I have to ask myself, who do I want to be when a gift arrives? Do I pause, do I give it honor, do I tell it thank you? Or do I treat it like something I don’t have time for? Do I behave like it’s a road-block, or do I appreciate the twist in the path? If two cats are sitting on the freezer, and I’m supposed to get out the chocolate chips, then what? Then I giggle, and step back to take a photo, and nuzzle both of their fluffy faces, and think to myself, ‘what a wonderful world.’
Last Friday, I strolled into Woods Hole Hostel. I had beautiful memories of this place from 10 years ago, and a bit of a woman-crush on it’s owner, Neville Harris. So when she walked up to me with an asking grin the next morning, I felt the ‘yes’ before I heard the question. “Would you be interested in a one week work-for-stay?” she said, with her arms holding themselves across her chest. She saw my eyes light up, and I laughed about impulse, and how I should think about it before jumping. She said, “Wow, good job. Teach me to do that.” And we agreed that I would walk on it. I hiked 13 miles that day and returned back to Woods Hole. I knew I was going to do it. It was the gift that I needed. The chance to pause and sink in a bit, while I was starting to get a bit competitive with….well, I’d say myself, but honestly, with no one. I was falling into something false, or imaginary, even. Miles, just because.
The day that I walked in, I abruptly stopped myself trail-side to write one paragraph. I was doing that thing I do, where I tell myself there’s no time and wish that things could be different. “What the hell are you talking about?” I said to myself out loud. “Sit down! Write!” And then I wrote this: There is a rushed, separateness that I’m creating. I would like to make more effort to pause and feel and be. I wasn’t sure where it was coming from, I just knew it was. Then came a garden and a smile and beautiful souls that wanted me to stay.
Then life happened. I opened up my heart again. There were tears and animal cuddles. There was laughter and fresh lettuce. There was music. I remembered the truth under it all. Here we are, being us, together, and that’s the good stuff. I met over 100 hikers, and had time to see them. I didn’t realize I had been poisoning myself with a thought pattern. On the trail, just days ago, I would try to avoid other hikers. To the extent of skipping a water source if there were people at it. As though spending time with them would knock me off of my cloud and my connection to the earth was something to be protective of. Here we all were, at Woods Hole, sharing it, with sing-alongs in the shower house, tooth-brushing parties, and even a family illness that ripped through us like wildfire and then made us appreciate our solidarity.
And my, my, my! How gorgeous it is to be alive. To do it with gladness for the nourishment. Gratitude circles, before each meal, brought so many gems on the faces of hikers in awe. Beautiful human beings walked in to stay with us. Like Mountain Sage, a veteran who struggles with Parkinson’s and shares his story with wisdom and humility, through tears. Nimblewill Nomad, the 82-year-old record-breaking hiker, knocked me out, when he was so grateful for the room that was donated to him, that he had to brace himself against the wall to stand upright, while his chest heaved and gratitude spilled out of his eyes. A mother, carrying her 8-month-old strapped to her chest, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, overwhelmed me with her visible beauty, radiating like a spotlight in the dark. Neville taught me how to make bread and encouraged us to stay kind in the face of apathy. We felt like siblings, and cooked together singing along to Stevie Wonder tunes, all the while dancing the magic dance of a crowded kitchen. A place where food turns into a currency of love that can be passed around. Which is the only real kind.
I’m so grateful for Woods Hole, and Neville, and the beautiful people I was family with for one grounding week of my life. There’s a saying in the thru-hiking world; “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”