155 Big Green Pen Minutes Day Ten: Listen

I am participating in the 31 Days of Free Writes October challenge. This is meant to be a free write, which means: no editing, no over-thinking, no worrying about perfect grammar or punctuation. (Confession: I *may* not be able to resist spell-checking!)

Editor’s note: I decided to do something different today and present my post via Facebook live (and then transcribe it). Here’s the link if you want to hear/see.

Today’s prompt: Listen

Today we’re talking about the word listen which is an act that touches on every part of our lives.

Several things have come to mind as I’ve thought about how I might address this topic. The thing that most comes to mind is the book that I am listening to right now. It’s called AWOL on the Appalachian trail and it’s one man’s account of his trip as a through hiker up the AT.

He quit his job, was tired of sitting at a desk and had talked with his wife about the two of them doing the trail when they retired, but one day he said “what if I did it now?” and she said “go for it.”

SHE is a saint because they had at the time three young daughters. But I also think it’s a very loving thing to do to recognize when someone needs to achieve a particular goal and say “go for it” — to deal with the financial part of him not working, with him being away for — I don’t know how long — I’m still in the middle of the book. Nine months let’s say — to complete the trail.

But he did it.

One of the things that he commented on was how he chose specifically not to take any kind of iPod — or things to listen to.

He. is. on. the. trial.

He listens to nature, to his fellow hikers, and he talks occasionally about that choice, the fact that he gets passed by people who totally ignore him because they’re lost in their own world — they’re listening to music or a book or whatever and they’re not interacting with him.

Not that that’s a bad thing, but he, I think, seems to appreciate for himself the fact that he is that attuned to nature. It also matters because it enables him to listen to things like .. BEAR .. bears approaching… and wildlife.

There definitely takes a certain amount of situational awareness on the trail that it seems to me that having earbuds in would detract from … and those of us who have been runners know all about situational awareness. And I was terrible about that because I was always listening to music or a book.

But the other things that to me ties into that choice not to always have something in  your ears is…it gives….he’s got nine months to process his life without that kind of flow of someone else’s music or ideas or thoughts into his head.

And there’s a Bible verse that I grabbed five minutes ago (because I wanted to have something in case I couldn’t think of anything to say!). But it really does apply. It’s from Jeremiah. And it says, “Then you will call on me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”

People who are on the Appalachian Trail — I don’t know this because I have never set foot on the Appalachian Trail sadly — but I have a very good friend who has spent excessive time there and I have read several books. And I think it’s safe to say there’s a degree of searching that is going on among people who have chosen to do a through hike especially.

This author talks about the fact that people are going through divorces, they’re going through job loss. They’re going through some transition.

OR they just got out of high school or college and they’re searching for what’s next, so choose to do the trail as a way of finding that or getting in touch with what it is they want.

But I think when you choose to listen to someone else’s words or music — which I love — I’m definitely not advocating against that. But I know it’s hard for me to just go out and walk without putting in my earbuds. And I think that maybe there’s something about the process of walking without music that enables that search to happen, that enables your brain to process things differently.

I have frankly — I know there are all kinds of issues with the trail — it’s not just communing with nature. It’s difficult, there are rats (editor’s note: they were mice to be specific!) in the cabins, there are all kinds of things.

But I’m envious of his opportunity to, to be with his head, to be with his heart, and to do that searching.

I think it’s something we could all afford to do.

Writing Challenge

Pulling the Trigger Called Adventure (A Discussion of Life Unbolted)

This post about “Life Unbolted,” Patrick Detscher’s new book, can’t really be called a review……more of a “riff.” How do you objectively discuss your good friend’s “baby,” one you knew before a single word hit the page? You don’t, but you do share its arrival with your friends, joyfully. Among people to whom this book will appeal:

Life Unbolted

Those Who Are Interested in the Realities of the Appalachian Trail

I have known enough people who hiked the Appalachian Trail as well as read enough books (including A Walk in the Woods) to know that choosing a trek along the trail, whether three days or three years, is not what the uninitiated would think. There is the fact of the beauty and the communion with nature. In addition, however, it is dirty, it has a subculture, it is a place where you need a lot more than a decent pair of hiking shoes and a backpack. As an AT hiker, you spend a lot of time dealing with your own waste. Patrick, in his unique view of the world, shares observations such as: Looking down upon these mountains of fecal material [in trail privies] is an experience in itself. Seeing that the top was perfectly pointed led me to wonder, how did the last person who used this achieve such symmetrical perfection……the size and scope …. amazed me.

Reading Life Unbolted prior to an outing on the Appalachian Trail would help me become a much more prepared hiker (but I draw the line at poo symmetry).

The Realities of the New Economy

Much of the impetus for Pat’s choice to “pull the trigger called adventure” and embark on the Appalachian Trail adventure (among other life changes he made in 2009) was the challenges facing the US economy. He had worked for corporate America. After that position ended, he began exploring his interest in environmental policy and the “Entity-Specific Power model” (Chapter 19 – I can’t explain it well!). That led to a run for public office, a dissolution of his marriage, a reunion with a high school love, and a changed spiritual outlook. In Pat’s words, the national economic situation in the spring of 2009 led to an environment in which “a complete lack of work became the dreaded norm. Since the damage was done, I became determined to follow what I feel is some of the finest advice one person can offer to another: make yourself better.” For Patrick, the road to “better” involved wandering. A lot of wandering. Fortunately for us readers, the wandering is documented in this book.

The Realities of What It Takes to Get “Unstuck”

I was listening to a radio interview today with musician Alan Doyle. In the interview, he discussed how when you are in your 40s, there are more divorces than marriages; more funerals than christenings — it’s an “in between” time. I count Patrick’s ex-wife, “Nicola” (not her real name) as a dear friend and admittedly it was shocking and sad for me as a friend of each to see their marriage end. Having seen each of them heal and move on, each in very different ways, I appreciate the insight this book gave me that deepened my understanding of Patrick’s choice to “unbolt” his life, literally, and find his way by “wandering.” As Robin, an important individual to this book, says on page 176, “he’s wired a bit differently from most men I’ve known.” I am not sure any route other than the Appalachian Trail and nights spent in his hammock in the trees over New York’s Central Park would have gotten him to the spiritual center he sought after so many blows.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention running. As a discipline, running gave Patrick an essential outlet (he decided to train to qualify to participate in the New York Millrose Games after a 35-year absence.) Patrick has always been unfailingly supportive of my running, and although he is a speedy sprinter and I am a back-of-the-pack distance-lover, we always enjoyed being at intervals together.

Should you read this book? If you are interested in hiking our national trails, specifically the Appalachian, and are open to unconventional ways of thinking as well as quite candid language, grab it!

If you a prudish about discussions of male and female body parts, I still recommend the book but am glad to give you a page-by-page guide of sections you might want to skip. I respect the fact that these discussions are not for everyone.

There’s no one like Patrick. I don’t agree with all of his ideas about how to change our nation’s use of its natural resources (I actually don’t understand them all). However, I do agree with his friend “Moe,” who said “We often admit faith only after the other man goes first.”

Patrick is one of those people willing to “go first.” As a friend, I have learned not to discount the “out there” thinking and hubris that sometimes come with that mindset. “Life Unbolted” gives you a window into that mindset. As a reader, I found the reading experience a lot like the Appalachian Trail experience must be — each page showed me something different; even revisiting the SAME page sometimes led to a different conclusion.

Life Unbolted is available in paperback and Kindle via Amazon. Click here for ordering information.