Sunday, May 24, 2009

I have been wading in a long river and my feet are wet

I have been wading in a long river and my feet are wet.
Quitting the Paint Factory

On Wednesday I went to my UNIX class to take my final exam. When I got to question 8, I was suddenly hit with a wave of dizziness. It's finally happening, I realized. When I get to question 50 I will be finished with the waiting and free to walk to Canada and continue my walk away from the Paint Factory.

The days have been so long and boring as I've waited for this minute. I've been filled with ambiguity and longing. Sometimes I'm so excited about returning to the trail and sometimes I feel like I should not go. I look at the greenery around me, the fragrant trees and blooming flowers of Santa Barbara, the fecundity of La Huerta, the cool water that flows at will from the faucet in the kitchen and wonder why I would want to walk toward hot and dry desert and Joshua trees carrying only enough water to survive until the next fetid cattle trough. I imagine Tony alone with the birds for months and months, sinking lower and lower into loneliness and I worry whether this is the right thing to do and whether it's imposing too much upon him to ask him to send a package or two every now and then and keep my birds fed. Heck, I even think maybe I'm ready to find a job, but then I get all panicky about the whole rah-rah careerism thing and I picture myself in the daily struggle I used to have each day, steeling my will to open the door and go inside and up the stairs to my cubicle, and I wonder how I could possibly die enough inside to go back to that again. I enjoy computers and using my brain and earning money but I don't like careerism so, should it become impossible to find a job that lets me just be myself, a possible solution would be to return to listening to whales or do other similar things that allow my mind to roam free even while my feet are planted. It's a colossal waste of what I'm probably capable of (if my final exam scores mean anything), but at the same time, there is a strong appeal to a simpler lifestyle. Otherwise, why chase cattle troughs two years in a row?

Going for a long walk like this is the most subversive thing I have ever done. I didn't intend my walking to be a form of protest, however. I simply snapped. Like the man who walked away from the Paint Factory, I walked away from a gnawing emptiness and into the empty spaces on the map, to a place where I found peace in not striving, not having and not wanting.

It wasn't a protest, but I've always been a little contrary. I've always rebelled somewhere deep inside even while always being a good girl with good grades and following the rules and everything. I never would have guessed that going for a walk would be the most subversive thing I could possibly do. But it has been exactly that. Mostly for what it has meant to other people more than what, if anything, the experience has done for me.

Before my Tuesday final exam one of my fellow classmates told me that she had told her daughters about what I was planning to do. They are 8 and 11 years old. They begged her to invite me over. They had never heard of anybody ever doing something like walking to Canada and they wanted to ask me questions. That's the reaction I get from lots of people. It opens them up to possibilities. If an ordinary woman like me can walk all the way to Canada maybe they can do something impossible, too. Maybe, just maybe, a real live person walking a couple thousand miles has a bigger impact than the advertising on TV, which might mean that somehow, taking a walk has made the world a slightly better place. Maybe there is a real world outside of the hologram after all.

So for the next few months my feet will roam free and my mind will be occupied with Joshua trees and cattle troughs and sun cups and high mountain passes and eating noodles and sleeping in the forest and dirty feet and thoughts of home far, far away. Gnawing at the back of my mind will be worries about what to do after I complete the trail and what will I do if I don't complete the trail and what if Tony hates me if it turns out I've gone completely mad and stay underemployed the rest of my life listening to whales and growing food and playing music in the park and somehow trying to survive in a pre-apocolyptic world.

It's time now to go. I will begin by hiking a portion of the proposed Condor Trail in the backcountry of Ventura County, and then I'll travel to where the Pacific Crest Trail crosses California Highway 138. Then I will hike to Canada. For today, my goal is to reach the trailhead and begin.

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