I’ve been battling a sense of aimlessness coming back from the trail. I often find myself drifting through interstitial spaces with a blank stare – a dissociated look, distracted by speed and movement, looking for some distant horizon but surprised instead only seeing dumpsters, closed windows and construction barriers in excruciating detail.
After thru hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2013 I immediately started working on a gallery show with New Mystics and had a performance with Saint Genet scheduled for the summer. Returning to the comforts of the known was satisfying – the measured productivity of work, the intellectual engagement of art making, the support of the crew. Even if Harpo and I didn’t have a permanent address we still had each other, even after spending the previous weeks battling ice storms in Georgia.
It’s unnerving, returning again.Coming back from the PCT has been a familiar animal in a different skin. After so many peregrinations the connection between my body and the body politic seemed unravelled, tenuous. Feeling alien in a hostile landscape, I find myself trying to conjure images of plenitude that somehow always seem two dimensional and unfulfilling, grasping at the tattered ends of some familiar memory faded by sun and worn thin by absence.
The easy, transportable sense of home that comes from pitching a tarp wherever you end up is harder to attain in the city. The sense of purpose inherent in the continual forward motion of thru hiking make feeling at home easy on trail. A community is simply manifest because a sense of commonality is clear – we’re all here in the woods together, mostly doing the same thing – escaping the city.
The city – a multifaceted and fractured beast – rapidly transforms itself, always eating it’s own tail. It’s hard to hold on because of the rapidly shifting topography; every memory becomes unrooted and unreal as the architecture that housed it changes or disappears. People are all travelling on different vectors, subject to unknown or unknowable forces, riding strange waves towards disseperate futures. It can feel isolating, as if everything is moving away from an invisible center you’ve just accidentally arrived at.
The pressure of architecture, the continual compression of dense human consciousness, the alienation originating in feeling alone in a crowd provides a contrast to the expansive space of nature, where details are infinitely complex yet uncrowded, quiet yet never silent. Swallowed by that quiet, resting in the belly of the Earth, I feel secure again. My sense of discontinuity fades away as I’m soaked by the pouring rain, as I traverse icy streams with frozen toes, as my perception creeps closer to my reality. This kind of loneliness is satisfying…