Friday, January 30, 2015

24. The Actual Act of Hiking Itself

Everything on this list is about the in between. In between moments of movement, in between actually hiking. Yes, I've written about building the muscles and strengthening the lungs and loving the sweating and standing on top of a mountain. All of those things are happening as a result of this movement. That is, putting one foot in front of another. What differentiates "hiking" from "walking"? Nothing really, just location and degree of difficulty. Although technically you could be "hiking" somewhere with a low degree of difficulty (along a nicely groomed path around a flat lake), and "walking" somewhere with a high degree of difficulty (through the subway tunnels to try and get on the 6 train at rush hour).

I did a lot of dance in college... that is to say, I took a lot of dance classes and performed in several stage showcases. I also did a lot of other dancing; I danced when I got an A on a test, I subtly danced in my seat when I had 10 minutes left of class and really had to pee, and I danced at every party, whether or not it was technically a dance party. I even choreographed an entire 10 dancer performance to Europe's "The Final Countdown," and I'd never been more proud of anything I'd accomplished in my life up until that moment.

In dance we talk about something called "movement vocabulary." It basically means the set of physical expressions being used to demonstrate a story, or a feeling, or just the beauty of the human body. It's not a direct translation; doing a pirouette doesn't mean only one thing (e.g., "I'm dizzy"). Movement vocabulary is simply a fancy way of talking about the set of moves that work in harmony to create a coherent whole. Sometimes it's complicated, and sometimes it's simple. We all know the movement vocabulary for Cotton Eye Joe, but not all of us could do the entire Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from the Nutcracker. Well, maybe you could, but it's not really a trick that is usually pulled out at parties.

From an outside perspective, the movement vocabulary for hiking is pretty simple: one foot in front of the other. But in fact it is far more complex than that. There are thousands of constant microadjustments happening in order to keep a hiker upright. Most hikers use poles, to turn our bodies from biped bodies to quadruped bodies.  The ground is never consistent, and our feet are doing a complex little dance of balance to keep us from falling over at any given moment. There are lumps and bumps and tiny holes and valleys and mud and sticks and little critters that we have to avoid squashing. We have to have that perfect balance of looking up and looking down, or we'll trip into things or run into low-hanging branches.

Hiking really is like learning a dance, because at the start of the trail, we're all pretty terrible at it. People are falling over at least once a day. Usually it's tripping over a root or a rock, but more often than not it's making the mistake of stepping on a wet log. When we're new hikers, it's hard to differentiate between a dry log and a wet log, but once you've Charlie Brown-ed hilariously onto your butt enough times, you get pretty good at recognizing the slippery little jerks.

Whistle fell over a LOT with her hiking poles. The addition of two extra legs was just not good for her. It got to the point that whenever our hiking party came upon a log, we would holler back through the ranks "LOG!" to get the message to Whistle, so she wouldn't trip over it and faceplant gloriously, as she had done so many times before. This happened with such regularity that one time when Whistle and Grim were right behind DT, Grim slipped and fell in some mud, which never happened. Without turning around, Dumptruck asked,

"Yo Whistle, you alright?"

This sent all of us into such hysterics that we had to stop hiking or else suffocate via laughter.

Hiking itself can be pretty easily taken for granted, because we get good at it, then we forget that we were ever bad at it. But we were bad, and it's okay. This is a good thing to know if you're a new hiker. It gets better, I promise.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

25. Getting a Good Night's Sleep

The only way that I can fall asleep, now that I am back in the real world, is to listen to Jim Dale reading the Harry Potter audiobooks. It's a mere shadow of how Whistle would read to me on the trail, but it's somewhat similar. As soon as I put on the audiobook, I am zonked out in less than 5 minutes. I wouldn't say that I am a worrier, but my brain is easily clogged with all my responsibilities and to-dos as I lay down to sleep, and I have a hard time quieting that part of my brain. But who needs Ambien when you can drift off to sleep to the dulcet tones of a brilliantly talented Englishman telling you stories about magic? 

These are the privileges of modern technology that we take for granted! IPods and microwaves. Seriously, microwaves are miracles. Hikers have no access to microwaves, we don't have one in tiny house and I don't miss it, but I am fascinated by them. Frozen burritos are amazing, and you can't recreate that chemical preservative taste with fresh ingredients. You just can't. When DT was a kid, his friend had a microwave that was broken, such that it would still run even if the door was open. He and his friends would dare each other to stick their hand in the microwave for as long as possible before freaking out. He said he only made it about 5 seconds before screaming and running out of the room. Heaven only knows what latent mutant powers he has because of that.

DT can tell you that I have always been a sleep talker, but that more than anything I am a sleep laugher. Apparently I totally crack myself up in my sleep, and he will often wake up to me chuckling or hysterically cackling. I like to think that this is a good omen in regard to what I must be dreaming about. I like to think that my brain tries to give me nightmares, but my dream self just laughs at the monsters and teaches them to dance. 

If you've ever done any sort of day-long strenuous activity (running, biking, arguing with a 2 year old about bringing the cat in the bath), you know how good it feels to just face-plant directly into your bed at the end of the day. You have a lovely, delicious, dreamless sleep, and you wake up refreshed and ready to hear the yowls of the cat and the screams of your 2 year old. If you spent a long day chock-full of mental strain, but no physical strain, you may find yourself utterly exhausted but incapable of sleeping. Even though your brain is ready to shut off, your body didn't get enough of a chance to expend its energy, and so it funnels that energy right back into your tired brain, but your brain is in no fit state to manage that energy logically. Instead you find yourself wide awake at 3 in the morning, worrying about the mere possibility of a snow plow accidentally smashing into your car, parked perfectly innocently out on the street.

Before I started the trail I was sincerely worried that I wasn't going to be able to sleep. I was afraid that every night in a new place would be too much input, and my brain would be overstimulated. Instead, I always slept fabulously. Here are the reasons:

1. Hiking for 15 miles a day will left me TOTALLY POOPED.

2. Even though the tent is in a new place every night, the inside of the tent itself never changes, and being inside of the tent immediately triggered the part of my brain that said "Yippee! Sleepy time!" This is also why it was very hard to just "hang out" in my tent, because my brain would automatically go into shut down mode.

3. I didn't have to-do lists.

4. The outdoors are silent, or have the most wonderful white noise of nature.

I miss the sleep of the woods, but I laugh in my sleep no matter where I am.

Clever Girl

You will notice that there are not a lot of photos of people sleeping in their tents. This is because Dumptruck is not a creep, thank goodness!

Monday, January 26, 2015

26. Group Mind

They say that if you spend enough time with someone, you start to be able to read their mind. Maybe you start being able to know what they're going to say before they say it. That may be true, but there's a second level. If you spend a LOT of time with someone, it goes way beyond verbalized conversation. You start to be able to know what they're going to do even before they do it. This type of relationship is by definition some form of partnership. You can't spend that much time with someone without them spending that time with you... unless of course it's the time you spend hovering around the free samples guy at the fancy organic grocery store, which is, of course, the only socially sanctioned type of stalking. 

Group Mind is the fancy term for when you and someone you love have developed a perfectly choreographed improvised dance of weirdness. This can be both a metaphorical dance (in the sense that you create something bizarre and silly that builds together) and a literal dance (in the sense that you dance around like idiots). The thing that separates Group Mind from regular ol' weirdo buddies just hanging out is the complete lack of verbal communication needed to go from normal behavior to completely escalated ridiculousness. There can be planned chicanery between friends, but Group Mind is unplanned. This partnered creation is so seamless that the causal observer assumes that you are acting out something you have seen in a movie or a TV show. They assume it must be some sort of clever reference to some indie thingie-whatever that they haven't seen yet. But, nope! It's just you and your friend being a perfectly matched, bookend set of bozos.

Group Mind happens once you spend enough time with someone that you have subconsciously catalogued every single one of their subtle communication cues, both verbal and nonverbal. Any slight variation, and you already totally know that something's about to go down. It's a friendship spidey sense. And it's completely baffling to strangers. However, it shouldn't be exclusionary. There's a reason it's called Group Mind rather than Partner Mind. This collection of energy can occur in any group, and it changes as the group ebbs and flows.

All that's needed is the openness to accepting and saying yes to someone else's energy, and building something with them without worrying about whether it will be cool or not. There is no official start or end to Group Mind, it simply coalesces and then dissipates like a passing wind. 

You may have a best friend or a sibling with whom you have this type of connection. But long distance hiking puts you in the position of developing this type of connection with someone in less than a week, simply due to the fact that you are experiencing all of the same external stimuli 24 hours a day. Group Mind is one of the most wonderful, elevating feelings in the world. It is putting your energy into the hands of someone else, and accepting their energy into yours. 

We spend all our time being blues and reds, but sometimes we can be purples if we keep our minds free and our hearts open.

Clever Girl


Playing tiny cards at a picnic bench in a flooded park. Yep.

Friday, January 23, 2015

27. Hiker Hostels

At Neels Gap, three days into hiking the Appalachian Trail, I fell asleep in a room with ten adult men sleeping in five bunk beds. The best way to describe the smell would be if you tackled a high school hockey player, stole his gym bag, jammed your head inside of it and breathed as deeply as possible. Years of accumulated sweat, water and unwashed, rotting polyester combines itself into a beautiful bouquet. And to a hiker, the smell is the sweetest smell. Neels Gap is by far the least stinky of all hostels along the Appalachian Trail, because it is the first one, and a fair amount of people on the trail are still half-heartedly attempting to be clean. But don't worry, it gets worse from there.

Hostels are like hotels for vikings. 

Everyone is honest, and hearty, and completely, brutally real. No one has shaved. The women and the men are indistinguishable from one another. Everyone is kind, and thoughtful, and shares all their meat and mead. For just one night the hikers gather like those sailors of the past, joined together in their common experience. And maybe someone will vomit, just like sailing!

It only costs maybe $15 a night to stay, and you get a bunk bed, or a dry spot on the floor, or in the case of Kincora Hostel, you might get to share one gigantic bed with ten other hikers, until the little one says "Roll over! Roll over!" then there will be nine in the bed, and so on. No one has anything to hide, because it would be impossible to hide anything. Humans being together, being completely accepting of their human-ness. 

Hostels often have one or two showers, and it's just like showering at summer camp. No one's allowed to shower for more than five minutes, and if you shower for longer and use up the hot water, you are shunned, shunned, for the rest of your stay. Everything is communal, and everyone looks out for each other. People gather in the common room in their rain gear while their clothing tumbles in the one washer/dryer. Your underwear will absolutely be getting washed in the company of a stranger's underwear, in the same washing machine, because you can fit at least five different hikers' small amount of clothing into one load.

The common room is often a weird mishmash of old squashy furniture on several random layers of threadbare carpeting, and it feels like being in Gryffindor tower. There's just a little hunt of magic in the connections with these other hikers. There are old books, and log journals dating back for decades, so you can paw through and see the names of your ancestral hiking partners. You can sink into the squishy couch, which regardless of its state of being, will feel like the most comfortable thing you've ever put your bum on in your entire life.

Every once in a while, there will be a person who feels entitled. This hiker will be loud and obnoxious and demanding. This person will complain about paying fifteen dollars, or will sneak out without paying at all. This person will leave their trash laying around, and will take that ten minute shower with the hot water on full blast. This person pretends to be a hiker, and sure, maybe they did walk several hundred miles to get to this hostel. But this person is not a hiker. This person is a jerkface. The best way to deal with someone like this is to gingerly tell them to knock it the eff off and not allow them to continue to take advantage of the hostel owners. This person will only continue to parade about their entitlement if they feel they have the power to do so. 

Owning a hostel garners no income. The people that do it do it solely out of the beautiful kindness of their hearts. All they hope is to maybe break even, and maybe make people happy. They see thousands upon thousands of hikers, and they love the community, even with the icky lumps. DT and I often paid more than the baseline suggested amount for a stay, because it was the right thing to do. We never expected anything in return. We hoped that this could in some small way make up for the doodoo heads who refused to pay.

As it turns out, I don't have very many photographs from inside hostels. I think this was because we were caught up having too much fun relaxing, being present and just being stationary for a moment in the unending current and flow of the trail.

Hiker hostels exist nowhere else than on long distance trails. Yes, there are youth hostels all over the world, and I've stayed in a fair amount of youth hostels here in our fair country. But there is something magical and unique about a hostel full of hikers, that just doesn't feel the same anywhere else.

It might be the smell.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

28. Freedom From Technology

Recently I wrote about freedom from pop culture while hiking. Though pop culture is easily accessed through technology, I promise that this post will be 100% different from that post. It's a different subject. These were two different suggestions given (in quick succession) during our original list brainstorming session, that day in New Jersey.

Now, on to the words!


I didn't send a single text message from March 7th 2013 until May 9th, 2013. The first text message I sent was to my friend Jessica, out of the blue. I was sitting in a coffee shop in Daleville, VA. We'd just gotten our rental car, and we were about to embark on our tangential road trip up to Boston for my friend Meredith's wedding. I had to get in contact with Jessica to coordinate meeting up with her and our other friends. I sent her a text, and within seconds, she replied.

My brain had a conniption fit.

It was as though I was standing on the edge of a void, screaming out Jessica's name, and against all physical probability, her voice came barreling back to me out of the ethereal nothingness. It was like being some sort of divine being, capable of profound feats of sorcery. And thus it was that my second text message in two months was:

Yes, I dug back through my iPod and found this text from May 9th, 2013.
Neither DT nor I had a phone with us for the trail. I had my iPod touch, but I only used it in towns to write and upload my blog posts. It didn't occur to me that I could text people or go on facebook. Within a week of being on the trail, that entire part of my brain shut down. I could only fathom being in social contact with people in my literal, physical vicinity.

I believe that I am, and have always been, pretty good at being 100% present with people who are in front of me. This makes me a pretty bad long distance friend, as I am usually horribly bad at getting back in contact with people who have reached out to me. Even though I am able to focus on the people in front of me and don't get distracted by my phone or text messaging, I am easily drawn into technology the moment I am alone. Technology makes it such that we are never actually alone. Even when we're all by ourselves in a room, we clutch a wizard talisman in our hands that lets us beam our thoughts directly into the brains of people 1,000 miles away from us. Do you realize how FREAKING WONDROUS YOUR PHONE IS?!

I do love when people get frustrated with their phones being slow, or having a few seconds lag time. Like, ugh, don't you just hate it when your magical Harry Potter device takes a few extra seconds to beam your thoughts to outer space, then back down to thousands of connecting wires to tell people on the other side of the world that you're jamming out to Taylor Swift?

There is only one second in between a thought being in my brain, and the same thought being downloaded into your brain, no matter the physical distance between the brains in question.

Every once in a while we think about this, and then we let it go. If we had to go around being agog at the miracle of modern technology, we wouldn't be able to get anything done, and we DEFINITELY wouldn't have enough time to perfect exactly how to express our deepest fears through emoji. So we need to take it for granted, just to keep ourselves sane.

But this also means that we are easily drawn into technology, willingly chained to our facebook pages, our snapchats and instagrams. I am not a technology naysayer. I love it, frankly. I think it's fabulous, and I think it's the way that we are moving in regard to communication. I am not resisting the transition to our social interactions being through a screen.

However, I am resisting the idea that it has to be that way all the time.

When you're long distance hiking, you can leave your phone behind. You can leave text messages unanswered. You can leave emails unanswered. You can decide when and where and how you decide to plug in, and no one will get mad at you. No one will be offended that you didn't have service in the middle of the wilderness.

You can be free, truly free.

Free to be alone. Free to be entirely present with the soul of the person sitting right in front of you.

Free to let your thoughts exist and flow in more than 140 character soundbites.

Clever Girl

Monday, January 19, 2015

29. Snacktime

"So, he says he has to wait for his family to come back from their day hike, but then he can give us a hitch into town," reported Dumptruck, walking back over to Apollo and I. 

It was early evening, and we had been trying to hitch-hike into Glasgow, Virginia for (no exaggeration) at least 20 minutes with no success. Apple Butter and Hotdog had gotten to the crossing before us, and had long ago made it into town. We wanted to get into town for a few reasons, not the least of which the fact that the town had a little park set up specifically for thru-hikers, that included an outdoor gravity shower. We were super tired, and just wanted to be able to set up our tents, eat dinner and go to sleep. Except we couldn't, because we were trapped on the side of the road in the middle of Virginia.

We found a little parking lot, and then began our 45 minute wait for this kind gentleman's family to come back, so we could schlep into town together. We weren't complaining, as we were depending on the kindness of a stranger. However, we were still super hungry. We couldn't set up dinner, because we didn't know if we'd have to stop our food mid-boil. We were right at the end of our food supply, because we had planned to get into Glasgow to resupply.

I pulled out my meager foodbag and rummaged around inside, hoping for something, anything, to tide me over.

I found a packet of velveeta macaroni cheese and a packet of ramen. Without even hesitating, I ripped open the velveeta and squeezed it onto the raw, dry ramen noodles and started eating it. Apollo looked on in horror.

"You're really eating that?" he asked, not with judgment, simply fascination.

"Yep," I nodded, "if you close your eyes you can kinda convince yourself it's just really, really bad nachos."

And then, once I got tired of the pretense of using the dry ramen as a vehicle for the cheese, I just started squeezing the processed cheese product right from the packet into my mouth.

Snacktime is the best!

In all sincerity, snacktime was one of my favorite things about thru-hiking. It was a way to take a good, random 10 minute break at any point in the day without needing any other excuse other than "I'm hungry." All long distance hikers are hungry, all the time, and so it's a good reason to rest your weary bones every once in a while. Sometimes we'd take our backpacks off, but sometimes we'd just leave the packs on, and sit on a log.

We discovered pretty quickly that snacktime is very important, because if you try to eat and hike at the same time, you will tempt death.  If you try and chew a Clif bar while climbing a moutain, you will fear for your life. It's impossible to breathe, the bite takes what feels like 1,000 chews to complete, and you WILL trip and choke. 

So just relax for a minute! Sit down, and eat your snack.

No matter how horrifying and disgusting that snack might be to normal people.

Stopping for some oatmeal!

Aw, nuts!

This is canned herring. So we combined herring + heron to = herron. Delicious! 

Mountaintop whoopie pie.

Oh, honey.
Clever Gi

Friday, January 16, 2015

30. Being Above the Birds

In Maine, I stood on the top of the Bigelow Mountains, and tried to see if I could look back to where I began. The mountaintop is above the treeline, so there was nothing between me and the bottomless ocean of the sky. Somewhere out there, beyond the miles and months, beyond the tears and get-wrenching laughter, was the beginning of my journey. Somewhere out there was the before me. And somewhere ahead of me was the after. Just in between there was a raven, soaring far above the ground, and far below where I stood.

The setting sun reflected off the dark feathers, as it turned a gentle circle with the ease of a child, spinning with their arms outstretched just to get the feeling that they could lift off. I saw the smallest flash of rainbow as the light cascaded its way across the spectrum of filaments that gave this raven flight. Simply through the perspective shift of height, birds can see things happen before we can; they can see the world change. Far in the distance there could have been a fire, and this raven would know far before a squirrel. Does this mean the raven is a fortune teller?

When I was in the trees, I could only see so far. I had a limited knowledge of my future, of the path I was yet to take. All I had were some marks on a page in a book written by a stranger, telling me to trust that this was the right way to go. But suddenly I was above the birds. I could see for what felt like forever.

I think a lot of us get caught up in worrying about the future. We worry that we won't accomplish a certain goal, or that we'll disappoint ourselves. We worry that we won't make enough money to be able to get away. We worry that we'll mess it all up. We worry for the happiness and well being of the people we love. We worry and worry because we wish that we could see what was going to happen. Tarot cards and fortune tellers and psychics all exist because we have this devastatingly, heartbreakingly impossible need to know that it's all gonna be okay.

But then sometimes we are given a glance, just a moment, to stand on a mountaintop and look down at a bird. We're always looking up at birds, we only ever see one side, one perspective. We yearn to fly. We dream of flight so thoroughly that even thought we have these miraculous, complex machines that can hurtle us through the air across the country, it's still not good enough. It's not good enough because we want to fly with our own wings, unencumbered by anything but the wind. We want to be able to float above the earth and look in any direction, to know exactly where we've been and exactly what it will be like when we get to the end.

I could see, in that moment of the reflection off the tilted angle of a wing, that I didn't need to know.

Sometimes we get so caught up in worrying about the future that we forget to make sure that we're happy in the moment. I decided then, somewhere near the end of my hike, that it had been the right choice to take the risk. I was scared before I left. I wasn't scared of the physical hardship, or of the trail itself. I was scared that I was making the wrong decision, that I would get to the end and look back and think that it had been a mistake. If I had let that worry rule me, if I had been so preoccupied with knowing what the birds could see, then I never would have gone.

But I did go. And I learned to let go of expectations. I learned to put all my best energy into the world, and to accept what it gives back. And that's okay.

It's all gonna be okay.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

31. The Great Underpants Choice

This is one of those things that cannot really be written about in depth without veering into dangerously inappropriate territory, but needs to be part of this list. Also, it is one of the terrific things about hiking that I actually didn't engage in! But other people did, and they really enjoyed themselves, or so I suppose.

How shall I put this?

Sometimes in life, two things (bums and underpants) love each other very much, and decide to move in together. This is a lifelong love affair, usually starting from the time the bum is very small. The relationship is a bit rocky at first, as the small bum decides whether or not this "underpants" thing is a good idea. Often this decision comes up at fancy parties, when the 2 year old bum decides that it just wants to be free, and will parade around the house completely bare, to the horror of the parent-bums, and to the delight of all guest-bums present.

After that, the bum settles in for a pretty permanent stay. After about 12 years of knowing each other, around adolescence, some female bums get into a pretty severe love-hate relationship with the underpants, and all their varying ill-fitting shapes, styles, and fabrics. This only worsens as time goes on. Some feminist bums decide never to get into the love-hate relationship at all, and either just stick with the love part (all cotton, all the time). Some male bums get into the opposite problem, where one pair of underpants will hang out with the bum for weeks at a time, without either of the noticing or much caring about the buildup of scent.

Once the bum reaches adulthood, it basically knows what it likes in regard to its relationship with underpants. But (for the most part) there is a pretty consistent partnership. The underpants will remain forever, mostly comfy and good.

Until the bum decides to hike the Appalachian Trail or other long-distance trail.

And suddenly, the bum and underpants get to decide whether to "go on a break."

All I will say is that I know that I love underpants VERY MUCH, and I brought SIX pairs with me, to try and wear a fresh pair as often as possible. Once or twice I might have made up totally convincing and entirely false excuses to get into a town, when all I really wanted was to be able to lauder my underpants because six days had gone by.

BUT(T), the reason that this post is part of the top 200, is that a lot of folks on the trail spoke openly and fervently about their delight in their bums being,




Clever Girl

Monday, January 12, 2015

32. Friends/Family Coming to Visit

Something weird happens when you go on a lengthy adventure. It feels like the world you left behind becomes frozen in time. That frozen time can become very alarmingly and delightfully shattered when you are reminded that time continued on without you, as is its way. It's like when you graduate from college, and then never go back to visit. It continues to exist in your mind, in an unchanging bubble, exactly the way you left it. Until you go back for a reunion and you are startled to find that the on-campus housing you lived in was long-ago bull-dozed for being an unsalvageable sinkhole of horror (I lived in the creative arts house! I have so many antibodies from living in that dump!).  

When we left for the trail, I knew we would be saying goodbye to a lot of really good people, and I knew that their lives would continue on without us. But for each person to whom I bade farewell, a memory of them was put into a pretty picture frame in my mind. When I see someone on a regular basis, they constantly change, but I am too close to them to see it happen. The picture of them in my mind naturally evolves beyond my conscious awareness. But if I go months without seeing someone, when I see them again, it's like a new framed picture explodes into frame to replace the one before, shattering glass and wood all over the place. 

It's like momentarily waking from a dream, to find you've been asleep for weeks.

Trying to coordinate with people visiting us along the trail was like trying to get a perfect bullseye on a dartboard that's moving back and forth at 60mph, at a distance of 200 feet. We didn't have a cell phone. We didn't know exactly when we'd be somewhere, because we weren't following any sort of strict schedule. People in the real world have jobs, and have to know things in advance. Because of that, we had a long list of people we were going to try to see, but we were only able to make it happen with around half of them. That made it all the more miraculous and incredible on the rare occasion we were actually able to coordinate successfully.

It's funny, DT and I lived in New York City for so long, and were separated from our families for months at a time, just living our normal lives. But as soon as we set foot on the trail, that separation took on an entirely new color. We were suddenly not only separate, but also unreachable. This made the reunions feel like coming together after being apart for years while living on opposite sides of the world. When friends of ours came to see us when we passed through New York (friends we'd only been away from for 4 months), my heart was so incredibly, profoundly full of love that my whole body shook uncontrollably and I cried and cried and cried.

It's also really exciting to have someone who can pick you up at a road crossing and drive you to a place where there's pie.

Mama Whistle (in the cowboy hat)!
Teaching Mother Trucker to make a kazoo out of a piece of grass!

Mother Trucker and Dump Daddy!

And again!

My bff Jessica's dad John! Arm wrestling to determine who will pay for dinner

John and Connie!

Hotdog's sister Kielbasa!

Whistle learning to spin from her aunt


My dad (on the right)! With Barbarossa!



Beautiful people in New York!

MORE beautiful people in New York!

Beautiful Melissa!

My sister and brother!!

Clever Girl

Friday, January 9, 2015

33. Showers

We are vegetarians, but living in Tiny House has nonetheless brought death to one innocent creature:

A mouse, who drowned in my shower water.

Our 2 gallon shower drains directly out a 12 inch PVC pipe to a 4 gallon tupperware underneath the house. After my shower, I have to go around outside the house, pull the tupperware free, and walk back around to empty it into a dry well. I forgot to mention a crucial step, in that I typically get dressed in between the shower and walking around the house. I shower in the morning, and it's possible that it could slightly upset the neighbors to have a brazenly nekkid lady attending to her hippie plumbing. The other night it was near midnight, below 0 degrees, and DT ran outside in nothing but his skivvies and hiking boots to dump his grey water. Never have I heard such screams from a grown man.

I have to remember to always dump the shower water promptly, for several reasons. The first reason is if I take a shower the next day, 2 showers worth of water will overflow the tupperware, and then I have to delicately skid my way across the lawn while holding a 32-pound bucket of dirty sloshing liquid at arm's length while wearing fancy work clothes. The second reason is now that it is blisteringly cold here in Maine, the water begins to freeze almost immediately. The third reason is that if I don't remember to empty it, a mouse might accidentally fall in and drown.

But it was an accident! I am a perpetrator of mouse manslaughter. Mouslaughter. It's punishable in 12 states by the removal of all cheese privileges for a year.

What's funny is that the process of taking a shower (boiling water, pumping up a weed sprayer zillions of times to keep up the pressure, taking a ship shower, using less than 2 gallons of water total whereas the typical American uses around 20 gallons, feeling the freezing cold jet of air rocketing up on my bum from the open drain to outside, having to carry my own dirty water across the lawn, etc), literally doesn't bother me at all. Wanna know why?

Showers, of all shapes and sizes, water flows and temperatures, ARE A GIFT FROM HEAVEN.

When we have the privilege of the luxury of plumbing, we can easily take for granted the fact that we are wasting a limited resource (fresh water) on cleaning our butts. OUR BUTTS, I SAY. But when, for whatever the reason may be, that luxury is taken away from you, you learn to appreciate the heck out of it.

For me, long distance hiking taught me the invaluable lesson of appreciating showers. When I was filthy and sweaty and could start to see the distinct layers of grime on my face like geological strata, I would spend hours fantasizing about just standing in someone's backyard and getting blasted with a garden hose. 

The true shower I got once a week or once every 10 days was like being dunked by Thetis into the River Styx, being granted total immortality. I didn't care if the skeezy motel tiles had black mold creeping in at the edges, or if it was an outdoor, freezing cold gravity shower. It was the sort of glory only akin to being the dinosaur bones that finally are unearthed after millions of years wallowing in dirt. 

In this metaphor I am a velociraptor.

Appreciate your shower, if you have one. Seriously.

Appreciate your water! 

And if you can help it, don't murder mice.

Clever Girl

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

34. Dumping the Frivolous

Almost all of us have pet peeves. Maybe you hate it when people chew with their mouths open, or clip their fingernails on the subway train, or crack their knuckles, or wear intoxicating perfume even though they share an elevator every day with 10 other people for 15 floors. Pet peeves come in all shapes and colors, but they are united by one commonality: a pet peeve will not kill you. Unless of course your pet peeve is when people drop lobster into your mouth when you're sleeping, and you're deathly allergic to shellfish. If that has happened to you enough times that it has become a pet peeve, you need to get some new roommates. Seriously, your insurance isn't gonna cover that much repeated anaphylactic shock. 

Daily annoyances exist for all of us, because we're human, and sometimes we don't have the patience or the willpower or the caffeine to be able to handle aggravations in our environment. But there is one more thing that unites all pet peeves and annoyances:


Daily annoyances (that don't actually directly impact our bodies or freedoms, or health, etc), don't actually hurt us. Most of us aren't aware of the fact that we're making the choice to be annoyed. When we're stuck in traffic and have no control over our situation, we are presented with a choice. We can either sit still and let rage percolate to a rising boil, or we can be patient. Either way to manage that situation will literally have no impact on the situation itself. No matter how much steam pours out of your ears, no matter how many curses fly from your mouth, no matter how many times you pound on the dashboard and accidentally turn on your windshield wipers, at the end of your temper tantrum, the traffic will still be there. 

It's interesting, because lack of control is one of the most intense triggers for people to become irritated. Sometimes that's a good thing, in the case of a revolution. When people are held in a society with no personal agency, things have to change. We need to have the fire that unites us to be able to accomplish change, and we can't incite change without motivation and frustration pushing us to want things to be different. But a revolution will not make the elderly, somewhat confused person in front of you in line at the bank move any faster. A revolution will not make the weather warmer. 

Just now, when I was trying to think of things that might annoy people, I had a very hard time thinking of anything. That's because, since finishing the Appalachian Trail, frivolous annoyances frankly don't bother me anymore. The Appalachian Trail hurt me, physically, in a lot of ways. But I kept going. Now, all I have to do is ask myself,

"Am I actively dying right now?"

If the answer is no, then the thing that is bothering me loses all of its power, and I am no longer bothered. Next I ask myself,

"Can I do something to stop this thing that is bothering me?"

If the answer is yes, then I will do my best do play my part in making my life slightly less frustrating. For example, if a friend is chewing with their mouth wide open, then I have the choice to politely ask them to knock it the heck off. If I'm in a store that's playing obnoxious music, I have the choice to remove myself from the situation. But if the answer is no, and I can't play any role in changing my current lot in life, then I can choose to allow that thing to just... have no power over me. I cannot change the fact that it's going to be negative 30 windchill tonight. But I can be happy that I am alive, safe and warm.

You probably think that I'm lying, you probably think that I get annoyed standing in line just like everyone else. That's true, the thought crosses my mind to be frustrated. But then I make the choice to let it go. Because living in the woods taught me what's really important, and what's really important is living happily. 

This is my life, and I have no one to blame but myself for how I choose to be impacted by what's around me.

Clever Girl

Monday, January 5, 2015

Being Present This Year

My dearest readers, friends, family, countrymen and robots,

I want to first of all say: I am sorry that I didn't give you any reading material on Wednesday or Friday. I am going to further compound this indecency by yet again not giving you a full piece of writing. What a world, what a world! 

I was going to give you the truth about why I couldn't write, which I assure you is very compelling, but I find that I can summarize it best this way:

I love to write, and I sincerely have no end of gratitude for you, beautiful reader. However, I needed to be fully present in my real life for this first week of the new year. Sometimes life gives us the beautiful gift of time with loved ones we would not otherwise get, and I needed to appreciate this gift with all of me.

Thank you for understanding. We will return to our regularly scheduled programming on Wednesday.

The most love in the world,
Clever Girl

Only 34 more to go! We're on our way!