Gran's Apple Butter Blog

December 19, 2011

Going Home, Excerpt: Stronger Shoulders (7XII)

Chapter 7 – Stronger Shoulders

Like everyone else, Gran had made some tough decisions along her journey, ones she’d just as soon have avoided. Eventually, each fork in the road we ignore reappears, no matter how many times we think we snuck past it undetected. Gran noticed that whenever she took the easy road, the one that seemed to lead downhill, before long she’d find herself right back at that same fork, or at least one that looked suspiciously like it.

She could keep going ‘round in circles – that was her favorite option for a while. After all, we get to pick our trail. We can drive uphill or down, on steep, rocky terrain or a smooth, dirt-packed road. But when we keep choosing the same leg at that fork, we grow tired of the slant of the hillside, and the ruts in the road grow deeper until just making it around that circle becomes an unbelievable struggle. When Gran reached the point she could no longer bear the idea of the same old road, she’d chosen the unknown.

Yes, that path led uphill. It also went through some long, dark tunnels that were almost more than she could bear. All the stale air in those tunnels must have messed up her odometer, Gran said, or at least her depth perception, ‘cause somehow she felt like each mile in that darkness took her much further than it measured in the light of day. That more than made up for the few times she’d thrown ‘er in reverse, ‘cause in her bones she could feel it – with each turn of those wheels, she was nearing home.

Now and then as Gran ascended this new road, she’d come around a corner to find the most beautiful view spread across the valley below. A chance to breathe and soak in the splendor: Just what she needed after that long, steep grade. She’d pull over and stretch her legs, maybe peel an orange or a chocolate or just relax for a bit.

Sometimes she’d sneak in a little hike, just for the fun of it. Over time she noticed her body was responding to all this exercise, legs and lungs growing strong, back and shoulders widening for the pack she always carried. She realized she could carry more, walk further, faster, climb steeper grades than ever before, without even getting winded. That’s how she knew she was growing.

She thought her mind had grown the most. She’d gotten a little wiser along the way. She’d learned to pack her bag well, leaving everything but necessities behind. The further she traveled, the less she needed. That toothbrush handle, why, that’s an extra three ounces… forget that!

She’d also learned how valuable the rules of the hiking road were: “If you can’t pack it out, don’t pack it in!” She’d learned to quit asking others to carry her pack for her, and to stop saying yes when others asked her to carry theirs. In the end this only exhausted her and weakened them, until she’d realized it was best to focus on her own journey, her own pack.

At first when others had asked Gran to carry their bags, eagerly eyeing her broad shoulders, she’d complied, feeling a little flattered. Even after she stopped that, she’d tried sharing what she’d learned on all those trails, but that never seemed to work well either, so she finally gave it up. She felt a little sad about that, but she knew it was highest good.

What she didn’t know, what I could see from a distance, was that several hikers were watching her, how she packed her bag, trimming weight here and there, heaviest stuff in the bottom for balance, light things on top, water bottle handy, and a rain cover over the outside. They were watching how she picked her trail, how she sighted her line of travel. And they began to do the same thing, at least when no one was looking. 

Gran just kept doing her thing, following her own path. When she had the chance for an overnighter, she’d build a fire, pitching her tent when rain threatened, gazing at the stars when it didn’t. In the morning she’d break camp quickly and methodically, minding her own business, unaware that eyes were following her movements, hands rolling and zipping to mirror her own.

Somewhere down the path she’d look up and smile, surprised to see a familiar face. She’d nod respectfully, then turn back to her trail as this new friend passed, moving quickly along his way, just like it was meant to be.

Every now and then Gran would strike out into virgin wilderness, to test new ideas, new equipment. It didn’t always go well, she was the first to admit. But again, as always: stronger shoulders, stronger back, stronger legs… and so it went.

Starting next week – Chapter 8: You Have Reached Your Destination!
© Mary Batson, Going Home, Front Porch Rambles, and Gran’s Apple Butter Blog, 2010-2011. All rights reserved.
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