April 14, 2017
We have friend named Springfever, his real name is Fred, but his trail name is Springfever. We met Springfever/Fred when we lived on the Gaspe peninsula. I met Fred in French language classes and in the get to know you practice conversation, "J'aime faire de la randonnée" (I like to make hiking) we discovered a mutual love of hiking and backpacking.
Springfever lived most of his life in the United States and was a judge for the State of Delaware. If I recall correctly, it was in middle age that he got into long distance hiking and then proceeded to hike many trails including: El Camino de Santiago, Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, and the Appalachian Trail. His most significant hiking accomplishment was the entire Eastern Continental Trail, starting in Key West, Florida and ending in Forillon National Park on the Gaspe Peninsula. This 8,000 km trail includes the Appalachian Trail and the International Appalachian Trail (IAT).
It was hiking the Eastern Continental Trail, where Springfever met his wife, a Quebecoise, who was hiking with a group of people on a Quebec section of the IAT. They met, fell in love, and married. In the process Springfever finished his career in Delaware, moved to rural Quebec, became a Canadian citizen and Quebecois. I met Springfever when he was in his seventies, several years after his move north. He was trying to learn French as I was trying to learn French. His understanding of written French and spoken French was well-beyond my skills, but his pronunciation betrayed his angolophone roots every time.
I remember the joy I felt at meeting Springfever, the winter of my French language lessons and telemark skiing. We had recently moved back to Canada from the United States and at times I felt very out-of-place in the culture of the Gaspe peninsula. (At times, I still feel very out-of-place in the culture of Quebec in general.)
Our family was planning a thru-hike and here, in a small town in rural Quebec, of all places, we met an experienced AT thru-hiker and long distance backpacker. Not only that but someone who had lived in the eastern US. A person familiar with places we knew and had called home. Someone who could understand our hiking desires and experiences.
After meeting Springfever I felt less alone on the Peninsula in my anglophone American life experience. I'm not American, but having lived in the US for 11 years I sometimes have an "American" perspective on things. My years in the northeastern United States are part of who I am and are now part of my identity. Maine still feels like home to me.
This is something I appreciate about Montreal. There are many American/Canadian individuals and families here, and many immigrants in general. We fit-in with that demographic and life experience.
It's my seasonal Spring Fever, my burning desire to "hike, camp, and go places" that has me thinking about Springfever, our friend. I'm pretty sure Springfever, our friend, understands the "hike, camp, and go places" feeling.
The desire to get out of the city, to climb mountains, to be in the woods is pretty intense for me this time of year.
These feelings are intensified right now by the time I've spent editing our trail photos and sharing my journal on Outsideways, the start of thru-hike season and knowing friends who are about to embark on long hikes, and the lack of mountains and outdoors in our city existence.
And, it's the in-between season of the year for mountains adventures. Skiing is done but we haven't started hiking yet. Our last ski trip was in mid-March when we met up with the Kallin family at a cabin in Maine and had two days of backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in the Bigelows.
Like last year, we are making plans for a summer adventure, another road trip, only this time it will be 2 months long, instead of 6 weeks. And we're going all the way to the Pacific ocean and California. And while we're there we hope to hike some of the PCT.
Even after the pain of the Appalachian Trail, which I re-visit each week as I share my trail journal on Outsideways, even after all that, hiking is in my blood. Even after choosing to move to the city, leaving the beautiful Gaspe peninsula, the mountains call me. They are insistent. Even after, or maybe because, I have a measure of security here, a steady address, and a community that grounds me and provides what our children need for their teenage years - great friends and great mentors - I have itchy feet. I need to get out. I need to nourish and nurture that other part of me.
It our heart's desire, Damien and mine, that at some point in our life we can bring it all together in one physical place - community, close relationship with our kids, work, mountains, travel and adventure. That we could integrate those pieces of our identity and desires in an actual location.
But so far, realizing that dream has eluded us. That was the dream that moved us from Maine and landed us on the Gaspe peninsula. Many pieces of the puzzle fit there, but not the crucial piece of Christian community and homeschooling community for our growing-into-adulthood children. We have those now in Montreal, and I'm beyond grateful for where we've landed in that regard. But the mountains are a place we must drive to and it's really hard to get there with any regularity with the other commitments we have to the aforementioned communities. We feel stretched and sometimes dispirited by this reality.
And yet, this is exactly where we are supposed to be right now. I am sure of it when I see how our kids are developing. When I look at my own spiritual and personal growth. When I see the relationships we are building and the contributions our family makes to the communities to which we belong, it's so clear to me. This is home. This is where we need to be. For now.
Sometimes, especially in the throes of spring fever, which can lead to a fog of discontent, I long for the days when we will no longer be bound by the need to shepherd our children through childhood. To provide the best we can with what we have been given. I dream about the day when our lives with be our own. When we can theoretically do whatever we want.
Of course, this is a false dream and misplaced hope. I am forever bound to my children and their needs, and eventually my grandchildren. This is as it should be. Not only will I have responsibilities as a matriarch, mother, grandmother; I will want to be near, want to be with, want to support my kids for my life.
Damien and I will never be our own people, free to do exactly as we wish. And even if I could achieve that freedom I wouldn't want it without the relationships of my family, which require commitment and choices that circumscribe our individual freedoms. It's the way it is.
Our children will gain independence, but I know that as they settle into their own adulthood, a process that will probably take ten years, I will want to be near them. And I will feel even more torn, between three children and my aging parents. It will only be harder not easier. But on some level we will have more freedom, especially because we are location-independant in our work. Or so we tell ourselves.
The dream may come true someday, that all these pieces of our life could be integrated into a seamless whole. We keep trying, at least the dream moves us in a direction. But for now, we live a Montreal life, punctuated by the outdoors, travels, and adventures. It is not perfect and sometimes the choices we must make to accommodate family, community, and adventure feel constricting, but it's the best we can do, and so it has to be enough.
The itchy feet, the strong desire to get out of Dodge, to be in the mountains, this discomfort and dissatisfaction I'm feeling is seasonal. It was the same last April.
As winter comes to an end I am hungering for big beauty again in my life. We all are, so we are making plans for a summer of hiking, camping, backpacking, and traveling to places of natural grandeur.
Last year to ease the spring fever and my heart's desire for the big beauty of natural places, I focused on cultivating small beauty in my life. This year I've been dreaming about camper travel and tiny houses.
But I'm about to do something more constructive than surfing the web and pinning tiny house photos to my Small Space Living board, something a little different than last year's small beauty focus. I'm going to get my hands dirty, while having my heart refreshed. I'm volunteering on a farm next week. You can read about the farm here. It's a Catholic Worker/Quaker run organic farm in western New York.
Our mission is to live a sustainable life based on the Gospels and on Catholic Worker principles as an alternative to the consumer culture. The community provides practical assistance, prayerful presence and a place for reflection to help others simplify their lives.
My time there will not be about hiking or mountains but it will be about giving space for spiritual reflection and action (in this case the work of growing food for others). It will be about having the opportunity to engage and exchange ideas with people who practice simplicity, service, alternative living, and reflective spirituality.
I am beyond excited about this opportunity. I won't be blog writing while I'm there but I'll be writing in my journal, taking pictures, and hopefully sharing some photos and brief thoughts at Instagram, though I don't intend to be on my phone a whole lot. Part of the reason I'm going is to set aside the digital devices of my every day and ground myself in the physical work of that community.
After what feels like a month of grey skies, the sun is finally shining, for a couple days at least. I started work in the garden yesterday, the green shoots of the bulbs I planted last fall are pushing through the soil. Soon Spring will burst in the city.
And before I know it, it will be May and our life will be dominated by the drama production at co-op, during which time Celine will turn 18. Spring will give way to summer and then we'll be on the road again to big mountains and adventures. Satisfying the itch and balancing the scales as best we can.
Are you experiencing Spring Fever? Can you identify with the itch and desire for a different kind of life than the one you currently live? What kind of choices and compromises do you make in your life to balance the scales?
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