…and other unusual things said to me lately.
Scent has always played a huge role in my life. As such, I own probably an inordinate amount of scented things, personal and home. I picked up a new perfume on a trip. It is very green, woodsy with a mossy undertone at dry down. It reminds me of the woods, of growing things, fecundity – I enjoy wearing it. Most personal scents are worn because the wearer likes them; any additional fans are simply icing on the cake. I have a scent family that I wear most of the time, but I like to be different (shocking, I know) from time to time, or not use the expensive stuff for puttering around the house. Imagine my mental surprise when my mother pronounced “You smell like a man. A woman is supposed to smell vulnerable.” Pardon me while I process that for a moment. If my success as a female is based on my helplessness factor, I’m in big trouble. Now I’m supposed to smell vulnerable too?? What does that smell like anyway? Slight tinge of fear? Residue of tears? How does one portray vulnerability in a scent? I can think of a lot of things that my scents might project, but I can’t say as vulnerability is ever anything I want to project or even ever considered actually.
Like many things people say off the cuff that reveals how they think, this little exchange stuck in my brain to be toyed with. I particularly thought about the person who said it – the person who my was my role model for femininity growing up. I was raised that how you look, how you present, is THE most important thing about being female. Not your character or your intelligence. Just how you presented in public for your man. Make-up first thing. Hair precisely in place. Attire appropriate. NEVER leave the house without looking your best, because first impressions are difficult to overcome (I’m pretty sure I’ve blown that one several times just this year, lol!). My professional entertainer family nailed that to a T. Every exit from a vehicle into a public place was like a stage entrance. As a result, I despise artifice. I’m not talking about manners and decorum. Artifice. Being Southern can include a lot of artifice just by culture, under the guise of ‘manners’.
The other day on my way out the door to work, my landlords were coming in from a morning walk. I hadn’t seen the lady around, but the male part of the pair had been busy tearing down plants to pour concrete, having the main house painted, and polishing the motorcycles in the front yard. Oh, and goosing the 1950’s hot rod he bought recently. She’s a very touchy-feely person, and she gravitated towards my new jewelry, asking all about it, touching it, then took my face in her hands(!!) and proclaimed “You have a nice face.” I am quite certain I had a strange look on my face, because I felt strange. It’s not like she just met me; I’ve been living here almost three years. I remember laughing and commenting “Thanks, it’s the only one I’ve got so that’s good news!” It was just a weird moment, and wayyy too inside my personal space zone for someone I really don’t consider a friend and barely an acquaintance. While I too am a toucher and hugger, that’s something reserved for people I care deeply about and know pretty well. But she’s older, close to my Mom’s age, so maybe it’s the ‘motherly’ thing manifesting itself. I cannot imagine doing that to anyone other than a loved one, personally. People often give me pause lately, that’s for sure.
Over the last two weeks, I’ve resurrected the dream I had for my 50th birthday and unshelved it – thru-hiking the AT. When I leave my job to go live back in the woods, it most likely will be the only time in the foreseeable future that I can plan a 4 month break from employment and housing responsibilities and achieve that dream. It will mean a few months longer working once I am debt-free, but it IS the right time. I’m a little late in the implementing, true. But the death of my husband threw everything out of whack, then following after that my layoff and unemployment time, so that it is just now within the last year that I feel my feet more steady beneath me. In addition to researching almost full off-grid living and planning how to do that,I now get to add in physical training, mental training and re-familiarizing myself with the trail information I had stored years back on my older computer. Currently my plan is to be a Southbounder, starting at Maine and ending in Georgia, as it is close to Tennessee where I’ll be returning to live. When I moved to one of the trail towns on the OT several years ago, I didn’t even know what the AT was. The more that I learned and researched, the more I felt the pull. I discussed it often with my husband, who just shook his head. Back then I was still someone scared of the dark and scared in the woods. Through his gentle approach to nature and natural curiosity, he led me through those barriers little by little. Then, when living alone after his death, I faced some more things on my own. Earlier this year when I completed my first solo primitive camp, more of those barriers fell away. It feels like a confluence of all the right things now.
While discussing this with my dear friend and trying to articulate the why behind it, she gifted me a quote that sums it up in entirety for me, and I’ll share it here, from Chief Luther Standing Bear:
“…He knew that a man’s heart, away from nature, becomes hard; he knew that lack of respect for growing, living things soon led to lack of respect for humans, too. So he kept his children close to nature’s softening influence.”
When one sits beneath truly black skies and watches the stars unfurl, hears the chorus of the coyotes near or far, listens to the whisperings in the underbrush of creatures unseen but busy about their lives, faces the fury of a storm or the gentleness of falling snow, we begin to realize our smallness, our weakness, our dependence. Humankind today seeks an escape and illusion to cover this fact, rather than making peace with our place and our fragility. Everything is there to be conquered or reshaped to our liking, imposing our will upon things. It is a humbling thing to recognize our smallness in scope, and we humans are an arrogant bunch for the most part. We are not farsighted enough to see the long-reaching consequences of our short-term needs-based decisions, which often are not truly needs but wants.
I’d like to hike the AT before our shallowness swallows it up. I’d like to get a glimpse of things the Native Americans saw, although I know even that today is very little present (but I’m thankful not to have to bushwhack through!) Today there are so many choices, on gear, on food, how to carry and prepare water, that it is nearly unfathomable to think of peoples moving across the land in tribes, living daily lives in the openness that was America way back when. But I am looking forward to a smattering of the taste, to pull it into me and set it alongside the natural wild that lives inside all of us.
And I’ll leave you with some of my ancestral music, one I’ll be certain to take on the trail and into the woods with me – “The Gael” by the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards. I already dream of standing at Katahdin or the Whites, watching a sunrise with this in my ears 🙂
I know a friend of mine is living his next year, visiting Scotland and Ireland, and so I say:
Be well, and nurture your dreams 🙂