Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Reading: Becoming Odyssa

“Becoming Odyssa,” by Jennifer Pharr Davis, was a book I picked up on a whim.  I discovered it perched on a special display at the library, Grand Outdoor Adventures being the theme of the display. 

I enjoy the out-of-doors, I enjoy camping.  One day, I hope to take a longer-than-just-a-weekend trip that involves hiking or biking. I like it when I happen upon books recounting such adventures, with a combination of braving the elements and self-discovery narrative.  But I am picky.  I don’t like the self-discovery to be cliché or shallow.

This book did not disappoint.  I found it hard to put down and finished it quickly.  It’s the story of one woman’s (mostly solo) journey along the entire Appalachian Trail.

Here is an excerpt from the book, something that leaped out at me on my first read through:

The trail didn’t change, but I did.

Suddenly, I loved hiking.  I loved the trail . . . I made a vow that I would only hike twenty to twenty-five miles a day, that I would swim in every lake I passed, and that at night I would find a place where I could watch the sunset.

I also tried to find a resting spot each afternoon where I could sit still for an hour and watch the world around me.  I’d stop and get to know a stream or watch the trees dance in the breeze.  I marveled at spiders building webs, squirrels gathering nuts, and birds calling to each other.  Sometimes it would rain during my breaks, but that was okay because I had my raincoat. . .

I learned that I didn’t need much to be entertained.  I didn’t need loud music, bright lights, or TV.  I just needed to be still.

Being still was a relatively new concept for me.  I couldn’t remember much stillness in my pre-trail life.  And the times I do remember were highly uncomfortable.  My whole life had been filled with activity and movement.

Until now, I hadn’t been okay just being, I had to be doing.  Everything was part of a schedule, a routine, a constantly flowing series of commitments.  I never stopped after I finished an activity, I just looked ahead and prepared for whatever came next.  I started to think about how many different things I used to do in a day.  I would schedule myself to the max, and the only free time I would leave was taken up with getting from one commitment to the next.

On the trail, all I had to do was walk.  It was up to me how far I wanted to walk and where I wanted to end up.  I could stop when I wanted, I could eat when I wanted, I could take naps at any point during the day.  The trail allowed me to feel a strong sense of freedom.  And it helped me to see the oppression of a busy schedule and the way we multitask in civilization.  I no longer saw what was civil about filling my life with commitments if I couldn’t stop to watch the sunset or listen to the birds sing.

This is why long journeys such as this appeal to me.  My soul begs for such retreat from the world.  I do know the value of silence.  I am ordinarily a person who craves order and needs routine in order to be productive, but I also know the value of down time.  I would be able to luxuriate in these things, if I were hiking through North American woods or biking through the British countryside.

Recently, a friend expressed surprise that homeschoolers need to take a spring break.  We absolutely do!  We have a routine at home; we have extra-curricular activities that require us to be in certain places at certain times; we have medical appointments.  It is good to take a retreat from time to time, no matter what your station in life.

It is important take inspiration from these kinds of stories, making the message my own even if the particulars are not doable in my life.  We may not be able to disappear into the wilderness, but we can turn off the TV, silence the music, and say no to social engagements.  Watch the sunset, marvel at the squirrels, free up the schedule.  Actually, I don’t have a hard time doing those things.  I have a hard time letting go when I’m out, meaning to be enjoying nature.  I tend to carry my sense of purposeful determination on walks through the woods, when I need to take a page from my young children and notice small bugs crossing the trail, flowers growing in the depths of the woods, the sounds of birds hidden in the trees.  I’m not so sure about swimming every lake I pass as Jennifer mentions, but it would be good to let the kids splash in the streams we find on our walks in the woods.  I’m working on that.

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