Here we are in the short brown days and cold blue nights that are January in Santa Fe. I am reading, A Walk Across America, Peter Jenkins’ chronicles of his life changing journey of 1973. If you don’t recall this saga; brave, disillusioned Alfred College graduate follows his existential yearnings to find something, or someone, still “good” in America. This privileged, former Greenwich, Connecticut suburbanite walks from NY into the deep South fully engaging with the people and experiences in his path. I noticed the book on my daughter’s shelf, and felt the pull of the “Walk” in the title. As we are currently stationary, I feel compelled to keep some part of me moving. There it was, a chance to exercise my imagination, live an “edgier” existence, and all without the sore feet.
So far, I have traveled with Peter in spirit, up and down the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina, in the cold and wet of December. The word dampness was invented here. Think Smokey Mountain mist, at the edge of frozen. His only companion is a dog named Cooper; robust in nature and fur. Being blessed with a half share of Malamute genes, Cooper is up to the challenge of living “almost wild.”
I had a Malamute neighbor once; a huge bear of a dog. He would stop in occasionally to lay on the sun warmed tiles of our old house in Tijeras. He presented himself on his own schedule to accept ear scratching as if it was beneficial to both of us. Indeed, at the time it was. I welcomed these moments of ease, in an uneasy time. To look into his eyes was to see the fearless ancestors of the dark north, and a level of confidence and acceptance that could only come from living in a pack.
Peter and Cooper have just passed through the mountainous and mysterious backbone of the Appalachians. I am moved by his courage. We passed through this area on a sine wave of a road this Fall, the easy way; on I-81. Even on this banal byway, the geography demands vigilance and respect. Once off this human traffic corridor, the trees are tall and the forests dark. I am not a being that would feel at ease in a small tent on the side of a wild ridge. This is a unique kind of human that seeks this quest! Is he the 1970’s version of a 1670’s Explorer? He is venturing “inward” to country, instead of “outward” to conquer. But wasn’t that the lost beauty of the 70’s, that sense of innocence.
I am comfortable and warm, curled up in front of a Kiva fireplace with the high desert winter just outside the door. He is finding shelter and food as they appear before him. There is no GPS, or Tripadvisor to create safety and guarantee comfort along the way. His whole journey is based on the premise that he will find what he needs, he will get by on what he has….Food for thought in this!
Holding this book, I remember that I have also wanted to go on a “Walk.” It was seven or eight years ago that walking books began to cross my path. Mutant Message Down Under, a very fictionalized and potentially disrespectful account of a walkabout with Aborigines was my first “walker” novel. This was followed by another about an unexpected group of women walking towards themselves, and away from crusty cultural expectations. The title of which, has walked on down the road. I am always a sucker for shapeshifters and skin shedders, they are my tribe.
What is this compulsion to join feet to ground and enter the slow lane seeking a steady path to enlightenment? What is different about Peace Pilgrim, Granny D, and World guy? Who ARE they?
I am quite smitten with walking elders. I hope my knees hold up.