Greetings from August. Merriam-Webster tells me that august means “marked by majestic dignity or grandeur” but I think it should describe the state of a perfectly ripe piece of fruit, warm from the sun and hanging heavy on the tree. The kind of ripeness that can’t be suspended and captured, that is utterly transitory.
This particular August has definitely felt like the peak ripeness of the season so far. Full of small adventures nearby, time outside, hours playing with yarn in natural dyes, out-of-town visitors and time with friends… so many things that I enjoy and that I have invited in. And yet, amidst all of that glorious summer, there is an urge to curl up and be still as if embodying the calm I crave might make it so. I am trying to practice finding my calm center and staying steady while riding the current of it all. I’m not sure how it’s working.
This August has also found me reflecting on last August. A year ago, our Appalachian Trail hike was nearing its untimely end.
When the anniversary of the start of our trip came around in April, it felt very fresh. I could step right back into my mind a year earlier as I was excitedly winding down obligations and preparing to set out with so many hopes for a half-year sabbatical, and the quiet of 2019 felt very mundane in comparison. But somehow over the last four months of living, the span of a year grew. The endless rain and rocks and mud and bugs and sheer physicality of last August feel distant from this August in a way that the two Aprils did not.
And then there is, of course, the reckoning with the gap between our hopes and how the trip actually ended. It wasn’t a tragedy, but it wasn’t the triumph that we imagined, either.
The Race to Alaska is an event that shares some of the spirit and experience of a through-hike (minus the race part, of course) and this excerpt from their wrap-up in June is about as good a description of our experience as any:
“They put everything out there and came up short of a dream to find it replaced with another something. An accomplishment they never expected and a satisfaction they are still trying to understand.
“How can a person be satisfied after pushing up against a challenge, giving everything – 100% of their skill, tenacity, courage, spirit, and hope – yet still come up short? In struggles as deep as these, you find identity. You go to a place where you see yourself for the first time; your relationships, your ego, humility, greed, compassion, leadership, thresholds for pain and cold are all shown in stark honesty. You get a chance to see the true parts of yourself for the first time. Or maybe the first time in a long time.”
It all sounds more dramatic than I’m really comfortable embracing, but I also accept that there is some good reason this rang true. Coming up short is uncomfortable on so many levels and reaching an edge is a satisfaction that takes real work to understand. And yet, here I am; here we are. Undoubtedly shaped and pushed in ways that standing in triumph at the finish never could have. There’s an ache in my heart for the us-from-2018 and I am proud of where we are, and who we are, a year hence.
It’s a lot to unpack, but you know by now I’m prone to reflection. Especially when sunsets return after a couple months of long northern days stretching past my waking hours.
Happy August, y’all. May it feel like a biting into a perfect peach, complete with juice dripping off your chin.