Sunday, June 27, 2010
The guiding principle of outdoor ethics for environmentalists, hikers, campers and outdoors-people is “leave no trace.” It refers to methods intended to leave a natural habitat and its surroundings in the same state as it was found.
For many years, I could apply this principle to our marriage. Despite years of our union, I was always feeling left in the same state as I was the day before I met my husband.
The benchmark for this dilemma became his annual Appalachian Trail treks –yearly expeditions to various Eastern states which would leave me, and eventually me and our children, alone. The sheer disengagement that occurred each year, the first time being the first year we met, sent us immediately into counseling. How could he leave someone he loved so easily? The intention of completing the nearly 2,200 mile trail, from Maine to Georgia, had been his most pressing goal in life. It still is. For a long, long time, it superseded even getting or having me. Nothing would get in the way of his hikes.
The months of training to get into shape; his ongoing planning, mapping and purchasing of all the necessary equipment and food; and the sheer delight he took in knowing that this blessed event was forthcoming overshadowed much in our real life, most especially me. He said that this experience gave him a total physical challenge, and a mental cleansing that he could not find anywhere else. He also said that the experience of survival sharpens ones’ skills and reminds him of what’s important. I can honestly say that I felt the very same way during his absence, and would rehash the knowledge of this just before he arrived back home.
This year, he’s traveling during the middle of July, and again in September. Completion of these remaining passages, nearly 800 miles from home, will ensure that he will finish the entire trail at Mount Katahdin (in Maine) next year. At that point, he will be accompanied by my stepson who will travel 1,000 miles to complete this with his father, a symbolic passage of rights, since he is now interested in undertaking a similar course.
Each year, I grapple with the fact that I’ve been left. Plain and simple. It doesn’t matter that I understand his interest (I do, since I’ve hiked some of it, too); cheer on his magnificent drive to complete the Trail (I also do) or compassionately know and understand the necessity to return to nature as much as possible to recharge, revitalize and revisit one’s life. To stand alone within nature, without a cell phone, Blackberry or computer is to rewind all those internal tapes, all the noise and all the daily obligations and responsibilities, and just live. I know this. It’s just the ‘alone’ part that I have not been able to understand.
You know the ‘Life Is Good’ shirts with the logo of the solitary backpacker on the front? That’s really my husband. The one with the dog next to him is purely symbolic. He hates to travel in a group.
Which brings me back to his hike. This year, I’m determined to live this differently. Perhaps the years have softened me; perhaps the knowledge that he’s nearly completed the Trail has given me more juice to continue this process. For once, I’m realizing that his flight away from us isn’t about me, or us, but really about him -- his desires, his achievements, and his limitations. I want this new perspective to have a real impact on me this year – one which will empower me and not leave me feeling so alone. And, I want to recharge and renew like he does. I just don’t want him to leave me with no trace left behind.