A Walk in the Woods

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April 23 …

Appearances are deceiving. You are looking at segment of the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,200 miles from Georgia to Maine. I have pitched my tent in a campground nearby, in Shenandoah National Park. There is wilderness you can easily get lost in, but down the Blue Ridge mountain chain on both sides are towns and farms. Civil War battles raged fierce in the Shenandoah Valley to the west. To the east, Washington DC is within easy driving distance.

Skyline Drive, which runs through the Park, can best be regarded as an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway (or vice-versa). Together, the Drive and the Parkway constitute one of the most scenic drives in the world. Back in the early part of the twentieth century, people conceived of a national park that those living in the populated east could easily get to. That vision was realized in the 1930s, with the building of the Drive and the creation of the Park.

Accomplishing the mission required a bit of people removal. Not Indians, this time. White people – people living hardscrabble lives farming in the gulches and hollows and along the slopes. Hillbillies. To the city folk, these people were savages, which provided the justification for kicking them down into the valleys.

Decades later, they would get their revenge: First they became Reagan Democrats, then Republicans. Now they are part of Trump’s faithful. Back to the narrative …

Now we had another problem. Virginia, then a segregationist state, insisted on separate campgrounds and facilities. The FDR administration fought this tooth and nail, but they weren’t going to win this fight. Instead, they made sure African-Americans would enjoy the same amenities as whites. Where I pitched my tent that night was part of that history. The signage offers a clue …

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Also, part of the signage …

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I have used this quote on many occasions, along with other John Muir quotes. We can probably thank John Muir for the fact that we can still view two trees standing together, along with the added bonus that the air we breathe is at least one-fifth oxygen. One of Muir’s hiking buddies happened to be a sitting President of the United States, Teddy Roosevelt. TR was already an ardent naturalist, but Muir appeared to be the one who turned him into a conservationist. The result was a legacy of National Parks and Forests and Preserves.

Last we get complacent: There are forces that would turn every tree into wood chips that we export to China and Japan and reimport as particle board for buildings whose only useful purpose is to occupy the land now cleared of trees. Anyway, I had my short morning walk …

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In one 30-second stretch, I spotted a robin, bluebird, a finch-like bird, and a woodpecker, but the leaves and acorns on the ground were much more cooperative in posing for the camera. I take it they used to be attached to the flying skeletons of the oaks that dominated my overhead view …

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For good measure, my home for the night …

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Soon after pulling out in late morning, I found the northern part of Skyline Drive sealed off. No choice but to pick another route heading northeast. Minutes later, I’m on a road in the Shenandoah Valley …

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I am in a new world. The one I left behind is but a scenic backdrop in the far distance. I have already let my daughter in New York City know that I am just days away. In theory, I could be there by the afternoon of the next day. I will give myself more time, but already I am shifting into a different mindset. I have maybe one more night out in the open. Then I will be sleeping under roofs. They call this progress. It’s in the contract we all signed, the one where we neglected to read the fine print: The depressions and anxieties, the sleep deprivation, the cardio and autoimmune diseases, the alcohol and substance abuse. I could go on and on.

I should have a tee-shirt that reads: “I met my contractual obligations and all I have to show for it is my heart attack.”

Or, more accurately, the scars from my quadruple bypass surgery, but that would be problematic fitting onto a tee-shirt.

We really have no choice but to live our lives according to the terms of the contract we all signed, but within its many terms and conditions is a lot of wiggle-room. For starters, we can follow John Muir’s example: We can go out for a walk. We can stay. In the process, we can find a new sense of home.

 

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