Division: Parts of a Whole

I cannot preserve my health and my spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least – and it is commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absolutely free from all worldly engagements.” Henry David Thoreay

I took the kids to the section of the Appalachian Trail closest to where we live this weekend to hike an out-and-and back to Annapolis Rocks via the AT.  We hiked about 7.5 miles, with an elevation gain of around 990 feet.  I wore my Camelbak backpack with a bladder with all of our supplies.  As a result of this, I have since ordered 2 kids versions for them since they wanted one too and the tube became like a leash with kids attached to the end.  My oldest son, James, turns 10 next month, and he kept asking me to give him division problems to practice.  He explained division to Charlie, 8, the Common Core way.  He explained that division is when you see how many sets of a number can fit into the larger number.  Charlie  wanted to participate too so I spent a lot of the hike reviewing basic division facts with my younger one, while trying to think of more difficult ones for James that I could do myself.  See, I dislike math and numbers.  I play up that I am really epically bad at math, but mostly I just don’t enjoy doing equations in my head.  So much to my chagrin, the word of the hike became division.  Despite my contempt for math, we had a wonderful hike.  Their quarreling was kept to a minimum. After a steep elevation for about a mile, the trail levels off and we walked along the ridge, walking out to see the vista at the Annapolis Rocks.  We talked to a few thru-hikers, trail angels and my kids finally got to see what I am so excited about.  Many people who have hiked the Appalachian Trail, or at least large sections of it, say that the Maryland section is what is closest to “a walk in the woods.”

I spoke with one thru-hiker who had retired on March 1st of this year, left Georgia on March 19th and was aiming to get to Katadhin on September 19th.  He is from Connecticut too, and we talked for a bit about the differences between New England and the mid-Atlantic region.  I said that I liked Maryland because I can drive a little under two hours east and be at the ocean, or I can drive a little under two hours west and be in the mountains.  While this is true, I miss New England, and I feel “home” when I am here (I am currently typing this from Mystic, Connecticut).  I have found that people from Maryland don’t feel like it’s part of the south, but it has a very southern feel for me.  My point of reference for these people is always that Maryland is south of the Mason-Dixon line, which I just found out was created in part to help two families settle a property dispute. Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were hired by the Penn family of Pennsylvania and the Calvert family of Maryland to settle a border between their farms, and respective states in 1765 after nearly 80 years of dispute.  “The families agreed to honor the boundary that would be established by the duo and their crew to define the 233-mile border between Pennsylvania and Maryalnd and the 83 mile long border between Maryalnd and the present day Delaware” (Ryan, Jeffrey Appalachian Odyssey p 166).  This demarcation of division separated farms and states, and would later serve as the line of division in our Civil War.  It is fascinating that what began as a property dispute turned into a delineation of ideologies, lifestyles and culture.  Living below the Mason-Dixon line, I often long to move back north, but for now I am excited to hike parts of the AT north of Maryland.  I did hike a bit in New England before I left for college, but not much. I know I climbed Mount Greylock in Massachusetts, but almost all of my hiking has been in Maryland.  I told this thru-hiker (wish I had asked his trail name) that I was hiking Katahdin with my sister in August, and wished him the best of luck as he continues his journey.

I almost threw in the towel on our hike before it even began. As soon as I got onto the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, all lanes were closed for an accident and we sat in stopped traffic for twenty minutes.  Once we got across, it began to pour and we realized that we might be hiking in intermittent rain showers.  James and Charlie said they were ok with this, so we pushed on.  Just as we got into some more traffic, my mom texted that she did in fact want me to come up to Connecticut and visit my dad in the hospital (he is recovering from heart surgery) and help her paint and unpack their new house.  I pulled over and explained the situation to my boys.  Due to the traffic, we still had over an hour to drive to get to the starting point. It would be about 4 hours hiking and then the drive home.  Then, we’d have to scramble to get the house picked up, pack and drive over 6 hours the next day.  They were still down.  My kids are fucking awesome, most of the time. My boys have been talking more about their parent’s divorce lately. I have overheard them talking to friends about it.  They talk a lot about not enjoying having two different houses.  They don’t like that their stuff is split between the two houses.  When my ex and I had the initial gut-wrenching conversation that we were going to take some time apart and live separately for a bit to see if we could stop arguing so much, the thought of having two houses was a big selling point.  But I think we all thought this was going to be a cool, temporary situation, like staying in an AirBNB, but as this became their new norm, they realized that their lives were less chaotic when all their stuff was in one place.  Including their parents.

 Unfortunately for them, I am happier now.  I have such a sense of freedom, only highlighted by not working during the summer. As often as possible, my workouts are outside in nature, we take day trips to the beach, paddleboard, kayak and hike. I feel unfettered and uncaged because I have this freedom to be me.  Ecotherapy has helped me feel healed post-split – with some life coaching, real therapy, meditation and CrossFit in there too. I always love my time with them, but I also get a thrill out of planning things when I am kid-free, including hikes.  We talked on our saunter along the Appalachian Trail about how they can backpack and hike with me when they are older.  They wanted to know why I don’t “just do the whole thing.”  James actually now wants to become the youngest kid to thru-hike alone. This past weekend was my first time seeing and talking to thru-hikers, and yes, I felt jealous of them.  Despite their stench, the haggard look a few of them had, they were in the middle of doing something extraordinary.  I just can’t take six months out of my life.  I know that dividing the AT is the only option I have, but I want to be more strategic about how I am going to divide this up.  It’s not practical to start in Maine and slowly make my way down.  I need to truly flip-flop and start planning long weekends locally, a few weeks in the summer for further destinations.  I am scheduled to go to Maine in August, but I am now planning to tackle some sections in Pennsylvania during the hawks migration in the fall, and some stretches of Maryland and Virginia in the region’s temperate fall weekends.  

It’s hard not to have it all.  A Google search for quotes about division all come up with negative connotations for the word.  There is that mentality of teamwork and unity will only strengthen us, and we must work together at all costs.  “United we stand, divided we fall.”  When I think about division, I think about how I was taught it- you took one number and split it into as parts of x, then saw what number that was.  What if we shift our thinking about division, when we have to divide assets, lives, custody, into how kids are taught division now?  How many sets of x can fit into y?  How many day trips can I do with my kids during my days with them in the summer?  What mileage can I get on the trail on the weekends I have without my kids?  I was so “over” my marriage at the end that I thought divorce would be a walk in the woods, it hasn’t been.  The power nature has to heal has been pivotal to myself and my children.  I would have held onto my notion that division is bad had we turned around at the downpour of rain, or the traffic, or the impending long car trip.  Instead, I allowed myself to get into the woods to appreciate the world that exists outside myself.  I listened to my kids talk about birds, trees, poop, the snakes they saw, and yes, division.  I remember how to play when I am outside, especially when I have my kids by my side.


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