Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Re Entry

Coming home from a thru-hike hurts.  It is often masked by eating mountains of ubiquitous food, luxuriating in melt-your-skin-off hot showers, and sleeping in just because there is a bed covered in blankets.  But, once that initial joy has worn off , it hurts.  You have experienced something you cannot explain to others, but so desperately want to convey yourself.  The ineffable struggles, triumph, and insignificance that only someone how has lived out of a backpack for months can feel places you closer to most homeless people than your family.  In our society, most homeless people are viewed as crazy and you begin to wonder about yourself.  You are stuck in the position of being type cast as a person by an experience you cannot reiterate.

The isolation haunts you.

Clouds make you cry.  Birds cause you awe.  Everything moves so fast. Food begins to taste beyond divine, only then to nauseate you as your stomach stretches back to normal size.  People you once found comfort in now seem trivial.  The practices that once caused relaxation now feel vapid.  You are left re-defining everything in your life - relationships, occupations, basic choices.  You're a freak, and only you know it, for no one else has changed.

Watching my child go through this has been both heart-breaking and frustrating.  I can not ease his pain; no one can.  The lasting effects will exist within him forever. At first he toggled wildly between extreme isolation - taking 5 mile walks during the day to sketch or "just be alone" - and extreme clinging - not wanting Jules or I out of his sight even to sleep or use the bathroom.  This has slowed down now that we have been home for over a month, but he still has difficulty sleeping and struggles with fitting in with friends he once played with so happily.  He does not wish to talk about the hike with anyone except Jules and I, and even then it is only in passing or as a descriptor.  Quite often his reason is simple, "I don't want to be the weird kid."

I would love to claim that I have fared better, but my response was similar.  Unable to explain myself to others, I retreated dramatically, cried a lot, found our meager life gluttonous, and felt unworthy of most everything around me.  Jules and I bickered almost constantly about matters so trivial they could only be masking much larger emotional insecurity.  Divorce was mentioned, frequently.  So, The Barracuda and I play "the weird kid" together, and I try to steady the rocking boat that is our family.

We read a lot more now, if that was even possible.  Our discussions of classical literature have jumped a few more octaves as The Barracuda now has so much more suffering to relate to.  So much of the heroes epic, the plight of the human condition, the experience of the outcast, have now been felt first hand.  We read Ozymandias and after extracting its description, The Barracuda will come at me with "Human life is so fragile.  Why do we hold onto it so tightly?....It's like we go Lennie on it and never give it a chance." (Lennie is a reference to a very simple-minded character from Of Mice and Men who loves things so much he doesn't realize his own strength and crushes them with misplaced affections.)  These are questions that have no answers from me.  Do they have any answers anywhere?  These are the reasons classical literature will remain enduring the times.  Now he gets it in a way I could never teach, and he's not letting go anytime soon.

It requires a whole new level of emotional honesty from me and character education.  I'll admit, as of late I'm falling a bit short.  In so many ways, that is the brutally tough part of the whole lesson: we can work, and strive, and get infinitely close, but in the end we all fall short somewhere.  We have never coddled our son, or sheltering him from the world in some misguided attempt at innocence.  Innocence is a way of approaching the world when you know all there is; naive is being ignorant to the darkness.  If there is one thing we never want it is an ignorant child.  So we talk, and we read, and we forge into the unknown of where we are going.

All of this might seem remarkably bleak or at least a very distressing outlook to come home to.  However this topsy-turvey life re-evaluation and personal soul searching is what any great pilgrimage requires.  Religion must be worked at...If you truly take religion seriously it has to transform you.  We are transcendentalists.  To hike is to live our faith, not merely out-of-the-box as Thoreau did, but more in the fashion of John Muir.  We wish to get our hands, lives, and souls dirty, not just play at kitchy, counter-cultural references.  We wish to stretch ourselves: to grow into the uncomfortable places and to be chanted by what we find there.
"And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey of miles, a journey of one inch, very arduous, and humble and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at our feet and learn to be at home."
~Wendell Barry; "Unforeseen Wilderness"

Our very arduous, humble and joyful journey has brought us back to look at our own feet and rediscover home.

5 thoughts:

Anonymous said...

when i have a couple of days of i head up a mountin and camp for as long as possible. (i am in england so the terrain is a bit nicer here)
i stayed in a tent and wild camping for two mounths a couple of years ago. one night after i got home i got up to go to the loo. i could not find the zip to the tent.after a short time i realised that i was in my bedroom and got of my knees.
the only thing i long for when at work or at home is to be away in my little tent. weather hiking or away on the motor bike. i know the feeling and how horrible it is.

god bless and i love you blog. you seem to have a wonderful family and and life.

Anonymous said...

I don't like either the word or the thing. People ought to saunter in the mountains - not hike! Do you know the origin of that word 'saunter?' It's a beautiful word. Away back in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, "A la sainte terre,' 'To the Holy Land.' And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not 'hike' through them.
- John Muir, quoted by Albert Palmer in A Parable of Sauntering .

Mel said...

I imagine that like most people, you put so much time/thought/effort into preparing for the hike. During the hike, there is not much else you can think about (well, maybe food :). But I don't many people prepare for how they will handle life "after." I suppose you can't really plan for that since you don't know how the journey will change you, only that it will. Sounds like you are letting yourselves feel your way though it.


Jules here...I'm so humbled by my little man and my wife. I hiked the Appalachian Trail when I was 18 years old, and I remember not sleeping in a real bed for close to 3 years after that experience. I worked for a significant part of my life surrounded by long distance hikers and other outdoors people who have done simply extraordinary things that still boggle my mind, but nothing could have prepared Brynn or I for the challenges of talking to the Barracuda about readjusting from his trail experience. If you haven't experienced it, Brynn masterfully captured the experience; it is overwhelming for most adults. Despite the Barracuda's maturity and talents, he is still our little guy. In a way our journey has just began. This one involves living out the values, lessons, and challenges learned during the hike and incorporating them into our everyday lives. We are blessed, but the road is bumpy.

Anonymous said...

Very eloquent, Brynn. As you know, I did CA in 85 and OR & WA in 87; the following 5 summers I did field work, then lived basically outside for 3 years (until 97). From 85-87 I lived in a 16 ft trailer while in college at UC Santa Crus. I'm grateful that I was somewhere that I could ease back in. I still think in terms of having plenty of food, water, place to pee/poop, and sleep. It is life changing and I am looking forward to rehiking it in 2015 with my son who will be 11 yo then.

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