Here’s a dangerous thing to do when you’ve just begun a doctoral program in a major city: read a memoir about hiking the Pacific Coast Trail.
|That’s Molly, and ridiculous dinner making
shenanigans, as if you couldn’t tell.
First there was the weekend to cook a whole pig at a food writers’ conference near Albany. Then there was the weekend in Cambridge, MA with a friend who will humor me with hours-long walks and then get ridiculous with me while we cook dinner together (hint: synchronized swimming legs, hot pink leggings and frilly aprons). And then there was the hiking weekend with a bunch of goofy, funny and lovely guys from college. I got to play den mother for a night and make a lot of dirty jokes. I got to clamber over rocks and moss and slippery logs. There was red clay mud and the smell of dusty dry leaves and the cold hitting balsam. There was drizzle and sunshine and stars. There were views and sweat and sore thighs.
|Pulling pork for an event Upstate.
Courtesy of Cook ‘n Scribble and
Of course, coming back to the City every Sunday night (or Monday morning if I really stretch it) is jarring. Driving back into the endless stretch of lights and traffic, I always feel the mountain of the week looming in front of me. How can I live the life I want to live, and how does this crazy city fit into it? What does striking balance mean? When do I make the choice and break the molds, and when do I remind myself to hold my damn horses and remember that making sure I can take care of myself in the world (a.k.a. working) is actually really important. And that getting to a place where the meaningful work is yours for the taking demands time and plenty of grunting along the way. At least if that kind of thing matters to you. I know it does to me.
|Driving up to the trailhead in the Catskills|
Because, though the instant gratification of a day spent in the garden, swimming in a lake, hiking in the woods or rolling out pie dough always tugs at me, I want a life that demands more than that. More introspection, more excavation. For all I like pushing up my sleeves to get my hands dirty, I love grabbing a pen and my tape recorder too. I love words and stories, teaching and learning. The elusive stuff. The stuff that fills in the cracks between the tangible. It all matters.
Cheryl Strayed and her Pacific Coast Trail? It’s probably not for me, except via stories (which, of course, I’ll keep reading. For the stories that get me out of my head. For both escape and grounding. For the narratives that point towards everything that’s bigger than we are). I’ve taken some very long walks myself– some literal, some figurative; some voluntary, some not so. But enough of them to know that there are times to cut ties and set yourself into motion, and there are other times to stay still, stick it out. Right now is the latter I think. And as Strayed wrote in another of her books, the only way to get the long slog kind of work done is to “get your ass on the floor”. Be humble. Be dogged. Cultivate patience. Do the harder thing.
So I repeat, like a mantra: Stay on your toes. Do the best you can. Pull on whichever boots the moment demands– the sassy polished high-heeled ones for date night in the City, the rubber ones for the mudflats at the edge of the sea, or the rugged weathered ones for the woods– and get at it. All of it. Climb and plod, think and walk, let it all be a part of the really long walk of your life.