It’s happening. I’m picking it up reading the blogs of a number of hikers along the Appalachian Trail. Here’s what I see:
Mid-May has arrived. Those who began from Springer Mountain in Georgia in March have passed through. Some have continued on and are now in Virginia. Others have left the trail. Reasons are many: physical injury, lack of funds, getting fed up with the early snows and heavy rains, or simply realizing that the trail wasn’t all they hoped it would be.
Then there are the blue-blazers who feel the need to mix it up and rearrange their journey. That’s as it should be. There is never any shame in a change of plans. In fact, I believe that it’s been beneficial for some — because they’ve broken open like an egg, fractured like a brittle chrysalis. It comes through in the words they use when they write. No longer are they setting down a chronological journey. Things have changed. They’ve allowed themselves to be drawn into small towns, to gravitate toward people, to stand still, magnetized in the moment. They strip themselves naked and look in the mirror. The self they gaze upon is wondrous. Like the surge of life which emerges with spring, their anima is wandering in a land which cannot be fully apprehended.
They are in the “thin places” — the places the Celtic Christians said were so ephemeral that the barrier between the real world and the spiritual becomes blurred and ill-defined. Bodies and souls and spirits move between places. Paradigms are shattered. Once-beloved goals are wrecked and reforged on the anvil of new determinations. Dreams are flung to the ground and left in the dust of the trail as they open themselves to embrace something new, just beyond the bend, or at the moment they take a deep breath upon a summit. The throw away the paper trail map and draw a new one to suit who they’ve become.
It is beyond spirituality or abstraction. Call it a body-mind-soul-quake. They matured past the identity they assumed when they took a trail name. “There and back again” does not apply here. Only the reaching of a hand through the “thin places” into what lies beyond.