Thruhiker: Day 5

March 24 (7:05 – 15:15)
Riverside Park – Dawson County Line (18 mi)
Total C2C miles: 81.5
Weather: Cold, cloudy, drizzly

I wake to a rave of birdsong in the gray dawn: mockingbirds, finches, sparrows, and wrens. I close my eyes tighter and nestle deeper into my quilt, trying to squeeze out the spreading light to let the sun pour down a touch of warmth before I leave my tent.

When I finally scramble out of the tent and pack my things, a little blue sky dares to peek through the clouds. Maybe it will warm, I think, and prove the forecasts wrong!

I pass quite a few people as the trail wends through the town, some out for a brisk stroll, some on their way to their offices, some heading out to breakfast. Those are the ones I follow into a bustling café that serves apple fritters with bananas, tofu scrambles, cornbread, steaming coffee, and even pie. I want everything.

I eat until I’m full, buy a sandwich and piece of pie for lunch, and then, I follow the trail out of town.

I see everything as if for the last time, for who knows? It may be. Knowing the way that path leads to path, I may never find myself back here again. Once I reach the end of the trail, over a thousand miles further on, I don’t know where I’ll settle, or what I’ll do. But I don’t have plans to return.

And even if I do come back, years hence or a lifetime from now, it won’t be the same landscape I see. For how will this earth change thirty, forty years from now?

The seas will rise, rivers will flood, and this estuary may cover the dock that holds the summerhouse. That lighthouse on the distant cove may be partly under water. The park bench will have long floated off.

I walk knowing I don’t have the luxury of returning.

I walk with the luxury of departing, and so, everything looks new.

My grandfather, in his last days, had the wonder of a child. Once he held a rock before my eyes.

“Do you see the sparkle?” he asked.

I knew it was quartz. “Yes,” I replied. “It’s granite.”

“It’s magic,” he said, and he looked as if seeing that sparkle for the last time.

This is the land where I grew up. It’s where I roamed with my father and his father. It’s where I ran when I needed to get away, to get out.

I always thought of it as my land.

People still live here who will wake up tomorrow, and the next day, and take the same jog down the same path, but I am not one of those people anymore.

My path, each step, each mile, takes me away, carried with the knowledge I may not return.

Those who stay will see the changes come slowly–or fast. One year, the river’s path will be higher along the shore. One spring, the floods will carve away that bluff, carrying the horse chestnut downstream with it.

But the changes will happen without my witness. It is like this today, this last day that I see this sparkling landscape of home.

I stop early again, around 3:15 in the afternoon. I have hours still of daylight, and I feel strong enough to walk more. But fifty feet more, and I will have crossed the county line, and I want to spend one last night in the county of my home.

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