Trail Magic

I haven’t made it up or down the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails yet, just short arms of the former and books about the latter. Cheryl Strayed can take the credit for making the PCT wildly famous with Wild, but before that I enjoyed A Blistered Kind of Love, about a couple who made the same journeya true test of togetherness that’s definitely something to crow about. Before that, of course, there was Bill Bryson, with his A Walk in the Woods on the Appalachian. And then there are the ancient trails across the sea. Joyce Rupp told the tale of her pilgrimage walk along the Camino de Santiago  with a quiet and strong voice in Walk in a Relaxed Manner. The list goes on ad infinitum.

It’s not clear anymore where I first read about trail magic–the trail in my mind is littered with books. But the author who introduced me to the magic so joyfully and vividly described stumbling on a cache of cold beer in a stream that I wanted some. And I hate beer.

Lucky for me, trail magic isn’t limited to just suds. The term is most often used to describe a small gift left behind by a fellow wayfarer, someone who knew you’d come along and appreciate the gesture amid the requisite sweat, blisters, and bug bites of a long journey on foot. But it can also simply indicate an unexpected joy on the path.

I almost missed my own trail magic today. I only had 20 minutes between summer camp drop-off and my work commute to walk around the bend of Cedar Lake in Chester, but I was quickly rewarded with the honor of depositing a wayward baby turtle back up onto the lakeside grass. Not long after that an unusually large (extended?) family of geese made a little parade across the street and down the bank. I walked by a slightly derelict French farmhouse-type house for sale, full of fantasy about the writing retreats I could host there, complete with forays to the water. Finally, I visited a unique gravestone at the tiny West End cemetery, painstakingly encrusted with colored stones. I waded through the damp grass and spoke to the soul honored there, reminding her that she must have been very much loved–and such a spot those who loved her chose! Across the  lake from the grave, summer camp was in full swing with hoots of happy children and bustling counselors. Trail magic, just from rounding the bend. Imagine what could happen with a whole coast!


Hopeful Dreams and Heavy Pack


Today I leafed through The Fields of Noon, an outdoors-themed book by the author better known for her Disney-adapted The Incredible Journey. This book’s most recent copyright (my edition, anyway) coincides with the close of the baby boomer birth years. But across the decades I find another woman I like, one who packs for a long walk with the same philosophy as me:

…It took me nearly ten minutes to assemble all the necessary gear for an afternoon’s walking in the bush…Into the pockets went shells, insect repellent, chocolate, cigarettes, silk scarf, pencil, notebook, and a tired hunk of garlic sausage; attached to my belt were a knife (mushrooms, etc.) and a small prospector’s pick (geology); over my shoulders were slung a camera (for photographing mushrooms) and field glasses (distant birds?); I carried in one hand a gun (partridge for dinner), and in the other a chip basket (rocks and mushrooms). I looked like a mobile Christmas tree…

Alright, I admit she’s got me beat–for a long walk that includes civilization in its route, I may have my iPhone (for pictures or emergencies), money (coffee or water), dog poop pickup bags, collapsible dog bowl, jacket, keys, bird guide, binoculars (and dog, of course!). But no gun, no cigarettes, no knife, and certainly no silk scarf–maybe I should kick it up a few notches and go more Sheila Burnford, striving for the  look that cries out for tinsel and colored lights to complete the ensemble. She died in 1984, at only 66, and I am so grateful I got to meet her, at least through her words.