Confessions of a Guy Who Quit v: The Lure of the Side Trails by Ryan Koch

In the fall of 2018 I took a two month sabbatical and I am still trying to figure out what this has done for me, or to me. For part of my time away from Seedleaf duties, I took a long walk on the Sheltowee Trace. What follows is one reflection from my time on the trail.


We didn’t do the side trail to Yahoo Falls..

The man who told me this did so with a sense of pride, as if he had passed up a dish of hard candy that he knew was deeply discounted after Halloween. He was no sucker. He had a place to go get to. Maybe he wanted me to admire his mileage goal with him, his commitment, his focus. I smiled politely as I often do, and I asked about the trail ahead of me, a section he was completing. We were crossing paths, and I hadn’t seen anyone all day. We were in an area where the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River remained within view to my right for a number of miles (I was walking southward). So to my left were numerous invitations to various waterfalls. My neighbor was making it clear that he was resisting these temptations.

Half an hour later I found a sign indicating Yahoo Falls. I dropped my bag and decided to indulge in a short jog to the falls. Upon further inspection I saw that the sign read 1/4 miles to the falls. I really don’t think it was even that far from the Sheltowee Trace. Soon I was there, staring up at it in joy and amazement, a thin mares tail of a stream falling more than one hundred feet into a little rock bowl. I walked all around the waterfall, and down to the bowl where it happily smacked. It was subtle, yet stunning—an understated waterfall. A perfectly placed distraction—just the thing I needed that afternoon. I still had my heart set on drying out a bit after all the rain I had walked through that morning, so I passed on the chance to bathe in that falling water. (I have added this to a list of Unfinished Business…)

After all my gazing and breathing and unselfconscious grinning, I returned to my bag. Twenty minutes had elapsed. I traded twenty minutes of progress, the time it would take to walk most of a mile, for the joy and privilege of seeing Kentucky’s longest waterfall. I got to meet a small tributary of the Cumberland. I got to hear that thin stream smack against a rock bowl—that healing sound of falling water. I appreciated the trade and felt restored. My bag felt lighter. I embraced the trail again.

Confessions of a Guy Who Quit iv: A Thing I Lost and What I Got by Ryan Koch

In the fall of 2018 I took a two month sabbatical and I am still trying to figure out what this has done for me, or to me. For part of my time away from Seedleaf duties, I took a long walk on the Sheltowee Trace. What follows is one reflection from my time on the trail.

Glad to look up and see this!

Glad to look up and see this!

A hat. Over years of gardening I have come to appreciate a hat for a number of reasons. On Day 3 of my long walk I lost the cap I was counting on to shade my face from the sun, and my glasses from the rain. I arrived at a spot where the trail moved down a slight grade into standing water. The water in Cave Run Lake had risen and pushed itself into this tributary due to the recent rains. I tried to stick with the trail, so devoted was I to the trail markers. But within a number of yards I was in hip-deep water. I would have to be more creative about getting around this.

So I turned away from the lake, which was on my left, and up the creek a bit. Before too long I witnessed much more water than I initially suspected filling this low-lying area. This was not encouraging. Off the trail now, my pace was slow. Small trees and thorny vines crowded me—a real bushwhack was underway. Also, I was gaining a bit of elevation, so by the time I saw a spot to cross a manageable stream, my path would include a scramble down a steep and rocky hill. While I was sorting all of this out amidst a dense patch of trees I reached up to adjust my cap and found that it was not there. I was so focused on my footing that I completely missed the moment then the cap went missing. I am not one to litter by leaving gear behind, but this thing was totally lost. I crossed the stream hatless, and then I crossed another within the same hour, before I was back on the trail.

Without my cap I was able to enjoy a wider view. Much of my attention was still devoted to the trail—the mud I could avoid, the mud I couldn’t, the roots that may serve me, the rocks that may be slick. The trees around me were still in full leaf, so I did not risk sunburn without the shade of my hat bill. Now, looking up was something I learned to so, something I had to remind myself to do. But doing so began to avail me to a sustaining beauty overhead, a quiet miracle I nearly walked by. Once it was the moon out in the morning. Once it was an owl on a branch ten feet above the trail. More than once it was a tree clinging to a moss-covered rock. It was as if that bushwhack, that most inconvenient stream crossing, had knocked the scales from my eyes. Now I could begin to learn how to see, how to look, how to watch without expectation. Now I could draw energy from the life around me and the beauty hovering just above my head.

Confessions of a Guy Who Quit iii: Health, Healing, and Who Went With Me by Ryan Koch

In the fall of 2018 I took a two month sabbatical and I am still trying to figure out what this has done for me, or to me. For part of my time away from Seedleaf duties, I took a long walk on the Sheltowee Trace. What follows is one reflection from my time on the trail.

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I owe a debt of gratitude to an Irish poet/priest called John O’Donohue. His words through a book called To Bless the Space Between Us narrated and motivated my walking. Many mornings I would be up, rested, but not quite ready to emerge from my hammock. O’Donohue’s words would be there to greet me, to welcome and frame the day and all it held.

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This book is not poetry, but rather a book of blessings. They are existentially poetic in the way the author blesses objects, situations, journeys, and characters in a life. These blessings and reflections came to be pretty personal, as if the book were reading me at points, as if a certain blessing was just the thing I needed to hear at the start of a long day.

May I have the courage today
To live the life that I would love,
To postpone my dream no longer
But do at last what I came here for
And waste my heart on fear no more.
— A Morning Offering

In one called “For Courage",” O’Donohue challenged me to tap into an inner strength, one on which I had seldom called. Maybe I hadn’t needed to lately. With that strength I could look beyond logistics and enjoy an openness to the trail and my surroundings. Difficulty and inconvenience were becoming my teachers. I learned to thank mud for slowing me down. I thanked the rocks in the trail for helping me to take mindful steps. I was becoming teachable, at last.

On some days I would reach for this book at midday, or while I was awaiting a resupply. This had the effect of giving my day depth, context. A blessing called “For Equilibrium” came to be one of my midday touchstones.

May your prayer of listening deepen enough
To hear in the depths the laughter of God.
— For Equilibrium

Ha! What a gift for a day of poor footing, or disappointing mileage! Wasn’t my Creator there laughing too? The journey need not be so serious after all. This helped me to imagine and enact more play along the way.

And in the evenings, before sleeping, all the end-of-the-day tasks completed, here was another chance for a blessing. Here is what the poet would say then:

After the day’s frenzy, may the heart grow still,
Gracious in thought for all the day brought,
Surprises that dawn could never have dreamed:
The blue silence that came to still the mind,
The quiver of mystery at the edge of a glimpse,
The golden echoes of worlds behind voices.
— Vespers

I had a relationship with this book and these blessings. I would search by title and read whatever grabbed my gaze—”For Freedom,” “For Presence,” “For an Interim Time,” “For Loneliness.” I would land on one and read it several times. And then I would breathe and look up, as if the forest all around me concurred.

Some blessings I still haven’t read. Some of them shine with use. Some are friends I can catch up with quite easily on a winter weekday morning.

Chip In My Pocket by Ryan Koch

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At a meeting a few months ago I took a black poker chip meant to symbolize Resentment. This thin plastic disc is about 1.5 inches in diameter with furrowed edges that make a zippy noise under my fingernail. It is unremarkable. It tends to sit in my pocket, or on my dresser, a talisman to protect me against my mind’s tendency towards self-pity and blame, the seeds of Resentment. When my hand finds the thing in a pocket I realize what it is by touch, and I scan my day for that negativity, the entitlement, the longing to be left alone. The scan just takes a moment, but it frees me to focus on lovinger things.

My chip continues to do its work. It continues to help me watch out for some classic negative thoughts. However, its use and its meaning seems to have evolved a bit. Maybe I am dealing with the other side of the chip now. I find that there is something comforting in it too. I think about the other people at my meeting who watched me take the thing, who understand how critical the inner work is. I feel like my chip helps me to bring them with me, a cloud of witnesses. I was folding some pants last week and my chip fell out onto the floor and I saw and heard what it was and I said out loud, with more than a little warmth and gratitude, Aww: my Resentment. I can’t imagine that I am really glad to see this frailty, this stumbling block. I think I am glad to remember that I am not alone.

One day, maybe, I will bring my chip back to my meeting and trade it for a hug and a chance to tell a short story about my Resentment, how I am moving beyond my deep eagerness to please people and to preserve the peace, even when things in my relationships are not so terribly peaceable. More likely, though, I will lose my chip. Resentment, and its cousin Anger, will remain with me, signals themselves of something untenable, unjust. My chip may roll away from my possessions and references, but I am left with a new habit of checking in with myself, and listening to my life. Forgetfulness is such a shiny lure. How funny is life that an inert piece of plastic can help Re-store a man, can help me to Re-member, to practice memory and attention! And aren’t all my possessions referential if I take the time to Re-call, to practice memory and attention? The things we have, the things we touch, can link this breath, this moment, with something (or everything!) that has gone before. And maybe all of these things can be part of a deep and joyous (but not painless) Recovery.