Minding the Body

My mind springs in Spring like a frenzy of overshot pinballs. It races, paces, waiting for some kind of ‘ding.’ Not that pinball machines are a thing anymore. There is just a lot going on. Grateful to be vaccinated and over the side effects, my hubby and I decided we needed to break our homebody routines for the last days of April and hit the road. Our destination: Shenandoah National Park.

 


The history of the Park showcases a panoply of ways people displace and divide other people. First, European colonists pushed out the nomadic indigenous tribes who from what little we know hunted and gathered nothing more than they needed. Then the settlers took ownership of the mountains and gradually learned how to actually settle down in them, appreciate them, and make a living off them. No easy feat.

 

The land was logged and mined pretty bare. Throw in a civil war, industrialization, a drought, and a devastating chestnut tree blight, and it is not hard to imagine why the powers-that-be rounded up their Civilian Conservation Corps to turn the land into a park and rescue it from, well, ourselves. But the mountain people knew no other way to live, their unique and rich culture so deeply rooted that their very identity was defined by their land. Many of them were victimized with propaganda, their homes burned, and their livelihoods destroyed thanks to eminent domain.

 

It is tempting to ruminate on all this, to set about excavating ethical quandaries from the past and forge into best or worst-case futures. But all I was hoping for is that being in touch with these seen-it-all mountains for a few days might guide me to my own present. Not in gallery or speaker view.

 

So here it goes. I get dropped off at Simmons gap, ready for a solo section of 27-ish miles, heading north. I have three days with not one blessed pixel in sight, not counting my camera of choice.

 

With unexpected levels of pollen and heat, I sneeze and slog my way along the smooth trail resplendent with flowers, butterflies, and birdsong. I see why this section is called the rollercoaster. As opposed to the train wreck of Rocksylvania or the White Mountains. Still, it is a mixed bag of delight and discomfort. My unseasoned, blistered feet are like small, whining children, and I can’t blame them. My body has a lot to say. Doesn’t everybody’s? On the trail or not? Stop. Rest. I am not used to this. Go slow. Helloooo? I hurt. I am all mixed up inside. Afraid. Hungry as hell.

 

I always appreciate the A.T. community of friendly and colorful characters, and encounter a bunch of them at the first shelter vicinity where I pitch my tent. But this precious little time is mine alone, and I politely keep it that way.

 

After 11 miles on my second, too-hot day, I face a choice. Stop at Lewis Mountain Campground, right there in sight just off the trail, with all its people, SUVs, toilets, and camp store. Or walk another mile to a shelter area where other backpackers will have grabbed the best spots already. With the strict rule of no fires allowed. My feet scream, are you crazy? My whole body wants a picnic table. A fire. And I remind myself that this little walkabout is not about wilderness—there is none of that here. It is about being comfortable with my Self. So I comply, as have a few other backpackers, I notice. There is a difference between pushing one’s limits and just plain pushing. 

 

 

Later, as I sit with myself around the campfire, artfully collaging various shapes of moleskin and bandaids on my feet, I consider how odd it is that we tend to think of body and mind as two connected but separate entities when of course they are one and the same. But also, how there is nothing wrong with playing off this tendency for the sake of being present. Creatively coaxing an actual conversation between body and mind could be a good coping-thing. Ding!

 

As I polish off every last high-sodium morsel of Mountain House Chicken and Dumplings then move swiftly on to the rest of my Payday bar, this much is clear: The more I am able to read my own body’s custom-made, multi-faceted language, the better I can cope with the weight, the heat, all the hard stuff of life.

 

And sometimes there is a need for hard stuff, my body tells me. Something different. Do I venture up an optional rock scramble to feel the wind in my hair after countless miles of sweaty sameness? Hell yeah. The same can apply to emotional realms and ruts.

 

 

Minding the body begins with one intentional moment. One moment of leaning in to gaze at, or feel, whatever is then and there. Bitter or sweet.

 

 

 

 

Now, the pulsating mound of red embers hisses farewell, silenced by a bottle of today’s Appalachian spring.

 

Now, I am bone tired. Unlike the owls and bobcats, barely audible above the chatter of campers pushing the limits of quiet hours. I am glad I chose this place, though. I learn from a kiosk that it was the park’s only designated campground for Black people during segregation, remaining a necessary place of refuge until the Civil Rights movement got its toe-hold. I feel awed and privileged to be here.

 

Now, right before tumbling into my tiny tent, I switch my headlamp off. And I bend my head back to let the clear, navy sky sink into my eyes along with the only twinkling string of diamonds I ever wanted.

 

It’s not up to the mountains, how we walk within them. The present moment is a gift the body can give the mind. Anywhere. From which compassion can grow. For Self, then Others, as with the proverbial oxygen mask. How can I hope to interpret the language of other bodies if I am not fluent in my own?

 

When my Skin is pierced by a broken world,
may i draw her a candlelit bath.

When my Hair declares I am wild, I am free!
may i practice just letting her be.

When my Fingers twitch like fish in the air,
may i find them a river of play.

When my Arms grow stiff and numb with cold,
may i welcome a warm embrace.

When my Nose discerns a toxic air,
may i fashion a rainbow of masks.

When my Tongue compares the bitter to sweet
may i learn to appreciate both.

When my Feet and Legs ask Shall we dance?
may i smile, rise up, say Yes.

When my Spine is wrapped with razor wire,
may my Tears corrode the blades.

When my Gut gives me another clue,
may I show my gratitude.

When my Eyes tell me the Earth is a jewel,
may i understand what this means.

When my Ears take in a mourning dove’s call,
may my Heart take wing to answer.

And when my Heart quivers alone in the night,
may i sit by her side until dawn.

 

More to come around the bend…

5 Responses to “Minding the Body

  • God, how beautiful!

  • Peter and Elsa
    6 months ago

    We are again so inspired by another wonderful thought provoking blog, bursting with pride as we read your words and view your beautiful photos. You have incredible creative gifts, ever-evolving and continuing to expand, just as your life journeys continue to widen your horizons, whether on a hiking trail or in your home studio. Your blogs reach out and connect with us, visually and mentally, and make us feel that we’re virtually with you on the trail and at the campsite (without any blisters and aching bodies). THANK YOU for sharing your weekend with us! Love, Mummeth, Dad, David ❤️😍🤗

    • Aw thanks guys, glad I can ‘bring you along’ with me this way. And actually, I carry you all in my Heart wherever I roam… xox

      • Elsa and Peter
        6 months ago

        You are always in our hearts too… no borders keep our love away! ❤️❤️❤️

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