I SHARE MY LIFE with Joan, my wife. She is an extraordinary person. Warm-hearted and tolerant. She is the adult in the partnership, competent at dealing with life’s complexities in a considered and practical way. Without Joan there probably wouldn’t be a roof over my family’s head or funds for clothes and food. Well, not from my writer’s salary, anyway! (Nor from my mountain wanderer’s head-in-the-clouds approach to living.) I’m beyond lucky to have her in my life. For so many reasons. Too many to list.
I also share my life with two children. They are equally extraordinary, and in some ways more adult than I am. At 16 and 12 they combine the best aspects of childhood and adulthood in a way that enriches life and completes it. Honestly, with a family like this who would even need anything else?
But I do – I still need the wild. But I don’t beat myself up about it. I don’t allow myself to feel bad for needing more than the family treasures I already have, or let guilt reduce the fulfillment that comes from leaving my family every so often to step alone into nature. I might have once, but I’m kinder to myself now than I was in decades past. I know some people who can’t forgive themselves for being who they are. But being able to do that is an important life skill.
The thing is, I know that I am part of nature. And I also know that to be whole I have to step into nature. It’s a simple truth.
Melding family life with the life of a wilderness wanderer can present challenges, however. Especially as I choose to put my family’s needs first. It would be easier if my wife and children felt the pull of the wild as fiercely as I do, and were able to ignore the inevitable discomforts that come with living outdoors. I’d be on foot in nature far more if that were the case. But for them the relative discomforts are off-putting, and the call of the wild isn’t a constant background song.
Because of this, wild walks have been limited during this busy summer season, and I’ve only managed one quick night out so far this month… falling far behind schedule for my ‘52 Night Quest’. Given that it is summer, I should be sleeping out every night! But that will come. My youngest child is now six years away from college. Her life will change dramatically when she leaves home.
And so will mine!
In the meantime, I don’t have any complaints. I run mountain trails most days, wake to mountains every morning, and get to share the summer with three remarkable people. My book continues to bring personal fulfillment, and the sequel is keeping me extremely busy as I prepare it for my beta readers. Life is full. And very rewarding.
As for the book, one of the most rewarding aspects from sending it out into the world so far has been the connections it has made.
A couple of weeks ago I received a wonderful email from an author, Ian R. Mitchell, who co-wrote two books about Scottish mountain-walking that I treasure: Mountain Days and Bothy Nights and the Boardman-Tasker award-winning A View From the Ridge. I first read those books 30 years ago and have dipped into them many times since. They continue to entertain and inspire. Somehow, my book landed in Ian Mitchell’s hands. It turns out that he has walked in many of the places I write about, including the Aspromonte in Calabria, and because of it felt he had to reach out. He wrote that he really enjoyed my book, saying it was absorbing, and he even thanked me for it. It was quite something, to be thanked by a writer who inspired me! (He has also written a great endorsement for the book – I’ll be sharing it soon.)
My book also helped me connect with someone who reminds me of myself as I once was – someone who spends a fair amount of time alone and dreams of escaping on a long walk. He enjoyed my book enough to purchase a complete box of copies(!), aiming to pass them on to people he knows. I met up with him to sign them, a first for me – signing books! He’s been considering hiking the Appalachian Trail for a while now, and might already have done it but for Covid. But my book has pushed him over the edge, and next year he will, for sure. The moment when we shook hands and he looked me in the eyes and said: ‘Thank you for writing this book – it is the book I needed’ is something I will always cherish! What a gift he gave me by saying that!
I’m fascinated to see how his big walk goes next summer.
I wrote my book hoping it might one day truly mean something to a reader – that it might even influence someone’s life. But I never expected that it really would, or that I’d ever find out. But now, after nudging someone to go for a long walk, it feel’s as though it IS something the book has achieved. It’s incredibly satisfying… and also deeply humbling.
It’s extremely unlikely I’ll get rich from my books. (Not if I don’t figure out marketing, anyway, and actually get it before readers!) And with a family not as ‘into’ the wild as much as I am I don’t step into the wild as much as I otherwise might.
But honestly, right now… I wouldn’t change a thing.