Wednesday, May 29, 2013

I Wonder What I'd Do if I Didn't Have a Job . . .

Hello all!  As the other Wonders will know - because I have been talking of it incessantly - I just finished my first trial as a brand new baby lawyer.  That was yesterday, and it consumed my life briefly, but now it is over and I can do my Wondering duties once more - albeit a day or two late.

I thought about how much work that trial took, and how I would have preferred gardening or picnicking or swimming or doing any summer type activity on Memorial Day, instead of kicking it in my freezing cold office with my space heater kicked on, reading over medical records I've read fifty times already.  And then I wondered - what would I do with my time if I didn't have a job that takes most of my time and energy, and small children who gobble up the rest?  (And Wicked M - you may have stepped out of the office for a while to raise super baby, but you don't need to tell me that this is a time in life when you get to do very little for yourself.  If you didn't have the hard constant work of managing and maintaining him - doing it solo most of the time - what would you do?)

This is a wonder in which I often indulge - mostly when the kids have done my head in and I think about being a retired empty nester.  When I'm sixty (seventy?  eighty?  will I ever retire?) I will be very sad and miss my darling boys, but I will also be able to do some things I really want to do - like take long bike rides and hikes, read a book for an hour with a glass of iced tea and NO INTERRUPTIONS, go to movies, plan and plant and tend to and harvest a large and lovely garden.  We want to winter in the south, and then spend summers at a small vacation home in Santa Fe.  We want to travel for months at a time, renting villas in Italy or France and writing short stories.  These are all things I would love.  But there is one thing that the husband and I have been planning on for years - since Jake was a swimming little tadpole in my tummy - and we are still looking forward to it.  And that project - one which requires both retirement and self-sufficient children before I can begin to think of doing it - is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

There are three major nation-crossing trails in the United States. The most famous is probably the Appalachian Trail - the newest, and least finished, is the Continental Divide trail.  But the one that captures both my husband's and my attention is the Pacific Crest Trail.  The PCT, established in 1968 and completed in 1993 (thank you, Wikipedia), is a 2,663 mile hike from Mexico to Canada, about a hundred miles inland from the Pacific coast.  It takes between 4 and 6 months to complete, and, as you can imagine, requires a huge amount of advance planning and training.  A friend of mine hiked this trail in one season with her boyfriend (now husband), and self-published her diary about the trip.  And after reading it, I just knew that thru-hiking this trail was something I had to do.

The Appalachian Trail beckons as well, but I've never been as interested in thru-hiking it because of the sameness.  I've read a number of books on this trail as well - the most famous being Bill Bryson's hilarious A Walk in the Woods.  From these, I get the impression that there is not much variety in the landscape of the AT.  I think thru-hiking the AT would be an almost monastic experience - an opportunity for self reflection that can only occur when each day the sun rises over a similar landscape, and you face virtually the same experience, hour for hour, that you went through the day before, and the day before that, and so on and so on.  This is not to say that there is no variety, excitement, or terrain change in the AT - but that large swaths of it mean that you spend months at a time looking at similar scenery.  I have the typical millenial short attention span, and this sounds like a recipe for depression for my particular brain.

The PCT, by contrast, has wildly different terrain from week to week.  There are climbs and descents, rugged deserts sometimes and enormous redwood forests other times.  It's less frequently traveled, but I get the impression it passes through more populated areas more often, which would soothe my anxieties about being alone and off the grid for so long.  (My anxieties surround my children needing me, more than my own needs.)  It just speaks to me, and to my husband as well.  To be honest, if I could put the rest of life on pause I would do this right now.  I think that my body is in the best shape it's ever been, and I thirst for California, my childhood home.

However, there is no such thing as "pause" except on the DVR.  Our children are young and I would never leave them for more than a week or so.  Our careers are also young.  Our money needs saving up.  Sadly, we will have to let our old bodies deteriorate over the next couple of decades before we could think of taking this project on.  We've even discussed the possibility that a hike like this, taken deep into our sixties, could cause enough stress on our joints and bones to shave a year off our life, or reduce our mobility at an earlier age than would otherwise happen.  (It could also, I think, make us healthier and less stressed, and add years to our lives!)  Nevertheless - I feel called to do this, pulled to it.  My body is strong now - I will work to keep it strong over the next twenty years.  I will take my calcium supplements.  I will nag my husband to eat his vegetables, so that he is also strong.  We will enjoy this season of our lives with our children, and enjoy the careers that we both love.  And when this season is over, and the children leave us, and the careers wind down, and the speed of our lives begins to slow, and we owe less of ourselves to others and have more time and energy to devote to ourselves . . .

Well, when that happens, I'll see ya on the trail.

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