The heat is here, and fair enough, when it comes to Spring in Appalachia, I’ve gotten off easier than the norm. For the first 5 weeks, I enjoyed cooler temperatures and bug-less nights. The heat started poking its head into my long hiking days about two weeks ago, and, naturally, the bugs followed. It’s fascinating how Montanans melt in the heat. I went from rested and thriving to sleepless tossing and turning, overnight. Mostly it’s the bug bites that keep me up, they seem to speak to me when I’m trying to sleep, but the warmth has contributed. I am a cold-weather creature. I would rather sleep in 40 degrees than 70. Meanwhile, I know I would feel better if I stopped scratching. Which is a metaphor for what I’m processing in life right now. I give in to the itch, and then I make it bleed. If I could just stay cool and let it be, it would be over a lot sooner. I’m at the age, I think, where I’m old enough to know better, but still too young to care. Or, I decide it’s worth the bleeding, anyway.
Everything is part of it. Watching the season transition and unfold has been a gift. One month ago, all the trail was mayapples, trillium, and magnolia pedals, now its blackberries, cow parsnip, and wild roses. There were cold rainy days, now there are warm, vibrant thunderstorms that follow the sweltering afternoon. I jump in every body of water that I can fit into, and even some that I don’t, flipping myself from stomach to back, like some sort of hot cake on a griddle. I am eternally grateful that cool water runs down mountain sides. I owe it all to that. I’m also grateful that the Appalachian Trail is a place where a person can walk all day, most days, in the shade.
Lately, a lot of my hiking brothers and sisters have been asking me about quitting. They talk about having the Virginia Blues, and ask what I did to get through it last time. I tell them that last time, I had great friends to goof off with through all of Virginia and it was the New York Blues that got me. I also tell them that I tricked myself in the mid-Atlantic. When I was focusing on how much I wanted it to be over, I was looking at gifts as though they were curses. I can remind myself of that, here and now. Heat grows tomatoes. It hatches bugs, yes, and bugs pollinate plants. Plants feed us. Rain keeps us alive. Now that I’ve lived through the kind of wildfire seasons we’ve been seeing out west, I hope to never say anything bad about rain as long as my mouth makes words. Acceptance is the best adaptation nature ever gave me. I can wine about my itchy shins all I want, but then I’m just as small as the no-see-ums. Walking up hill doesn’t hurt. Cancer hurts. Human apathy hurts. Missing out on being alive hurts. Still, focusing on what hurts never healed anything. Gratitude heals.
I know there is no way to fully appreciate privilege, while you have it, but I want to try with all my might. My legs walk and my heart beats, and water falls from the sky. I have everything and I hope it shows that I am deeply grateful for it. So thanks to the summer heat for kicking my ass. I look forward to the next couple months being a brat about it and hope to get smacked out of it as often as possible. Thanks to my friends and family who put up with me. May we welcome summer with itchy arms and aching feet.