I’m back in Export, Pennsylvania now, a quiet place just outside the Pittsburgh metro area. I’m still trying to, in a sense, get back to normal after a long walk across the continent. I don’t really think most people would find my life very “normal” in the conventional sense (no climbing of the career ladder, no children and little social life) but I do try to maintain some routines, to think of priorities and the fundamentals. So, I’d love to post on some new high adventure or facet of ecology you really should be thinking about but things have just been a lot more introspective lately and so, I think this is what I should be writing about. Maybe someone besides me will find it helpful.
My health has to come first and there’s good reason to prioritize this following the Long March. You might find it surprising but really long hikes, say 1500 miles and more, tend to break the hiker down more than build them up, in my experience. People who’ve encountered me along the way have remarked on how worn I looked when they met me and it’s no illusion – I feel it from sunburnt head to aching toes. Nutrition seems impossible to properly maintain during long hauls. It’s tough to get enough meat to re-build strained and damaged muscle and it’s tough to get enough food, period.
So, I’m exercising and eating better now, or at least eating more. I’m now far stronger than I was when I finished the hike though I’ve only put on about 10 pounds. Even my legs are stronger than they were at the finish line. Walking is very repetitive and involves relatively few muscles. The unimposing terrain I traversed most of the time didn’t even build the kind of muscle I’d had in the quadriceps and calves at the tail end of my mountainous trout hikes many years ago. My diet is now much lower in sugar and carbohydrates and is much more diverse, including fruits, vegetables and plenty of meat.
Also along the lines of health, I’m still not letting the government pump experimental concoctions into my veins and I will certainly only be healthier for this in the years ahead.
Maybe I should have listed it first but I’m also taking care of my mind, which also suffered last year. I had little time to read during the hike and little ability to carry literature. I’d started on the West Coast carrying a copy of Plato’s Laws in the pack, thinking this would be a good time to read the last of his foundational works. Unfortunately, this was heavy and was left at a homeless encampment west of the Cascades where I can only hope it fell into deserving hands.
I feel like I’ve made up for nine months of literature deprivation though in the six or seven weeks I’ve been back. I re-completed a thin volume I’ve finished before, The System of Liberty, since arriving home. I’ve begun Jim Payne’s A History of Force, a reread of Walden, and plunged into an ambitious long read: the Chicago Manual of Style. I’ve dabbled, for various reasons, in a book on ancient forests, a couple of books on Appalachian history, an English grammar handbook and a few academic papers on acid mitigation in streams. This is completely aside from what I’ve consumed in periodicals and online. I love variety and believe that radically different types of literary materials are necessary to exercise the brain in ways that are hard to imagine.
I try to keep up with a cup of turkey tail tea daily – my drug of choice for mental accuity. I can only claim that I’ve felt improvement during the months I’ve been drinking it though it’s hardly been a properly controled study. And for those who don’t know turkey tail, it’s a very common small mushroom that’s been demonstrated to offer a wide range of health benefits particularly for the human mind and immune system. And again, I trust turkey tails I found on a log in the woods more than I trust the politicians who want to mandate their favorite medicines for me.
Life in the civilized world also comes with a set of well-known distractions, mainly having to do with the internet, and so my mental health seems to have as much to do with what I’m not putting into my mind as what I am. I just try to avoid the junkfood and go straight to the information I need for my purposes. Easier said than done.
Employment is right up there when it comes to priorities currently. I do like to eat and keep a roof over my head at least some of the time and so, like pretty much everyone else, I need a job. Reading this blog over time may give readers the idea that I live in a nether-world of deep forest and rich streams where I while away the days composing my own thoughts and concocting new schemes and adventures but that’s not really the case. A respectable career track has just never been among my priorities.
I like variety in my employment as much as I like it in my fishing, mushroom hunting and the places I spend my time. I think variety’s important to keep an individual from stagnating, from allowing the mind to atrophy. Unfortunately, I don’t think that employers sympathize much with my perspective. Time spent on job hunting sites seems to persuade that employers are looking for the type of specimen who has long ago pigeon-holed himself with credentials and then perhaps twenty years of operating the same machine or performing the same procedures. This is so much more safe – to hire someone who’s predictable, someone who can be relied on to conform and to get all the little details right.
And this does much to describe my current predicament. The 21st Century ideal employee is, in general, a kind of person I don’t want to be. I value my very diverse resume. It’s perhaps the resume I would have envisioned myself holding one day back when I entered the workforce as a teen. I have experience in writing and in long traverses and a broad knowledge of North America’s fishes. Far less in compliance and procedures and certifications.
A friend and I talked about some of this on the phone recently and he was quick to affirm, “Yeah, I want that kind of diversity too. Variety is the spice of life, afterall.”
“Well, that’s great, Drew but the problem is that my resume’s grown very, very spicy in recent years.” Employers seem to have no appetite for what I bring to the table.
I suppose I’m complaining, though I have little to complain about. I substantially live the kind of life I want to live and am more self-directed and free than anyone I know, which is worth a lot.
Some of what I wrestle with now seems to relate to integrity. Not so much questions of whether I’ll do things that are illegal or immoral but, rather, softer matters of what I will or won’t do to pay my way. Should I allow an employer to give me exactly the words I should use in a customer service situation or should I resist on the basis of my words being some of my most precious posessions – the things I will be personally judged on and held accountable for? Should I wear a COVID mask – those most flagrant of outward signals that we are in a dire plague era and need to comply with whatever government tells us we need to do? How should I deal with government certifications – which I don’t value at all – but which are precious to the modern employer, in the most superficial way possible?
Enough about my personal employment situation though.
Also still among my priorities is The Fight. No, I haven’t forgotten the need to fight against the spread of authoritarianism in whatever way I’m able. I’d like to think I could claim that I’ve already done my part after last year’s walk but our would-be dictators are ever on the move with new schemes and new fears to insinuate into the populace even as the fear of COVID wanes among thinking people.
So, even though I’ve got no plans to walk across the country this year, I’m still in the fight. I’m repairing myself at the moment, re-grouping and studying. There will be a next move.
I’m reminded that I carried a flag above the pack last year reading “Liberty First,” so maybe I’ve got things completely out of order here as I’ve listed present priorities. Yes, “Liberty First.” My health is already a lost cause if I can’t make healthcare decisions for my own body. I might as well not learn if I can’t choose what I read and also what I contribute to the dialogue. And, despite all the problems of the modern workplace, how much worse would it be if the government had directed me into the position I should hold and kept me on its career track?
Yes, Liberty First – I’m free to fix the other stuff later.