In her popular, best-selling memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl Strayed described magic so beautifully as “sweet…relief”. And I don’t know about you, but I could sure use a little more of that in my life. Sweet relief from the demands of my to-do list. Relief from days and days of slogging through life. Relief from the often uphill battle to stay positive in a world that is all too happy to suck the joy out of my existence.
So today, as we are out on the trail, let’s be on the lookout for magic. Or better yet, let’s leave a little magic behind for those that come after us. Let’s be the ones that share little moments of delight that offer up some sweet relief that all of us so desperately need.
It was an impulse purchase, as most items are from Target…the ones that wind up in the basket that weren’t originally on the list. But as I passed by the electronics section towards the dedicated Halloween area, the book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail caught my eye. Probably because of the big 20% off sticker in the lower right-hand corner. But nevertheless, because I was sure that I was probably the last person on Earth to read this popular, best-selling memoir, I decided to go ahead and put it in my cart.
If you are not familiar with it, Wild is the story of Cheryl Strayed’s 1,100-mile hike on the Pacific Coast Trail. The book chronicles her harrowing journey and the personal struggles that led up to her decision to hike the trail with no previous hiking experience or training. Throughout the book, the author describes, in vivid detail, the challenges of her experience on the trail…seemingly enduring one crisis after another. But although Cheryl was traveling solo, she was rarely ever ‘alone’. She was often haunted by painful memories of her past or accompanied by the physical challenges of crippling foot pain, severe hunger and thirst, and exhaustion.
As I followed along in the book with the author’s three-month hike from the Mojave Desert to the Washington border, I couldn’t help but think that her story might also serve as a sort of allegory that could convey some insight on this journey that we call life. Fighting our way, step by step, up the cragged side of mountain or slogging through the muck and mud. Glorious days where the trail feels like a wide, flat, expanse of wildflowers only to be followed by days of endless, cold rain. I can certainly relate to these real-life trail circumstances when viewed as metaphors for the ups and downs of my human experience.
At one point on the trail, almost to the Oregon border with about 300 miles left to hike, Cheryl stopped for the day to make camp. It was late afternoon and she was eating a fresh peach – one that was left for her by a pair of hikers who had passed through that spot earlier in the day. While enjoying the shade and nice place to rest, she was taking of notice of her surroundings…appreciating both the beauty of her physical location and the kindness of hikers’ gift. And in this moment of gratitude, she reflected upon her journey thus far…remarking that not a day went by when she didn’t experience some sort of trail magic.
“As difficult and maddening as the trail could be, there was hardly ever a day that passed that didn’t offer up some form of what was called trail magic in the PCT vernacular – the unexpected and sweet happenings that stand out in stark relief to the challenges of the trail.”
The minute I read this, I reached into my night side table and grabbed a pen. Then I underlined and outlined this entire passage in the book.
These words have been the music playing in the back of my mind for the past week or so. Probably because they sort of echo my own creative vision – to find the joy and magic in my ordinary life. And as we embark on the month that has been traditionally set aside for thankfulness, I have decided to let this notion act as a sort of lens through which I will see my practice of gratitude.
From the surprise of a rose blooming in late October to the delight of a beautiful Monarch butterfly in my own backyard, this month I hope to focusing on the the gifts and blessings – “the unexpected and sweet happenings” – that offer welcome relief in what can often be a difficult and challenging journey.