I’m not superstitious and don’t believe in powers that guard against bad things or attract the good. Nonetheless, a few charms will make the AT trip with me. Surely I can manage these few extra ounces.
In 2010 during my first visit to Japan, Kate and I climbed Mount Nokogiri to see the Nihonji Daibutsu (Great Buddha), a 101-foot stone image carved into the mountainside above Hamakanaya in Chiba Prefecture. While there, I purchased a tiny crystal Buddha, which looks more like Jizo than Buddha. Appropriately, Jizo is also a patron of travelers and pilgrims, terms quite applicable to hikers on the AT. I also bought a small charm for strong feet and legs. All body parts are vulnerable on a distance hike, but lower extremities warrant additional good vibes.
On this year’s visit to Rokkakudo, I bought a beautiful Buddhist prayer bracelet. Small wooden beads are etched with the Heart Sutra (Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom). That afternoon when removing my jacket at Kiyomizu-dera Temple amid hundreds of visitors, it slipped off my arm unnoticed. Forty-five minutes later, I realized it was gone. Kate and I made our way back through the crowds to the spot where I shed the jacket. To my utter amazement, the bracelet was lying on the ground, undamaged, waiting for my return. Since it is too large for my wrist, I now wear it on my ankle. In Nara, I found a small gold charm of the Japanese kanji for ‘walking’ and have attached it to the prayer bracelet with a girth hitch.
Finally, there is my version of “Wilson.” Last May, I met “Tail Light,” a thru-hiker with a large stuffed bear dangling from his pack, named I assume after Tom Hanks’ volleyball in Cast Away. [See his photo in my AT post Day 9, Cosby Knob] A few years ago, I bought two small, stuffed, toy black bears from Sugarlands Visitor Center. One sits on top of my computer; the other rides in my car. My car bear will be my trail companion. I must give him a name, a serious responsibility that requires careful thought. This little plush bear will be my buddy and share the biggest adventure of my life. He deserves a good name, an appropriate name. I’m thinking Humphrey.
According to BabyNamesPedia.com, Germanic Humphrey is derived from hun and fridu. Hun stands for young animal, bear cub, and warrior, fridu for peace, protection, and safety. The idea of walking in the company of a “peaceful bear cub” and even more so with a “protecting bear cub” is quite appealing. Humphrey is quirky enough to be cute too.
Symbols don’t need a physical dimension to be effective. I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perched on a telephone pole during a Christmas Eve jog. As I approached, it swooped ahead of me to the next pole. A small bird flew up from a nearby tree to land briefly on the pole’s cross bar just a foot or so from the hawk. The little bird quickly took to the air again, circled immediately behind the hawk, and dipped dangerously close to its head flashing white wing and tail bars. My state bird, a Mockingbird, was harassing a hawk! It’s December. No breeding territory to defend, no active nest to protect, no food sources to shield from this predator, so why not avoid detection rather than provoke confrontation? Mockingbirds are notorious as tough-ass, cocky fighters. Cats, humans, hawks — they’ll dive-bomb any perceived intruder, often smacking it upside the head with their bodies.
This aerial bundle of gray-feathered bombast would not give up. It did not touch the hawk but was as persistent as a bloodthirsty mosquito buzzing about its head. The hawk never reacted to the mockingbird’s annoyance and finally flew off, chased by the feisty Tennessee bird. I was proud of that little guy, its determination to stand ground and defy intimidation. I shall carry this symbol of courage in my heart, and the best part is this one weighs nothing!
Packing for Distance post script: I’ve been asked to do a video on packing a backpack. I haven’t got the equipment or the time for a video learning curve, but I am attending an AT workshop in a couple of weeks and will be happy to provide additional written details and photos on the packing process in an upcoming article.