…was the sound as I emptied my PO box this afternoon, depositing most of its contents into the waste bin of recycled trees. Of the 4-inch stack of mail in my little locked cubbie-hole, the only thing worth saving was one magazine: the latest issue of The Long Trail News, the quarterly publication of Vermont’s Green Mountain Club.
I sometimes hesitate to look at The Long Trail News. Because I know I’m going to feel pain when I look at it. The pain of near heart-bursting longing to return to Vermont; to get back on The Trail.
This afternoon was no different. Upon returning home I considered leaving the magazine in my bag, for I felt weary. Weary of the interminable election. Weary of alarming news stories. Weary of the day’s heat. . . of cleaning house. . . of not enough sleep. I needed a break.
Hmmm…Maybe I did want to look at it now, and let my mind escape to Vermont.
Settling into a comfy chair in my living room, mug of tea in one hand and The Long Trail News in the other, I started, for whatever reason, at the back, on the last page. There I found “From the Journal of Idgie,” by a woman I’d met on the trail. Though she likely wouldn’t remember me, we shared a room with several others at Inn at Long Trail two weeks into my hike. She started her hike on September 13th and finished on October 6th. Four weeks — just a little shy of what I’d hoped to hike it in.
But she finished.
And I haven’t.
My heart tightened a little with envy.
I skimmed forward a few pages, noting articles and announcements I’ll return to later, for more careful reading.
Then I got to the center of the magazine, where my heart constricted as I read the huge bold headline:
YOU DID IT!
171 Hikers Complete 272-Mile Footpath Through Green Mountains: Congratulation to the following hikers who walked the rugged footpath over the Green Mountain Range from the Massachusetts border to the Canadian border and became Long Trail end-to-enders.
And there listed were the names of the 171 thru-hikers of 2015.
I would have been 172.
I swallowed hard, and read through the names, my mind a stew of envy coupled with joy as I recognized my trail brethren: Mathieu “MapMat” Bastien – Montreal, QC; Justin “Juke Box” Bondesen – Bryant Pond, ME; Fred “Tater Salad” Beddall & Kristen “Swift” Sykes – Florence, MA; Reid “Mowgli” Van Keulen – Kingston, NH; Anna “Idgie”Stevens – Storeham, VT.
No “Dawn ‘TaosDawn’ Chandler”
My lips tightened across my mouth as I wiped the corner of my eye.
Next year, damint. My name will be there next year!
I let out a sigh, turned the page, and admired a beautiful two-page spread of photographs of Long Trail Shelters.
Upon the page these rustic structures sit like wise Buddhas, nestled among the trees. Some I know intimately from nights spent and meals had upon their plank floors. The one in the center on the far right is Montclair Glen — the last Long Trail shelter I laid eyes on, for it was there on September 27, 2015 where I limped off the trail. . . .
My eyes curved around the page . . . .
. . . and There was my name.
Above my name was a poem — my poem — one I’d written earlier this spring, and submitted on a whim to The Long Trail News.
Amulets Along Vermont’s Long Trail
My hand bolts
the alarm on my watch
tucked in the spidered corner
of this worn wooden shelter.
No one rises
earlier than I
slow with the weight
of a half-century
so as not to awaken
strangers with whom I’ve shared
intimacy of sleep.
Narrow funnel of light
channeling from my forehead
I stuff my bed, my food, my sodden clothes
into my pack, gather
my pen, my pages, my damp socks
lace my boots, and stagger,
hefting my small, heavy world
onto my back.
Patting my pockets,
my map presses my hip, my
compass my breast, my knife
folded against my waist,
as I bandage my prayer within
my father’s red bandana
wrapped around my knee
as I entwine my prayer
etched in two bands of silver
encircling my wrists.
I breathe in and breathe out
Rumi’s prayer in curls
of wet birch bark
as I step into the damp night
by Dawn ‘TaosDawn’ Chandler
2015 Long Trail Hiker