The Trail: Day 1 (continued)

Sunday evening, September 25: Drew

Once we’re back on the trail, off the sidewalks and out past the playing fields, oh what bliss. What a gift to take these first steps on a dirt trail and into the forest. I’m a chatterbox. Maybe its the joy of someone to chatter with, perhaps the joy of the dark trees and trail that have made me forget about whatever rain or weather we’re having. We’re here! We’re on the way.

Pat seems distracted, preoccupied. Maybe she’s nervous about the trek before us and whether she’ll be up for it. Maybe that hurricane that she mentioned last night at dinner that is growing off the coast from her home that she says she isn’t worried about. Maybe something else or maybe its not even true. But whatever it is or is not I never ask.

I’ve been struggling with my nervousness before worship Sunday mornings. Its nothing but an old pattern that doesn’t serve me anymore. As a younger pastor I wanted to get it all right, to be downright perfect, to make a connection and something meaningful happen in that hour of worship.  

Perfection and getting things all right are values that have left me behind. And while I no longer believe that I am responsible for holding all things in the universe together, something in me still believes I do. I take seriously those Sunday morning responsibilities that are mine and holding an attention to details of all I need to remember. Work hard to craft the saying of the right words to help make a space of welcome. But ultimately as a wise elder told me recently, it’s not me that holds the space, it’s the space that hold me, holds all of us. If only I could remember that. If only I could really believe that. If only I could let go.  

This morning was my third Sunday service here in Littleton, my second service on my own. Worship went well and yet on the trail up to Velvet Rocks I go over and over all I forgot to say and do, the prayers I neglected to pray. All that didn’t unfold as “planned” in my imagination and instead turned out as it did. It was good, just different than I’d imagined. 

Over the coming week I will have much such rumination. Step by step over past decisions and regrets, choices and challenges that I wasn’t able to navigate with grace and agility. I am hard on myself, carry incrimination as an added weight. 

I ask Pat what she wants out of this time. I forget what she said. I ask for presence in my steps, presence in the walking, that presence I’m not feeling this afternoon. 

Around the bend, the gray metal roof of Velvet Rocks Shelter, 3.3 miles up the trail with all our detours and missteps from the Connecticut River crossing. I’m ready to stop. 

There’s someone camping here at the lean-to in an orange and gray tent. A well-tended fire. A line of drying clothes across the front of the lean-to shelter. A lot of gear spread out on the floor. As we set up our tents, out of the shadows steps a thin tall man with long straight  hair, a shaggy beard. His name’s Drew. 

That evening in the growing dark, Drew and I will sit at the edge of the lean-to where he will give me fresh tomatoes to eat and slices of sharp cheddar cheese. The distant shouts of fans and players on the field below. White lights through fog.  

He tells me about living with his mother in Bethlehem Pennsylvania and how his mother died and the house got sold and he took off hiking. That was two years ago, his second year on the trail. 

Tells me about waiting for a friend he met further down the trail who is due in to Hanover on October 1. About his hopes to hitch a ride with him to Florida where he’ll spend the winter. Tells me his friend doesn’t yet know about that plan yet.

Tells me how different people are out here – so friendly and nice, so different than they are in town where the clerk at the 711 Store where they offer free cups of coffee for thru-hikers told him he needed to leave or they were going to call the police. 

I’m just finishing my coffee – here’s my phone if you want to can call them.  

Drew looks like a guy you might cross the street to not walk by. Looks like someone you’re not so sure of and yet, aren’t really worried about either. He’s not dangerous or scary and here in the woods, in this grit and dirt, in this isolation and vulnerability of the woods, a connection is made. A gift and grace.  

Who is he? Who are any of us out here? Are we only our former selves?  Does the vulnerability of being out of our element and familiarity change us? Is his story true? Has he really been out on the trail since March? Is there really a friend he is waiting for?

Perhaps that’s something the trail offers us all, the chance to be different. A chance to get a new name and see each other outside the stories and considerations we hold against each other back at home.

I ask him how he decides where to go each day. My goal is to have no goal. If I reach the end of the trail, the destination, I’ll have failed, though once I got quite close.

The plan, to have no plan. I think how he is my kind of hiker, a wanderer that lives in an openness to what the day unfolds and brings. Who is present to here. 

He tells me that while he’s been waiting here these days he’s volunteered at the church and the food bank where he gets free tomatoes, cheese and pizza slices.

I’m still too full of town. I’m wary and in wonder. Sitting here sharing apple slices with a homeless trail wanderer grieving man.

A young man came to the woods with nothing, no decent pack or supplies. Everyone helped him out that night and shared with him what they had – a stove and food, a clean pair of socks, an extra pack.  He never would have survived out here alone.  

Later, I wondered if he was talking about someone else or about himself and the generosity that’s  found him.

Drew’s a good man. The kind of person, like he said, you find out here on the trail.

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