March 2013


These are the days I miss college the most. When my job is so busy, so chaotic, and requires so much time that all I want is access to a library, with the quiet murmur of other students up as late as I am. A study carrel, a sprawling table so I can spread out, a closed off room to collaborate in, or breathe in, or just be in the presence of others, studying and working silently, but having the close camaraderie of knowing others are working, too. Sometimes, like for this project, it would be nice to know my bed is only feet away instead of miles, that my teammates could sit in a soothing place together and talk when we needed to. Mostly silence.

Savor it while you have it. There’s something special you won’t find anywhere else.

In college, I took a class by Okey Ndibe on Memory and History in African Literature. A fascinating Nigerian author and activist himself, Okey pushed my boundaries as both an English major and world reader. Books that weren’t on my radar before became important to me and my way of thinking about the world, and our history. He wrote Arrows of Rain, which we read in class, another great read I recommend. He also introduced me to Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Yesterday, I learned of Achebe’s passing. It was saddening and shocking; I’d come to love Things Fall Apart in that class and ever after. It was an iconic book of Achebe’s, a political activist and passionate author. In meThings Fall Apartmory of him, I’ve copied below the reading journal I completed for that class on the book. If you have not read the book, I highly recommend it, as well as his other works.

Journal

I was fascinated by Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The story kept me engaged every moment. I loved the culture and traditions so different from my own and from European – I often feel that American and European culture is dull, probably because I’ve been learning about it since I was three. Achebe gives the reader a snapshot into the African world without over-explaining and without the air of “you should already know about this.” It is the perfect amount of description and allowing the reader to see things for themselves.

I never once used the glossary in the back; I never had to. Context provided everything I needed to know, and allowing me to get the approximate definitions of the Ibo words myself meant a lot to me. Achebe trusts his readers, and in turn I think that we trust him. One interesting style I noticed was that in the second that a big event started to draw to a close, Achebe moved ahead of it in time and began again as if it was done and dealt with. The first time it happened, I was a bit surprised, but it made a lot of sense after that. He doesn’t waste words closing something when it’s practically over.

I had a great surprise in the beginning of Chapter 6 when the word “slave” showed up: “The elders and grandees of the village sat on their own stools brought there by their young sons or slaves” (46). In class we then talked about how different cultures had slavery, but that the New World/United States form of it was harsher than others. I was still very much surprised to find the word at all in the novel, particularly before there was even any mention of European influence. I tried to look it up, and only found that it was likely that Ikemefuna was a slave, though it was hard to tell because Okonkwo treated him so like another son. I am curious about the Ibo form of slavery and what it was like, how it was looked upon.

While some of the traditions the Ibo people held were strange and even against some of my own ideas, I respected them. They were clearly such a vital and personal part of the clan, and I’ve always been fascinated by other traditions so different from the ones I know. I think traditions are important in some ways, though dangerous in others. I believe in freedom of religion, and if some traditions are harmless but only serve to enrich the unity of a group of people, or even of an individual, they are important to keep. Certain traditions, like that of slavery or women not voting, are not.

Throughout my reading I kept going back to the title, thinking “life’s not perfect, but what’s falling apart?” The shock of the European arrival was then as much of a surprise to me as it was to the clans. In a very short amount of time, Okonkwo is exiled and the European missionaries start to push their way into the Ibo. And, very quickly, things fall apart: everything horribly fell into place, and I felt some of the anger that the clansmen felt at this forcing of religion, telling them that everything they believed in and lived was a lie that would not grant them a good eternal life after death. It was shocking, and I was surprised, actually, that the novel ended before the slave trade officially began, though knowing that it was to come sent chills down my spine – that the horror forced upon these people was not yet over, and would not be.

I am really looking forward to discussing this amazing story – it was an amazing read.

Rest In Peace, Chinua Achebe. You were more of an inspiration than you ever had the chance to know.

What I want to be doing:

  • Watching more West Wing
  • Composing a blog post about what I’ve been learning from West Wing
  • Read all the recent posts from new followers and maybe follow back
  • Read one of my many concurrent books on my list
  • Write just for me
  • Write just for you
  • Text a boy
  • See my family
  • Go buy new sneakers
  • Continue planning my trip, part 1
  • Go get my mail
  • Go for a walk
  • Take random and absurd pictures

What I should be doing:

  • Homework and reading
  • Getting to bed before 1am

What I am doing:

  • Well, you’re reading it!

Now that that’s off my chest, I guess I should actually get to work.

<sigh>

Unsmiling faceI’ve basically moved past the stupid reasons he gave, the not wanting to bother attitude, the screw-your-dreams. What gets me the most is what he left me with: a lessened capacity for emotion. I’m not as good at feeling, even at kindness, as I was when I met him. And it’s hard not to get frustrated with myself for letting that happen. For not seeing so clearly how that could not work, not for me. For thinking, sure, I could get used to this, this never hearing I love you. Or much of anything, really. Besides hmmm and okay. But I got used to it for long enough that I started feeling more apathy than empathy. I’m not that person. That’s what gets me. That because of him, I’m less. I have to relearn how to love, to laugh, to take a moment to digest something before rattling off some too-logical answer. Too unfeeling.

I’m not that. I’m not. So where does that leave me? The one part of him I could never justify has attached itself to me. Me. How did this all get so twisted? I’ve become the worst part of him. And I hate it.

Sometimes I selfishly want him to come around, to want to talk, to say oops, I made a mistake. Just to tell him he is never ever getting me back. That there are things you can’t come back from. To hear him be surprised and mad I won’t talk to him. Because he made it so very clear he wanted nothing to do with me when he left. To explicitly not tell him about my AT plans for next year. There’s also this devilish part of me that hopes he’s taking a class of students camping the night I walk up to a shelter with my thru-hike pack on, and I get to tell them about my experiences, my big adventure, what it’s like, and not acknowledge we ever had anything together. To have that knowing look in my eyes as I walk past: no, I never told you, and yes, yes, yes, I can still do amazing things, without you. You would have told me how to do all of this, but this is me, without a WFR or a Master’s in Outdoor Ed, and I am doing it. And leave early the next morning, on my way. I am on my way.

PS. It occurs to me that with an uptick in traffic for my AT adventure, some followers/fans may want less personal and more AT/hiking/planning. So I’ve created a new and spiffy blog here which I will slowly work to update with my AT posts here and continue AT stuff there. thruhikeat2014.wordpress.com .

“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. The writing is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety. Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. The writing sings. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes, when I am certain the reader is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals–sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”

– Gary Provost

“What exquisite beauty can possibly rival that of newly fallen snow? Each evergreen spruce and balsam frond holds a scintillating white pillow. Sunlight on the lake’s snowfield imparts a dazzling purity as though all the desecrations of man had suddenly vanished.”

– Paradise Below Zero by Calvin Rutstrum, 1968.

Wow. Just. Wow.

I took some time to start getting a handle on life on the trail. My primary reference is the Appalachian Trail Thru-Hikers’ Companion for 2013, a publication by the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association (ALDHA). Even in that one, there is a warning about possible post office closures between publication and the hike. That’s another effect of the US Post Office’s previous issues as well as new ones with budget cuts – one I hadn’t thought of a lot until now. Many hikers rely on maildrops and send themselves food or other equipment a few towns up, and pick them up at the post office. As I’m reading, there are also many wonderful people and businesses who offer to do the same, but it is something to keep in mind as the date gets closer.

Getting a Handle on the Book

AT Thru-Hikers' CompanionSomehow, ALDHA has managed to condense a national trail that’s 2,184 miles long into less than 280 pages. It’s great in that they’ve done their best to get you what you need without adding unnecessary burden to your pack. That means a lot of abbreviations and quick descriptions. I finally folded down the corner of the page that defines these acronyms until I memorize them. Capitalization can change a meaning, too: m is miles and M is meals/restaurants. Some just throw me, still, for no good reason: R is road crossing. G is groceries. w is water; nw is no water. There were notations next to only the shelters that confused me for a good long while, too. Something about miles? But then there were N and S, neither of which were defined by my handy list (which I’ve now boxed up in pen). I went back over the notes, the write-ups of how the sections were designed. Ah ha! miles to the next shelter. Northbound or Southbound (commonly referred to as NOBO and SOBO). I’ve still got some work to do but I’m getting a handle on the book, finally.

Estimating What You Are and Will Be Capable Of

I dug into the specific Trail features of the states, figuring out how far certain things are from each other, what I could do this day, or that. If I do 8 miles that day, can I push 11 the next? Or should I give myself more time to get used to hiking? What about at day 7? Wait, have I stopped in a town yet to resupply? Do they have fuel, food, a campsite? Should I splurge on a lodge (hotel), or find a campsite? What are my options? I call this my planning-without-planning. I’m not trying to set anything in stone now. I would like to get through the Trail, in the book, like this, calling shots and figuring out how long my days will be. There is a lot to consider. From some of the books, journals, and blogs I’ve been reading, I know sometimes rides back to a trailhead from town can come later than you might want (10am instead of 7am). So that means I should have a plan for fewer miles the day after a town – maybe. At least a backup shelter or campsite if the sun’s setting already and I’d like to eat dinner and sleep. This is how it will be, all of it. I can set nothing in stone. There’s an appeal and a fear in that. I cannot give an end date, and possibly not an end month until I’m well into the trail, and then I may have a better idea of the month. I’m curious to see what my first estimation is – that’s part of why I’d like to run through the book, state by state, and estimate each day: 10m, 15m, 17m. But the tricky part is knowing that somewhere along the trail, I’ll get what I call my “hiking legs” and 20 miles won’t be an impossibility like it is for me today, like it will be for me on day one. I have no way of guessing this. I can have a better idea of what I’m capable of after this summer, which will hopefully involve lots of hiking and camping.

And last, a shout-out

First, to my family for being so awesomely supportive of me. One member in particular has been really great, sending lots of advice (even books!) and ideas, and always support. To my friends, some of whom took it nonchalantly (“Why is this even a question? You’re going.”), some of whom took it kind of stunned (“What? The whole thing? You’re just gonna…go?”), but all of whom have been great (at least, the ones who have replied!). And to my company for proving again to be a great employer. The days I get frustrated get overpowered by the days I feel glad to be there. Being allowed to do this with high likelihood of returning to work (income) when I’m done is rare, I think. That I don’t have to quit and then plead to come back. There’s part of me that knows I probably would have gone anyway, but part of me really wonders. I don’t have to wonder now, though. Everyone took it so well, and I am incredibly grateful.

Adventure awaits.

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