vegan week 6

and other thoughts

This (pic above) is what I saw when I unzipped my tent flap and turned my head to the sky- at around 5:30 this morning. My camera does some strange things that turns the greyness just before dawn into a baby blue color- it wasn’t blue- but I liked how the fringe of the trees framed the picture.

I had stuck my head out to look for the owl that was calling, again and again, getting all its words in before the sun sneaked over the hills in the east. I went outside to sleep last night hoping for an owl- and just as I was beginning to think about coffee and the fire that I was going to make in the fireplace when I got inside- the owl started in. And what a lovely song. Five notes- three in quick succession, and then a breath, and two longer ones. It was a great horned owl.

One of my new year challenges is to spend at least one night per month sleeping out of doors. Back yard campouts count! And so, yesterday afternoon I pitched my tent out in the woods behind the house and retreated after dinner- with my headlamp, three pillows, sleeping bag and sleeping pad in a wheelbarrow- like some great adventurer.

It was a peaceful night, very still and windless. I slept well, got my owl fix, and was indoors sipping coffee, with my tent all packed up, by 7 AM.

This week’s vegan adventures included dishes of the “stuffed and filled” category and, I would offer that they were not the best. I was inspired by the new Forks Over Knives mag for “Winter 2022” and made their black bean and corn empanadas and the tofu and vegetable momos with tomato chutney. Both the empanadas and the momos called for simple doughs but they lacked a certain grace and were each, in their own way, too heavy. I made the empanadas more like a calzone- one big filled pocket. The filling was good- corn, beans, jalapeños, red pepper and onion- but the whole affair was a little flat. The dough was tough and the filling cried out for some cheese. I mashed up some avocado with lemon and served that on top:

The momos had a great filling- cabbage, carrot, tofu, lots of garlic and ginger… but the dough was heavy. The tomato chutney (tomatoes pan roasted, garlic and cilantro) was delish. It’s always fun to make steamed buns but next time, I’d look for a lighter dough. This one was made with ww flour:

Winning in the category of “stuffed or filled things” was the vegan “sushi” that I made. I used a bunch of different fillings: cucumber, red pepper, sprouts, tofu, buffalo spiced soy nuggets, avocado, toasted sesame seeds, asparagus, vegan cream cheese and, of course, sushi rice seasoned with rice vinegar. Wasabi and pickled ginger on the side, of course. I also made a miso soup with green veggies.

The winning dish of the week, though, was one that I threw together on a night when I had a late meeting. It was roasted green veggies on a bed of rice with spinach on the bottom and home-sprouted alfalfa on the top. Simple. Easy. Not pretending to be anything that it wasn’t. (that’s probably why I liked it.)

One more check in: on running.

I’ve finished Week 5 of the Couch to 5 K program, running 2.5 miles three times this week and walking on three other days. Running is still slow. I don’t think I’ll ever regain my former running speed. And running with my Covid stress gut is not fun- it’s like carrying a 20 pound backpack on your front. But I’m doing it. Crossing off the squares on the calendar. Because- why? Some days I wonder. But I always feel good when it’s done, and so, there’s that.

Today we are going to do an icy-muddy-snowy hike up to Center Point Knob, our favorite local spot on the AT. Cheers.

vegan week 5

Just a few things to report on this week in the continuing vegan journey…

a road trip, a “nope,” and a “yes.”

farm in Wellsboro, PA

Last weekend I traveled up north to Mansfield for my Sunday visitation at St James and then over to Wellsboro on Sunday afternoon for the Celebration of New Ministry of Fr. Ed Erb. It was a joy to be in the Northern Tier of the diocese- mountains, rolling farmland, and temperatures that dipped way below 0 on my car thermometer. (In Buttonwood on the way up, my thermometer told me it was -10!). A parishioner at St James presented me with a beautiful set of hand warmers (fingerless gloves) and an infinity scarf woven from wool from her sheep. I’ve been to the England’s farm during lambing season and seen the beauty of birth among the sheep in the paddocks; it was lovely to receive this gift, knowing the long path from sheep to shearing, spinning and knitting. The vegan lifestyle is not keen on the use of animals for human benefit (no leather belts, shoes, silk fabrics, woolen wear) and while I agree that the slaughter of animals for leather is egregious, I don’t really see how the shearing of sheep for the gathering of wool is harmful – unless it is done in an abusive manner. I’m trying on the vegan lifestyle from a dietary perspective, mostly- some hard core vegans would say that you can’t call yourself a vegan unless you subscribe to all its ethical principles, not just its dietary ones… that you need to say, instead, that you are “following a plant based diet,” but I’m still in a learning place with all of this. I have eschewed meat, dairy and honey from my diet.. and gladly received the generous and lovely gift of wool hand warmers and scarf…

In my time up North I attended a celebratory dinner following the service at St Paul’s. This was the event that was in response to last week’s query, “So, just what does the bishop eat?” I was a little anxious, feeling as though I was “putting people out” for the sake of my dietary adventure… and so when they presented me with a plate of vegetables, rice, a vegan-“chicken” cutlet with a vegan red sauce and a fantastic chocolate-avocado-vegan-coconut milk-pie… I was not only well fed, but touched. I felt very cared for. Thank you, kitchen crew at St. Paul’s!

This week we tried soy curls. Big “nope.” I just couldn’t get the weirdness of this food out of my mind. These poor soybeans had been picked, rinsed, soaked, dried, packaged, rehydrated, squeezed dry, and sautéed. That’s a lot of processing for a “not processed” food. They looked weird and tasted weird and the worst part was the texture. It was like eating a bland sponge. Hubby seemed ok with it. We used them in a fajita bowl with roasted onion and peppers, shiitake mushrooms, avocado… all the Mexican yummy flavors… but even after sautéing the soy curls in vegan butter and chili powder and lime, it was still a big “nope” from me.

The “yes” of the week was a return to an old African standard that I’ve made for years- groundnut (peanut) stew, served over quinoa with hemp hearts on top. Colorful, filling, protein rich and nothing pretending to be something that it wasn’t. Here it is:

African groundnut stew

I’m also trying to dial back the calories, now, and address my Covid-waistline. That’s going ok as long as I can keep my breakfast and lunch modest and enjoy a dinner like the one above. The running is going well, too- I do love a training schedule.

Until next week, be well!

vegan week four

and other adventures

So, after last week’s offering of how I like “straight up vegan,” I tried some of the “vegan products” out there that mimic different non-vegan foods- just so I could be certain of what I thought was true- for me: We tried seitan this week- a wheat product that when smushed up and flavored and rolled out into long rectangles and then cooked on a cookie sheet is supposed to resemble bacon. Eh. I had made a butternut squash and sage risotto and thought that some crumbled “bacon” on top might make a nice addition but… nope. I liked the risotto well enough on its own. I also bought – via Amazon- some “soy curls” which I’ve read about; they come looking like pale Cheetos in a bag and, apparently when you rehydrate them, you can use them in various dishes as a “chicken-like” substance. They are made from non-GMO whole soybeans that are processed without chemicals and without additives or preservatives. You soak them to plump them up and then stir into whatever you are making that needs a little bulk, a little oomph. I dunno. I’ll give it a shot (I had to buy 3 bags to fill my order) so we’ll see how it goes. Soy curls feel a little bit to me like Soylent Green (remember that 1973 dystopian thriller?) and without even busting into the bag, I’m skeptical… but come back next week and I’ll let you know.

I made a vegan shepherd’s pie this week that was good enough that my husband told me to “quit my day job and open a vegan restaurant,” and a pretty good “standard” veggie and tofu curry on basmati rice (pictured above). The hit of the week, though, for me, was a “Bombay Burrito” (see http://www.feastingathome.com) which included roasted cauliflower and chickpeas rolled up with curried mashed potatoes, raw spinach, coriander-mint chutney and pickled red onions. HEAVEN. I’d eat one of those every day of the week, if I could.

I think that at some point, I’ll fall into a rhythm like most cooks do, with a list of favorites and some easy, quick meals for nights when I’m just too beat to cook, but for now, this adventure into a whole new culinary profile is still exciting and new. I sense that “experienced vegans” enjoy meals that are, of their own right, wholesome and complete without trying to mimic something else- I’m wondering if I’ll get to that place in my menu planning and cooking in the next 11 months.

In the land of “other adventures,” I revived one of my New Year’s resolutions from last year: Spend at least one night per month sleeping out of doors. I did pretty well last year, missing only March, September, October and December, (I think)… and had actually forgotten all about my self-imposed challenge until a friend asked me in October how it was going. Seems that the other 8 months had found me on one trip or another and I had, without being too intentional about it, done pretty well. So, last night, I camped out in the back yard, eager to get January in the books for 2022 before it turns to February next week.

Wobbles, the non-camping kitty!

My tent is an old Kelty Horizon2. I love it and have dragged its 3 pound weight around with me on a few trips, now. I’m turning my gaze towards some lighter backpacking tents these days (and saving my pennies) but I love my Kelty. On clear nights you can roll the fly back and star gaze through the mesh top. Last night it was way too windy -and even a little snowy- to roll anything back. I had to tether the tent to bricks because the ground was frozen, and I tested my sleeping bag’s limits: the bag is rated for 15 degrees and it got down to 17.

This was “glamping,” for sure: I had two pillows, an inflatable pad, another accordion pad… there were enough layers between me and the snow-covered yard to make me feel like the Princess and the Pea. It was a mostly peaceful night except that the wind whipped around and the fly brushed up against the side of the tent again and again leading me to imagine that there might have been a skunk, dog, groundhog…. out there. (Do skunks and groundhogs hibernate?). Anyway, I got up around 6, took a spooky picture from my tent, and headed inside for an “indoor campfire” and coffee.

our back yard from the tent

Here’s to a healthy and happy week ahead!

vegan week three

Well, almost Week Three. It’ll be three weeks tomorrow. But this is when I have time to write: on Week Two plus 6 days.

I am still loving exploring new recipes as we take on this new way of eating. It’s not intuitive, yet, but I am making a discovery: I prefer to eat straight up vegan foods and not attempt to re-create “meat foods” with vegan stand-ins. For example: I’m fine with chick pea or black bean burgers, but am actually grossed out at the thought of eating “pretend beef” burgers. I used to love bacon, but I am not running to try that recipe that takes banana peels and liquid smoke to bake up a bacon-like substitute. I am not sure about this product that I saw in the store called “just eggs” that is not at all eggs, (it’s made from mung bean protein isolate); it comes in a pourable container for making something scrambled to resemble eggs. I prefer to just scramble up some tofu if I want that texture.

Now, I’m not an expert in the “vegan-but-trying-to-taste-like-something-else” line of foods- I’ve only tried a few like jackfruit breakfast “sausage” patties (the flavor was really great!) and I have cooked up some soy “nuggets” on a night when something like chicken nuggets was what I wanted to complement something else that I was making (limp, pretty blah) but… nah, I like vegan, straight up. What helped me to make this distinction- besides my trial and error- was a new podcast that I’ve been listening to: “How to Vegan” where the author did a whole episode on what she calls “vegan swaps” and enthusiastically offered a list of things to try. I’ll try some more, I guess, but for now, I’m loving my hours in the kitchen.

I cooked exclusively this week from this book:

It was a gift from my daughter. (Thanks, Harry.). It had some real high notes (mushroom lasagna and saag “plant-neer”) which, surprisingly, came close to being “vegan- but- trying- to- taste- like- something else,” but the winner, for me, was the butternut squash-lentil tacos. (pictured at the top). I love tacos.

I had my first “awkward moment” when I got a nice inquiry from a church where I’ll be visiting for a service followed by a festive dinner. They’d caught wind of the change in my diet and asked “So, what does the bishop eat?” I’m still trying to work out a gracious answer to that without sounding like a registered dietician or a pain in the neck.

Your ideas, recipes, wisdom welcomed!

vegan week two

sorting it all out

roasted broccoli rabe and lemon on a bed of farro with butter beans

Here is as delicate a way that I can think of to say this: my gut is in transition.

After decades of enjoying meat, eggs and dairy alongside loads of veggies, fruits and grains, my digestive system is learning and adjusting to a new way. I didn’t know how “stuck” I was… until I was not.

I am learning how to fuel myself for optimal energy and health and it feels like my digestion is in the process of an overhaul. On some days, I tilt too hard towards fiber. I think that chia seeds need to be moderated in my diet. And in these cold winter days I lean towards “bready carbs” and don’t want to eat cold orange slices or chunks of melon or the crispy apple waiting for me in the bottom drawer of the fridge. I want root vegetable soup and things spiced with turmeric, cumin and cinnamon. Steaming oat milk kissed with a teaspoon of molasses and topped with grated nutmeg is a treat. I am enjoying whole grains- farro, quinoa, oats, brown rice- in ways that, in former days, would have made me feel guilty. It’s a new mindset and my insides are responding.

My outsides are less quick to respond. A year of anxiety and dis-ease and conflict and worry (Hello, pandemic. Hello, hard stuff at work) has left me with an emotional eating blanket of an extra 25 pounds. It feels awful and, truth be told, in addition to the work of lugging it around, the “how could you let this happen to yourself?” voices are pretty loud and persistent. That’s not helpful.

I started “running” this past week, committed to a couch to 5 K program that I have used before to jump start myself after not running for a while. In the first week it calls for three days of 1.5 mile runs (I’ve been doing 2 miles since that is the length of the road from our driveway to the big road and back) and two other days of walking. The “running” is kind of comical- a 12 minute mile- and it’s happening in the dark, with a jacket on and a headlamp and woolen hat with ear flaps and gloves and… oh, how I wish I could go back to the gym! (too scared of catching Covid there). Yesterday, I talked with a parishioner from one of our churches who mentioned that he has been a marathon runner for years. He asked me “what was your favorite marathon that you ran?” and we were off, talking about all of the cool races that we’d done in years past. It was energizing and motivating to remember that once I was an accomplished runner. (Bermuda was my favorite marathon.)

Today I set out on a two day work trip that will call for packing up lots of food- a lunch for work and then a dinner and breakfast and another lunch to tide me over in the hotel and on my way back home on Sunday evening. There’s lots of good leftovers from the week to take along (I made a killer roasted red pepper and walnut spread to go on pita, there’s some soup left, some quinoa tabouli, fruit and a coconut milk yogurt… all good to go)… but first, that “run…”

vegan week one

garlicky black beans on arugula with salsa, guac and vegan sour cream

Honestly, this isn’t much different than how we usually eat… or, at least, how I approach cooking. We love ethnic food, I cook most of the week’s dishes on Monday (my day off) and, if we heed the directions on the sticky notes on the refrigerator Tupperware (Quinoa and chick pea stew for Tuesday dinner; tofu salad for sandwiches; vegetable Thai curry and coconut rice for Thursday nite, etc.) then we get to the end of the week well fed and happy. Lunch has always been a conglomeration of whatever dinner leftovers are kicking around and breakfast- well, I’m the only breakfast eater in the house. This week for breakfast I’ve been eating bowls of bran heated with oat milk, almond butter and coconut yogurt, alternated with green smoothies made from kale, plant based protein powder, oat milk and berries all blended into a drinkable green shake.

Of course, we haven’t tried eating out. (Omicron.)

We haven’t had any dinner invitations to negotiate. (Potentially awkward.)

I only had one hilarious experience on the airplane last week when the flight attendant offered me a choice of 2 lunch entrees (pimento cheese sandwich or turkey sandwich) and clutching my folded hands to my chest, I shouted (as if she couldn’t hear me or as if I were speaking to someone who didn’t speak my language,)”I’m keeping a vee-gan diet. Can you help me?” OMG. Honestly. She came back with some hummus and raw veggies. I also had purchased a stash of vegan goodies from Whole Foods before leaving and parceled out my cashew bites, mushroom jerky and rice crackers during the day’s flight. I was well fed.

So. Week one- pretty smooth sailing.

Next week I begin my couch to 5 K program. I will also look to up the ante on veggies and see if I can keep my protein up while reducing what is becoming a love affair with almond butter.

Until then, here’s to vegetables!

Why vegan 2022

Vegan.

“You know it’s no meat, no dairy, no eggs, no honey…

...you know that, right?”

“Yes, I know.”

But you love roast chicken, beef stew, and steak on Sundays. A thin slice of a perfectly cured prosciutto, a wedge of parmigiano reggiano…”

“Yes, I know.”

“And what about these two words: Ice. Cream. Huh?!.”

“Yeah, I know. But I also know this…I need a change. A big change.”

2021 was rough. A pandemic. Big shape-shifting challenging stuff at work. Family stuff.

I held on for the first year of the pandemic, but in the second year I gave in. I gave in to a second piece of toast with almond butter because- why not? I stopped going to the gym because I was afraid of the Delta variant. I worked too many nights and rose at 4 AM to do email and finished each day with a nightcap of more email. Like others, I stood in the spray of anger, disappointment, fear, indecision, and anxiety from lots of directions. But I got soaking wet and… I just don’t want to live my 2022 that way. It’s time to do something different. And, as I’ve watched myself for the last 63 years, I’ve learned that when I am feeling overwhelmed or in need of a boost, the answer is a challenge.

I love a challenge. I didn’t know how competitive I was until I was in my mid forties and discovered running. I trained for and ran five marathons, a handful of half marathons and a duathlon. I didn’t compete against the other runners (I started this thing in middle age, after all) but I ran against myself. The training was the best part. Sticking to a schedule, running in all sorts of weather, crossing off the daily runs on a chart on my office wall… it was exhilarating. And, when I got to race day, a running friend reminded me that the race itself was “just the victory lap after all the work.”

And so, this year, 2022, I’m going to run again… and I’m going to go vegan. I don’t plan on running any marathons- my calendar can’t manage that, but I’m going to get moving again at a pace that will get my blood pumping.

But why vegan? Why that?

Well, cooking is a thing for me. I love it. It is a spiritual practice and a hobby and a creative outlet. And cooking within the boundaries of a new system will be its own challenge.

And food is an easy go-to when I’m stressed. Adopting a healthier menu profile will be a help to lose my Covid weight and promote health benefits of better cardiovascular health (my father died of a heart attack in his 30s) and lower blood sugar staving off the risk of Type 2 diabetes that looms with a physique like mine.

There are all sorts of environmental reasons to go to a plant based diet and I am just learning about them: reducing soil erosion, assisting in water conservation, reducing energy consumption, and improving air quality are some of the top reasons. And there are the ethical reasons, too, that center on being good stewards of our global resources, our relationship to animals, our place in the chain of creation… Besides the dietary implications, there’s lots to learn. I am intrigued.

And so, here we go.

“You know it will be awkward.”

“Yes, I know. “

I eat out a lot for my work. I travel. I work nights. I go to functions where people express their appreciation by offering food and showing hospitality by putting on a spread. And so, I’ll do my best to be gracious. And hope to develop a way to keep to my plan with integrity without being lugubrious or tedious.

And, if you can stand it, I’ll report on my progress here.

I pray for 2022 to bring new learning, new patterns, health and wholeness.

walking by

I

In the early morning, when the stars are like jewels in the inky sky

and my breath turns to tiny clouds in front of my face

I walk.

I look silly:

headlamp on top of striped woolen hat

orange-green-yellow leggings

a black down jacket with a reflective safety vest on top.

but it’s dark and no one can see how silly I look- until it’s not dark. And I’m pacing along, looking like a side show escapee from the circus.

I walk on country roads lined with cornfields, and soybeans.

The shadowy tall cornstalks look like a million sentries standing guard- silent, and a little spooky. (Something could hide in those rows of corn.)

There is a farm house down the lane that has a single light burning.

Coming closer, I can see that it is the lonely light of the kitchen, a bare bulb suspended over an enamel topped table. Edward Hopper was here.

To get home, I must walk for a stretch on a bigger road. This road has guard rails and bright yellow lines screaming down the middle and-

road kill.

How do you walk by road kill?

This morning it’s a raccoon.

I can see from yards away

its striped tail

the round body

the small pool of blood.

I make my circle wide

avoiding at all costs any chance of making contact

but I can’t help but look at its eyes.

That’s where we can see into the soul- the animating spark of any creature-

(Wait! Do animals have souls?)

And the raccoon stares blankly at the sky

a forever gaze-

empty and done.

what level of crazy

What level of crazy is it when you judge the fortune of your upcoming day on your vitamins?

There are three colors of gummies in the big plastic bottle on the bathroom counter: red, orange and yellow.

Each day I dutifully shake out two gummies and give thanks to the pharmaceutical gods for finding a way to shove 2000 IU of Vitamin D3 into a squishy, nearly sweet gumdrop.

I take two gummies each morning after rubbing moisturizer into my old lady wrinkled face and before pulling on my clothes.

I shake the gummies out into my palm and, without looking, extract two.  Not one, not three.  Two.

The red are worth 1 point.

The orange are worth 2 points.

The yellow cash in at 3 points each.

If it’s a 2 point day (red-red), I drag my feet believing that nothing good will come of the hours ahead.

If it’s a 3 or 4 point day (red-orange or orange-orange, yellow-red) I figure, “Eh. Let’s give it our best shot and see what happens.”,

If it is a 5 point day (orange-yellow) there’s a spring in my step.

And on the occasion- the happy day- in which I shake out a double yellow?  six points?! You can hear me singing all my way down to the coffee pot in the kitchen.

What level of crazy is that?

Just imagine what could happen if I upped my dose to 6000 IU.

Alone, my soul in silence waits

Beartown to Boiling Springs April 2021

Spring has always been retreat time for me. Eastertide is a great time to cut away for a few days and to reflect as we bask in the new assurance of eternal life and watch the earth unfold into greenness after the grey winter. I usually go to a retreat house. But- Covid. I’ve been reading lot about hiking, and last summer we bought a bunch of new equipment and did some backpacking and… it felt right to plan a hiking retreat for this year: 5 days, 4 nights on my favorite trail of all times, the Appalachian Trail. (If you are new to the AT, it is a 2,190 mile path from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I have had a 35-year dream of thru hiking it- a feat that more than 4,000 people attempt each year, but fewer than 1,000 complete. To learn more about the AT, check out appalachiantrail.org)

It was clear to me that this would be a solo hike. Retreats for me are usually solo ventures. I was afraid to camp alone in the woods and had only recently become less fearful about hiking alone in the daytime (see the first post on this blog to learn more about that) and so I knew that this would a time with plenty of challenge ahead- physical, mental, spiritual. Right up my alley.

I liked the idea of starting in Maryland (or close to it) and “walking home.” The portion of the AT from Beartown (home of our Calvary Chapel) to Boiling Springs offers a lot of varied terrain: pastures, wooded forest, pine stands, impressive rock formations, mountain vistas, and more than a couple of gaps. The trail offers shelters every 8-12 miles and so there was a place for stopping each night that offered the potential for some company, a privy, and a fire ring.

There is much to offer as means of a report:

I could write about my gear- 37# that included a tent, “sleep system,” “cook system,” water filter, food, maps, GPS device, a change of clothes and 2 “luxury items” (a tiny notebook and my crochet project that I’m working on in small pieces for my upcoming granddaughter).

I could write about the AT culture- a supportive and mostly safe group of people who have been drawn to the trail to work something out. The AT community (people form “tramilies” that they hike with along the way) is made up of a varied sort- old, young, athletic, out-of-shape, men, women, the occasional dog, hippies, college professors, preachers, truck drivers, librarians, doctors, and recent college graduates without jobs. People assume “trail names” that allow them to take on an identity that either defines them or that is aspirational. Examples: “Snow White,” “Freestyle,” “Wanderer,” “Stardust,” “Rock.” Most trail names are “given” by one hiker to another, and some people choose their own. Apparently, you just know when you have gotten it. (I’m still waiting for mine.) There are also some weirdos on the trail. I met two. They had found each other and were hiking together- in all black. He wore head phones and talked on his iPhone most of the time. He punctuated his breaks by drawing out his pipe and smoking dope. She was full of questions [How much does your pack weigh? What kind of boots are those? How many pair of socks do you have? Can I share your campsite (answer: “no.”)] and I was polite but kept my distance.

I could write about what I ate (mostly organic paleo dehydrated meals, dried fruit, trail mix, oatmeal with almond butter and dried blueberries, and foil packets of tuna) and how I planned my days (get up at sunrise, make breakfast in the tent, break down camp and be on the trail by 7:30), and how my plans changed (I extended each day by several miles shortening up the trip so that the final day was 4 miles, not 12), and about some of the people that I met (“Big Wooly on the Trail,” a serene guy in his late 50s with a long white beard and long white ponytail who just took his time and let the trail tell him how far to go each day; “Wanderer,” a 62 year old fella hiking with 4 young men including his son and son-in-law. “Wanderer” came over to introduce himself to me at my camp site and told me “not to worry, ” that his group was not going to bother me- there were ” two preachers among them.” (Methodist and Baptist). I told him that “I was a preacher, too,” and he looked a little surprised. He finished our exchange by saying that “If I needed anything in the middle of the night,” to “come on over.” It was a kind offer that both comforted me and annoyed me. Finally, there was a guy named “Fillin’ In” who camped with me on the last night in a clearing down near a babbling brook in a desolate holler. I was grateful for the company. “Fillin In” was hiking to Maine, having started in WVA, chipping away at his 35 year-old dream of hiking the AT. He’d had a busy and successful career as an architect and was now getting around to “filling in” the sections that he had not completed when he started hiking in 1979 but then quit for a plumb job. We enjoyed each other’s company, swapping gear tips and strategies and various details- (it’s funny what you tell people whom you’ve known for one day and will never likely see again.)

But here’s what I want to write about- how the trail “worked on me.” It was a retreat, after all- not just a hiking trip.

I didn’t have a fully thought out plan for my reflection before going. I thought that I might pray the psalms. (I have a BCP app on my phone). I thought that I might choose a “theme:” (creation, awakening, resurrection, etc.) but I couldn’t settle on one. I thought that I’d pray the Morning Office with Dean Robert (canterbury-cathedral.org) but that plan was thwarted when my cell phone signal was spotty on Days 3 and 4. And so, I just let it come.

What evolved was enlightening. I wrestled with my innate drive to do hard things. I despaired at my pace up the hills. I was surprised at my lack of fear in both hiking (I’ve stopped looking over my shoulder every few minutes) and at camping alone. The first night I was completely alone in a holler campsite with not a soul in the shelter .3 miles up the hill. Around 1 AM a helicopter started circling the mountain and continued for more than an hour. They must have been searching for someone. It freaked me out a little, but, really- what can you do? At 1 AM I was not going to pack up and start hiking, and so I slid down further into my sleeping bag and eventually fell asleep again. I found that my drive to “get to the next place” was so strong- too strong- and I had to snap myself out of it and focus on the beauty of the moment. It really was a beautiful hike. I gloried in the rain on a 79 degree day. I gloried in the downhills. I gloried in the path when it was rock-free (an infrequent event), and I gloried in the breezes when they came.

I saw no bears or rattlesnakes. (my two wildlife anxieties.)

I did not use my emergency whistle or my GPS SOS alarm.

I made one foolish error that was a good teacher: on the 4th day the plan was to hike an easy 7.3 miles to a shelter and spend the night. But I arrived at the shelter before noon, it was pouring, and desolate. (The shelters bring out a deep loneliness in me- not sure why). The only option was to press on another 8 miles to the next shelter. I knew that part of the hike and it was rough. It included 2 major “rock scrambles” climbing over boulders that are two-stories high and some that include taking one’s pack off and tossing it down ahead of you, or hoisting oneself up a chest high crevice to the next part of the path. I couldn’t hoist my heavy pack over my head and so I attempted a detour “off trail” around the boulder formation. So stupid. It was raining. The rocks were slippery. I put my foot on the leaves instead of the slippery rocks, and my boot sunk up to my thigh. I held onto saplings as I tried to traverse the steep hillside and navigate to the bottom of the gap. It was scary. The only way out was up, back to the rock maze. I climbed from sapling to sapling, too scared to cry. Obviously, I made it. I scraped my leg. I was shaking when I got back to the trail. I told a friend that it was “traumatic.” Yup. Lesson: Stay on the trail. Don’t hike hard spots when you are 13 miles in to a 15 mile hike on a wet day. Know your limits. Don’t be a fool.

I was really lonely. I waver between considering myself an extrovert and an introvert- and this kind of adventure makes me realize how much I need and love people.

Each day, the Spirit delivered a different hymn for me to carry in my head as an “ear worm” to move me along the trail. Honestly- I didn’t choose them, they chose me. They were:
“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” ( St. Helena, Hampton), “For all the Saints” (Sine Nomine), “O Praise Ye the Lord” (Laudate Dominum), “Fairest Lord Jesus” (St. Elizabeth) and “When Morning Gilds the Skies.” (Laudes Domini)

I felt very “held” in the power of God. Not in a “go-do-something-stupid-like-go-‘off-trail,’ God’s-‘got-you,’ ” kind of way but just in a general sense that there was a deep peace, a “cleanness” and a “clearness” when I was able to push aside all of the “shoulds” and drives and expectations that I had for myself. “For God alone my soul in silence waits” (Psalm 62: 1a) will deliver God every time- but you have to get the stuff out of your own head first, to get to the silence. When you do get there, it is sweet- pure- embracing. I was able to see that a few times on this retreat.

So. One story to finish. (If you’ve hung in this long.) On Day 4 I was hiking in the early part of the afternoon. It was not long after I’d made the decision to press on from the early stop after 7. 3 miles and to add on 8 miles to get to the next shelter. I was a little fearful about having made that decision and hoping that it was not the wrong choice. I had just completed a mile long uphill that required me to stop every 25 yards for a few moments’ rest. I was feeling defeated, anxious and it was raining. I came to a clearing in the path and there was a road crossing. I saw a car pulled over on the side of the road and, up on the path across the road where the AT continued, was a woman about my age walking very slowly up the trail, looking down. I heard her husband call from the car, “OK. Come back now.” She continued walking very slowly up the trail. I took the opportunity to have some water and watch the story unfold. “Come back,” he called. She just sauntered. I finished my water and crossed over the road towards her. She looked like she was looking for something like a lost watch or earring or something. As I neared her, I asked if I could help her find what she was searching for. “Oh, no,” she said. “I have always wanted to walk on the Appalachian Trail. It has been my dream. And we were just driving here and I saw it and made my husband stop. I’d love to hike it but I’m not ‘trained enough.’ And so I just wanted to walk a few steps today, just to fulfill my dream.” That was it. I smiled. She smiled. And I went on up the hill.

I don’t know if I’ve got what it takes to be a thru hiker. I sure don’t want to do it alone. But I am grateful for what I got to do this past week. There is a (corny) saying that “the trail will teach you.” Indeed. Corny, and true.