Last week I wrote about paths; this week I will tell a tale about a trail.
Monday, Sister Mary and I spoke about appropriate word choice. I asked, “When Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, were they “exiled” or “expelled?” Sister Mary said, “What does the Bible say?” I replied, “Mine says, “Cast out” and “Sent out. I was looking for just one word; it’s for my newsletter.” Sister Mary is my biological sister, not one of Holy Orders. She is a very talented woman of words, which is why I asked her. Turning next to the dictionary, I see that “exiled” means being sent out of a native land, where “expelled” means being cast out for wrong-doing. “Banished” would also apply but it sounds so–sorry Will–“Shakespearean.” Either word choice would work, I’ll stick to “exile.”
When Adam and Eve were exiled from the Garden of Eden, they began to toil with the land, elements, nature; they lost their idyllic communion. I think– and many of you probably do as well– that a garden is a human-perfect place. The activity of gardening, a garden, is then a quest to return to this perfect place, a place where we can be part of something bigger than us bus where we also feel a very strong bond, either because we created and nurtured the space or because we are just plain tuned in to it. If you prefer to look at this from a more evolutionary approach, at some point early men and women decided they had had enough of the nomadic gig and figured out a way to stay put. Maybe one day I will read about the history of agriculture, but for my purpose here, let’s assume that early people had evidence that plants grew from seeds and used this knowledge to begin the new gardens. From then on, humans began to try to tame wild plants, tame the wild, to create environments that suited their food needs and later, their sensory, emotional and spiritual needs as well. While recovering from a hip surgery this week, I read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, by Ben Montgomery. Emma Gatewood, in 1955, at age 67, walked the entire Appalachian Trail, by herself, straight on through, with no fancy equipment. In sneakers. She subsequently walked it two more times. She also walked the Oregon Trail. Talk about living vicariously; I could barely walk around the house and here I was reading about a woman walking over two thousand miles. Let’s just say I was inspired and it helped me imagine a time in the future when I will be out scratching about in my garden or walking without assistance, cane or person.
Masterfully, Mr. Montgomery crafted parallel trails with the writing, too: there was one story line about the walk itself, another about Emma Gatewood’s life, and another about the history of the trail. (Aside: Did you know that at the turn of the 20th Century there were only about 100 miles of paved roads in the United States? Hard to imagine as we buzz along all our modern Interstates.) Emma Gatewood was abused for years and years by her husband, beaten beyond recognition on many occasions. She had 11 children with him, filing for divorce when she decided she had been beaten for the last time, three children still living at home. She was a brave, strong, determined woman. Her refuge after abusive episodes always the woodland, the natural places, her own garden, sanctuary in the pain and chaos of her life. She leaves an important legacy to the history of the Appalachian Trail, as well as to outdoor places in Ohio, her native land. Two days before she died, Emma “prepared the earth for a garden, hoeing and tilling. She planted half runners, potatoes, nasturtiums, corn and beans….She cleaned around the flowerbed and swept the walk.”
Montgomery did not interpret that Emma set out on the trail to free herself from the pain of the past, to walk it away, if that could that even be possible. I admit to gleaning this inference, especially reading she had dentures to replace teeth that had been knocked out, felt continued tenderness from ribs that were once broken. We do know that being at the edge, in the wilderness, is where people have often gone to pray, to heal, like a root to follow a deep path. Is it at the fringe of the world where we find our deepest parts? We also grow gardens.
Emma did both.