Surprisingly, this journey often renders us clueless when it comes to events in the “news.” Although we are in close proximity to some of the most developed and longest settled parts of the US, our phones rarely get service and we experience long breaks in contact from media-mediated life.
Imagine our surprise last week arriving at Shenandoah National Park, and finding it completely deserted. During October’s “leaf season” the park receives 240,000 visitors using walking trails, scenic roads, campsites, cabins, motels, waysides, and taprooms. The Appalachian Trail crosses scenic Skyline Drive more than 20 times, so a thru-hiker’s experience is typically social, crossing roads and having access to car-culture, restaurant meals, laundry, showers and beers.
Our experience was markedly different. We walked on deserted Skyline drive, cowboy camped at outlooks, stayed in abandoned shelters, and stopped at shuttered waysides to fill up on water and tap power with nary a beer in sight. In the end, we saw more bears than humans.
Having the park to ourselves was an unexpected gift, but one that came with a cost.
Entering Wanesboro after seven days of silence we have had a chance to hear the reasoning behind this goverment shutdown. The finger pointing and ineptitude of law makers is astounding; their selfishness and self-aggrandizement is shameful. This theatre of distraction is not what defines us, and these talking heads do not reflect our collective voice. The noise of the media – the epic drama of political power – dehumanizes us all.
Returning to mediated life was a rude awakening from a sublime dream – the spell was broken by a string of curses that sounded like car crashes, like an alarm going off or a siren signalling a fire.
After walking through 11 states and sharing the trail with veterans of various wars, retirees, highschool and college students and graduates, teachers, artists, doctors, engineers, mechanics, grocery clerks and people from all walks of life, I can say these politicians do not represent the shared vision of America I have seen.
The Appalachian Trail is a publicly stewarded resource that facilitates the best expression I’ve seen of a true Union. The trail is a sovereign state – one where care and respect of one’s self and others allows for a self-governing system. Individuals can surpass menial judgments and meaningless divisions of class, stature, or success while simultaneously expressing values of personal responsibility, kindness, and adventure. The AT represents an autonomous society where unexpected kindness from strangers – personal gifts of time and resources – are far more valuable than any currency.
How can we speak to you, America? How can we change the voice we hear broadcast on every station, from every television and device- the alien voice dominating our shared narrative- into our own? How can we turn this desperate cry into a song we share? How can we sing together, America?