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The First Two Days

Posted on Monday, May 15, 2006 at 08:04AM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in | Comments2 Comments

Here’s how it began: three households of neighbors turned out to see me off. They walked the first few blocks with me, one of them (a professional photographer) snapping pictures as we went.

Where my road left the neighborhood, my wife gave me a last hug, the neighbors all called out farewells, and off I went.

These first two days, I’ve been completely consumed by the simple task of re-inhabiting my body The fact is, I was not in shape for this! The first third of the first day was near-effortless, but at about the two-thirds mark that day, I commenced to feel dizzy and had to lie down for half an hour. This taught me that, at age 56, my body is not as good at oxygenating my muscles and eliminating the waste carbon dioxide as it was when I was young I have to go slower than I feel like going, and take frequent rests, to keep my muscles oxygen-fed. This may change as I proceed.

Omaha’s a pretty little city. I’ve only lived there for two and a half years; my route that first day took me down streets I hadn’t travelled before. Big trees and manicured lawns: I was reminded of biologist E. O. Wilson’s comment that humans try to recreate the African savannah where their distant ancestors evolved, with its open grasslands and scattered trees; if the land we’re on doesn’t already look like the savannah, we remake it to look that way, regardless of the stresses this puts on the natural ecosystem.

I stayed that night with a couple who are old established pillars of my local monthly meeting. The next day my path took me over the Missouri, and after a few miles of level walking I began climbing out of the valley.

Again I felt the age of my body. Going up a lovely little gravel road into the Loess Hills, I found I needed to stop every hundred feet, and lean over and breathe for a minute or two, before proceeding; it took me two and a quarter hours to travel three miles that way. And my total ascent was only 500 feet! My, I’m out of shape. (Of course, carrying a 70-pound pack didn’t make the task any easier.)

But it was lovely. Surrounded by trees in the full glory of mid-spring, tall green grasses, birds singing out warnings of my approach; a cool north wind scudding grey clouds overhead, the road winding up, and down, and up again.

The final complication was blistering. I didn’t even realize it was happening until it was well advanced; unlike when I was young, the aggravation was neither painful or visible at first, and I thought I was handling it fine with rests. But by the time I arrived at my second-night host’s home, I had swiftly developed a blister that was crippling my walk — and by this morning, examining myself, I realized I had a serious problem.

So I’m probably going to have to catch rides for part of the distance I travel each day, the next few days, to give it a chance to subside and heal, so that it doesn’t progress to the point of infection. More’s the pity; I was looking forward to the walk! And I’m going to have to figure out how to prevent a repetition of the problem. But the trip, at least, will go on.

The deepest and most important level of experience, these first two days, has been the swift quieting of my mind and heart. When you’re exerting yourself constantly, as I have been, the energy goes to the exertion, and to attentiveness to the situation when you’re in, and apart from the exertion and attentiveness, the body (at least mine) saves energy by shutting things down. So I did very little thinking, and even less wandering-of-mind. And this is very good! I know from experience that when I am in this condition, I am putting up minimal resistance to the process of being changed. The Spirit has to work on me; I’ve been feeling the need of it for a long, long time. This is a grand way to give it a free and clear chance.

My second-night host does environmental remediation for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — toxic clean-up stuff — and besides me, she was also hosting an old buddy who nowadays works for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Colorado. Perfect people to be with at this early stage of my walk. (And very fine people generally.) I talked with them as I hope to talk with Friends along this journey, asking them how they see the environmental challenges in front of us. We didn’t quite see eye to eye, I think, but we could clearly grasp and honor each other’s viewpoint, and it made for grand conversation.

Friends, I feel blessed and graced, blister notwithstanding.

may 15-16.jpgHere’s a map of my journey these next two days, crossing southwestern Iowa, leaving Glenwood this morning, arriving in Emerson tonight and in Stanton tomorrow night. Notice the shadings: those are hills I must traverse at my slow, out-of-shape pace.

Tonight I expect to be camping out; tomorrow night I am the guest of a group of local left-wing religious-political activists (non-Quaker) who are curious about Quakers. I am wondering whether I’ll need to tell them that I do not have any enthusiasm for partisan politicking. And if I say such things to them, I further wonder: will they understand, or will they simply be put off?

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Reader Comments (2)

The beginning of a trip. The important things seem to come into focus. For example, I estimate that one step may cover 2.5 feet so there may be 2112 steps to the mile. Allowing for back-tracking of sorts, coming and going, perhaps 4,224,326 steps will be taken on the Journey. At one breath per 1.5 steps, this implies about 2,816,432 breaths depending on many factors. Then these important things begin to drop away. A blister looms large — very large. Perhaps you may ride 82.67% of the way. Then these crucial things drop away, along with the intent to write, to think, to reflect, to feel the divine Will, to commne with Nature. Perhaps getting water to refill your canteen looms as the largest most important thing in the world. Hard to say until the deed is underway. Hard to say what attribute will in fact save our lives. Hard to say what event or action will change our lives forever. Hard to say which person will become the most instrumental. So what do we plan, what do we anticipate, what skill sets do we hone? Since there is no way to tell, maybe there is nothing to tell, nothing to hone, nothing to do. Perhaps the most important thing in the entire world, in the entire Universe is how to care for a blister. What if we left home without that “information,” or skill set? Most likely we certainly did. A thousand plans and 10,000 anticipations — except for the one we think we need. Then we catch a ride, and that one is not needed after all. Is everything just fine then as it is? Are the smartest ones the lily of the fields? Neither do they know how to spin nor even shop at von Maur yet how arrayed they are in such splendor! Maybe we can just ask, “what would the lily of the field do?”

-- comment posted by Steve Evans, http://sevansgsm-usa.com/
May 17th, 2006 at 11:28 p.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 01:07PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Steve, I’m not sure how to respond to your comments. I appreciate them, though.

-- comment posted by Marshall
May 22nd, 2006 at 9:46 a.m.
Sep 2, 2006 at 01:08PM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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