Fools for Hiking, Fools for Love

Reading Gail Storey's new book I Promise Not to Suffer, brought to mind a book I once became fascinated with when I lived in Wyoming - Seven Half-Miles from Home by Wyoming artist and naturalist Mary Back.  Suffering from circulation problems bad enough to kill her, Mary was eventually unable to walk more than one mile. Determined not to stay inside, she plotted out seven half-mile trails radiating out from her house, one path for each day of the week.  Every morning before breakfast, she took a different route—out half a mile, back half a mile.

"Each walk brings her home through another world—the world of the living river, the boggy meadows and swamps, the fence rows, the thickets, the forests, her human neighbors yards and gardens, and the desert.  All these worlds form a great circle—the circle rotates around Mary and she around it.”  (From Crossing Wyoming by David Romtvedt.)

I love the intimacy of Mary’s paths, how each led her home—but I also love how she understood that within a half-mile radius of her home existed a world so large in scope that it would take her a lifetime to know every nuance, every season, every tiny inhabitant.  

In the essay collection Hiking Alone: Trails Out, Trails Home, New Mexico author Mary Beath writes, “The land itself wraps you in a new skin. But you also feel your own skin turn inside out…You swallow the landforms and open meadows and forests whole; and they swallow you.”

Circling the world.  Swallowing the land.  What is this hunger many of us have to leave our comfortable domesticated lives for the discomfort of nature’s rocky and arduous trails?  

Gail Storey promised not to suffer when she agreed to hike the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband.  I’m not talking a half-mile trail here.  I’m talking about a 2,663-mile trail from Mexico (south of the border) to Canada (north of the border).  Amazing!  

“I was shocked into my own existence,” writes Gail after hiking a sleet-covered switchback while being pelted with wind and ice, “born wet and confused on all fours on the muddy earth, deep in the loamy musk of it.” 

Yes, we do yearn for this primal reconnection, this reentry into our origins.  Not all of us, but enough of us that we hunger for stories like Gail’s because they remind us that we are not alone in this yearning, not alone in our desire to balance the exhale of our frantic lives with the inhale of nature’s rhythms.

Featured in the Denver Post May 14, 2013
Gail’s husband Porter estimated the trip would take six months, beginning with late spring storms in southern California, and culminating with early fall blizzards in northern Washington.   
Each chapter of I Promise Not to Suffer begins with a reference to distance, which helps us get our bearings:  We’re this far from Mexico.  We’re this far from Canada.  
For the reader, though, the journey is not so much a linear undertaking marked mile by mile on a map, as it is an emotional journey—taking us into the depths of our own lives subtly and gracefully as Gail navigates the emotional terrain of woman, wife, partner, and daughter. She does this far more gracefully than she was able to navigate the physical terrain of the PCT (she portrays her occasional “ungrace” with a witty, humorous flair).  

This is a funny and poignant read.  And so artfully crafted that it’s easy to miss the simple elegance of her prose.  Gail is a fool for love, and when she waxes poetic about Porter, I find myself enthralled.  “When he holds me, light-boned against his sculpted muscles, I know I’m being held. No matter how deeply I look into his gray-green eyes, I never touch bottom.”  

Nature can cradle us too, sheltering us within sculpted river alcoves, offering majestic heights so our dreams can take flight, or drawing our gaze down to the tiniest Bleeding Heart, reminding us that the pulse of all we love beats deep beneath every step we take. 


Gail Storey said…
Thank you for this sensitive and insightful review, Page. You make even me want to read I Promise Not to Suffer, and I've already read it a bazillion times. ;-D Congratulations on your Colorado Authors' League Blog of the Year Award, that's huge and well deserved!
Page Lambert said…
Gail, it was a joy to read your book...and though I didn't mention it specifically in the post, your journey with your mother, shared so subtly yet movingly, touched a cord as I remembered my own journeys while my mother was dealing with cancer. Thank you, Gail. I believe our books should truly be gifts to the reader, and yours certainly is.
Christy Heady said…
Page, it is always a pleasure to read your blog. Congratulations on your Colorado Authors League Blog of the Year Award! :-) That is so exciting!

The picture of the bleeding hearts touched me deeply . . . I haven't seen those flowers since I was a little girl. Seeing the photo was like a gentle whisper saying, "come back" ... those bleeding hearts are sweet and fragile, as being a young girl can be. Thank you for the lovely reminder. :-)

Much love,

Page Lambert said…
Christy, how lovely to hear from you and to know that the photo of the bleeding hearts resonated so deeply. When I was on the ranch, I had a beautiful bleeding heart bush that bloomed with great deep pink flowers on deep green stems. It was truly amazing that it did so well in our tough Wyoming winters. But alas, the spring I left, it was uprooted - accidentally, I think, but still such a profound metaphor for all we were going through. Much love to you, too, Christy. What fun to see you featured on RED ROOM!
Mary Hagen said…
Dear Page,
Nice comments about Mary Back, etc. What a great way to keep hiking with ailments. We should all do it.
Hi Mary. Yes, we should all create our own 7 'half-mile' walks from home. What an inspiration. Thank you.
Mary Pellerito said…
Another book to add to my library. I have been stuck at home, more or less, for the last three years so I needed to get my nature fix in my own backyard. And oh the wonders I saw and experienced.
Hi Mary. Our backyards can be some of the most intimate, nurturing (and nurtured) places. Those of us who have yards? What a blessing! Thanks for taking a moment to write.

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