Along the way we talk of the reality TV show “Alone” where the contestants get to choose ten items to help them survive for weeks in the wild with the likes of grizzlies as neighbors. 

As we walk, I think of all the things I carry that I could not imagine surviving without —freeze dried food and BoBo bars, stove and fuel, lighter and headlamp, tent, sleeping bag and pad. A change of clothes and extra socks. Rain coat and pants. First Aid kit and emergency poncho. Bandaids and bear bag. Knife and spork…

As we talk of survival in the woods, we walk by the remnants of the Brown Mountain community. Stone walls wind along the stream, two tall chimneys in the woods.  A community of formerly enslaved persons, they stayed on here after the Civil War and made home along this stream bed raising their families, supporting one another. Raised hogs, grew corn.   

Sold their land in 1920 to the Forestry Service. Were they forced off the land? What horrors of Jim Crow did they bear? Who was lynched? Were they part of the Great Migration to the promised dream of the North? 

As we walk, shifting our packs, weary after ten miles, our first day on the trail, think on their weariness, the cruelties they endured, all they survived to make home here in this valley.

As I set up my tents for the night, blow up my air mattress, shake out my sleeping bag, think on all they knew and could teach us about true survival. How easy we have it and how we struggle and suffer here in these same woods this night with all these tools they never could have imagined.  

A cliché and so true: We survive alone with difficulty. Together can do and bear what we cannot alone. 

That night backpack spewed open with dry bags stuffed with supplies, wondering, what was it I was looking for?

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