chile. William Carlos Williams, another poet from Jersey, old and partially blinded by strokes wandered the beaches of Florida collecting shells thinking of you, straining after the rhythm of the waves perhaps like his friend Wallace Stevens whose Key West apparition “sang beyond the genius of the sea,” striding by the shore, but for him “it was she and not the sea we heard.” Stevens listened to the she/sea with Ramon Fernandez, Williams with Pablo: “the/ language also of Neruda the/ Chilean poet—who collected/ seashells on his/native beaches.” La Sebastiana, your house, echoes still with the sounds of dinners of conger stew, French wine, and politics—that which could never be ignored. But the sea also cannot be ignored, and Williams heard it in your words, trying in his own: “the/ changeless beauty of/ seashells, like the/ sea itself, gave/ [your] lines the variable pitch/ which modern verse requires.” William Carlos Williams, looking to the language of his mother and his own middle name, came to your poetry and in his declining years wrote for you a poetic tribute that, for unforeseen circumstances was not delivered until you too were dying and soon dead.

T. Hugh Crawford