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the boozy oracle of the lodge

It only takes a couple of bottles of wine and an Adirondack chair facing a Georgia mountain sunset to make some people think they’re an Appalachian Trailmaster, even if they’ve never stepped foot on the archetypical footpath. At least that was my experience when my two sons and I met up with a hiking buddy from Indiana at Amicalola to hike the AT approach trail to see how far as we could get towards the North Carolina border with our one-week work reprieve over the last week of March. The vine-ripened oracle was stationed on Amicalola State Park Lodge’s westward facing deck surrounded by hikers and other nature lovers. I don’t know now how we could have proceeded without her sage advice. She had evidently read everything from Myron Avery’s scrapbook to the latest hiker blogs on The Trek, and was freely sharing her vicarious knowledge with anyone who would listen. It made for lively conversation around the dinner table at the hotel buffet that evening before we all turned in for our last night on posh mattresses before hitting the stairs to the top of the falls the next morning.

I’d stationed my ten-year-old hikertrash beater at the trailhead down the road from Top of Georgia hostel, and my oldest son, Traveller (yes, it is supposed to have two L’s) met me and my youngest son whose previous hiking experience consisted of a jaunt from Mountain Home Cabbin near Front Royal, Virginia (yes, there are supposed to be two B’s) to the top of High Knob and back. He’s a gamer boy, and hiking has been, up to this point in his life, something sweaty and exhausting that weird people do in meatspace.

I was surprised when he said yes when I asked him if he’d like to come down to Georgia to hike with me, Traveller and Storyteller. We had several conversations in the weeks leading up to the trip as I pieced together his kit, an Osprey Exos 58 stuffed with a Tarptent Protrail, a Klymit Static V pad, some cobbled together cold weather layers, my cast-off Nike trail runners that I thought still had a little bit of life in them, new trekking poles, a new bright orange puffy, and three days of food. We shared my Caldera cone to rehydrate dinners. I said that at the least, he should try to get ten miles in per day, even on the relatively flat Manassas landscape, and he did go out and walk a few times, but it was hard for him to disconnect from the nocturnal friends of his Playstation universe. That is a tough cord to cut.

I had grandiose delusions that he’d find his personal beast mode during the week and lead us triumphantly to the top of Rocky Knob, but it was not to be. More about that in a later post. For now, let me just say that the glint in his eyes when he made it to the top of the falls and gazed back down upon what he had just accomplished contained more wisdom than the entirety of the boozy oracle’s gloamy gibberings had the prior evening. He had put one foot in front of the other, dug deep, and accomplished something beautiful: he had owned that climb. I saw something in him at that moment that squeezed my heart. Perhaps it was the beginning of a lifetime of love for these mountains that have called my name since I was about his age. He had the same dreamy, million-mile stare when we stood on the scenic overlooks and marveled at the ancient beauty of the hazy blue-green mountains geologists tell us were once the highest peaks on the planet.

The eightish mile climb from the stone archway to the top of Springer Mountain is a constant topic of debate on whiteblaze and other hiker forums. To hike or not to hike? Having climbed it now, I consider it part of the larger experience. Your mileage on that sentiment may vary, but I am now of the opinion that the starting point of the AT should be at the stone arch.

Traveller and I had been joking that when we got back to my car at the end of this section hike, the gamer boy was going to ask for my carbon fiber poles, the contents of my wallet, another three days worth of food, and say “will you pick me up in Maine?” The truth is, I would have given them up, hugged him, and stuffed his food bag with the choicest dehydrated delicacies that Top of Georgia hostel had on the shelf. Hell, there was the chance that I may have joined him. I think the thought of a thru-hike crossed his mind a few times over the next couple of days, but more for the love of the company than of nature. When you’re nineteen, your heart is full of many things that meld together into a potluck stew of emotion, intellect, and hormones.

“I was wondering where all the good looking girls were hiding,” he said to us after his second night experiencing shelter life in the bubble. Imagine his surprise when he discovered that the AT has smart, funny, strong women from all over the world who can hold their own in a world of physical deprivation and surreal natural beauty that demands every day whatever you can muster, and then rewards you times ten. I can’t say that he will sell his online gamer life for trail runners and nut butter tortillas at this point, but I think these mountains have moved into his soul.

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the dirt on dirt

I love the smell of dirt in the spring when the rains have wet the forest floor and farm fields of Indiana where I grew up. There’s a richness in the promise of green that will soon follow, as the flowers and plants begin to peek their heads up and the trees begin to bud, but on those first early days, when the soil is drinking in the last of the snowmelt, and the warm winds envelop me as I walk or bike through the landscape that is no longer winter but not yet spring, I’m in heaven.

And as much as I’d like to think that this feeling is heaven sent, the experiment is repeatable, not just for me but for everyone. There’s this little guy down in the muck named Mycobacterium vaccae, or M. vaccae for short, and he’s got some happy drugs for us. One of my friends pinged me a couple of days ago with a story over at Gardening Know How that sheds a bit of light on the subject of loam. Because of my extensive research in the dirt, I already knew this intuitively because, well, I like to get dirty. And muddy. And natchurel. I love to go outside, get wild, and reconnect with nature.

But dirt, it seems, in addition to being the most awesome substance on earth, is also a natural antidepressant. There is a lot of evidence that it stimulates serotonin production, which relaxes us and makes us feel happy. How great is that? If you need a financial breakdown of the cost savings between antidepressants and dirt, I went through the trouble of researching it for you. The results follow:

One month of the generic form of Prozac:  $25 a month

One month of the generic form of Dirt: Free

There is an added bonus that the effects of a single session of playing in the dirt can last for up to three weeks, so feel free to indulge. I’m planning on going out this weekend and seeing if I can overdose. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

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present in nature

Have you ever wondered why most schools keep the students confined in classrooms when the real “classroom of life” is the world at large? Maybe one of the reasons we have schools is to keep kids out from under our feet during grown-up work hours. Maybe they’re all taking things way to literally when we say that the kids are “at school.” It used to be that some of the incarceration was punctuated with a recess for the younger kids, and field trips for the older ones. But recess is rarely seen now beyond pre-K, and outings for the older students are quickly being replaced with “virtual field trips.”

There are other options. If there is a natural setting nearby, is your child’s school willing to allow some classes to be taught outside? Nobody may have even brought up the topic yet. Put your support behind nature field trips. Make sure there are study areas at home where nature can activate the senses. Get into nature with your family or friends. A couple of hours of nature contact can continue to have positive effects throughout the week. Be creative. Think outside the normal choices, because when you do, the choices become endless.

Did this post connect with you? Leave me a comment or question below, and please share.

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cleanse your soul with a forest bath

We are starving for contact with nature. As spring draws near, I wanted to offer a tool to help people renew that connection, but how? By releasing the first in a series of Greenlight Guides with the intent to help folks “Get outside. Go Wild. Reconnect with Nature.” The simple practice established in Japan back in the 1980s called Shinrin Yoku or Forest Air Bathing is an easy way to reap huge benefits from a slow, easy walk in nature. The practice has been getting a lot of attention in the media, and it seems a cottage industry has grown up around it. I saw a need for a cheap, short, accessible guide that could be read in a couple of hours and then used as a reference to get people out there doing it instead of reading about it. “Nature Therapy: Forest Bathing and Beyond” is all meat, no fat. A satisfying read designed to inspire you to find a spot, enter the forest, and begin forest bathing with no questions in the back of your mind like, “Am I doing this right?” and “Did I forget something important?” I have found no better way to slough off the stress of modern life and renew my own contact with nature than by immersing myself in the forest using the six easy steps included in this Greenlight Guide. Greenlight Guides are bareboned, easy to understand, 10,000-word ebooks and paperbacks designed to get you out doing the things you desired to learn.

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those idealistic millennials

Duck lip selfies. Always on their phones. Ignorant of history and politics. Hiding in safe spaces. Eating avocado toast. And that ubiquitous Starbucks cup. Arrrgh!

Let’s talk about those Millennials. They’re annoying, aren’t they? Thinking when they get an entry-level job that they’ll be senior vice presidents within a year. Living in our basements and playing video games into the middle of the night only to wake up for a late brunch the next afternoon. They’re aggravating, with their Casper mattresses, their SprezzaBox watches, bumper stickers, bespoke suits, and their damn sprouts.

Actually, I kind of like sprouts. They’re hard to find in the grocery stores unless you’re shopping at Whole Foods or Wegmans, but they’re crunchy and flossy and … foodie. And maybe the reason they’re so annoying and aggravating is because we don’t always want to hear what they’re saying because maybe they’re … right? sometimes. As the father of three Millennials, I can attest to the housing situation. I’ve got two over-eighteen-year-old Gen-Y children living with me right now. Because I invited them to do so. They cook and pay rent and lots of other adulting tasks, too. Most of the time. But they’re still here.

Yeah, it runs counter to the messages we were brought up with, doesn’t it?  My grandfather had four sons. When each one of them turned eighteen, he told them that by the end of summer after their Senior year, they’d get a job (offering to apprentice them as tool-and-dye makers), they’d be in college (which they’d pay for out of their own pockets), or they’d enlist in the military (and he’d give them a free ride to the recruiting station). Three of them went into the military. Two retired from it after twenty years. Two of them ended up with college degrees, one was a master carpenter, and the youngest learned to play guitar so well he could make you jump up and down or cry like a baby on command. They all did alright, is what I’m saying.

And me? I wormed my way through the rotten apple of college on grants and endowments, worked evenings in a mom and pop TexMex joint, married my high school sweetheart my sophomore year of college, had our first baby with her before graduation, then finished up the last semester after he was born. And I survived. I graduated with no college debt. Rent and utilities on a halfway livable apartment was around three hundred bucks a month. And there were jobs if you were a hard worker.

So why am I harboring two Millennials when by all rights I should be an empty-nester? Because college costs are fng ridiculous. Because housing costs are fng ridiculous. Because the job market is so specialized that a person cannot simply jump out of mom and dad’s nest, spread their wings, and fly anymore. Too many times, they end up hitting the ground. Hard. And these “new realities?” They happened on our watch. Under our noses, even. So I’m not saying this isn’t the land of opportunity anymore.

What I’m asking is “the opportunity to WHAT?”

That, I believe, is the question a lot of Millennials are asking themselves. It is a question I’m asking myself. We raised these kids telling them that they could be anything they wanted to be if they put their minds and energy behind a goal. But the goal posts keep moving. And they notice the unfairness.

I think a lot of them, most of them maybe, are tired of the vision of the American Dream that we handed them. We suggested alabaster cities full of happy people. They see YouTube videos of a floating island of plastic garbage in the Pacific Ocean and notice that their peers with the nuts and the guts to actually try to do something about it are mocked to derision by the same suits whose lack of ethics and foresight put that plastic in the ocean.

Our parents tried their hardest to put silver spoons in our mouths. We put plastic cutlery in the mouths of our own kids.

When Millennials tell us their fears about global climate change, they’re made to feel like fools for believing something so preposterous. When they suggest switching to sustainable energy sources instead of using up the last of the fossil fuels, they’re told the numbers just don’t work out, and oh by the way, that coal and oil is never going to run out.

I don’t think it is going to be long before they stop asking for permission to change the things they see that are wrong, and finally gain the upper hand. The day is coming quickly. I welcome it. Hell, I’ll even help.

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