CHAPTER TWO

SURRENDER ON THE TRAIL

CHAPTER TWO

I lift my eyes to the mountains–where does my help come from? 

My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalms 121: 1-2

Yes, I want to go! Can I fit this into my schedule? Will Paul freak out? Will the boys be ok without me around?

I will be off the grid. OFF THE GRID—how wonderful that sounds. Probably no cell service.

Can we afford this? Isn’t camping supposed to be cheap? Oh, wait a minute, when is my period? I am NOT doing a cycle in the woods—no way.

JoAnn asks, “Whatcha thinking?”

“Um. If I can make family and work stars align, if I can borrow some equipment from friends who are into hiking, then I am all in.”

I have a few camping type folks in mind to ask. There is no budget for me to go hiking otherwise.

“Oh honey, no worries. How about this? If it is meant to be, it will be. We won’t force or pressure it to happen.”

Then my biggest fear pops up, “You know I am out of shape, right? I might be a slowpoke.”

“No worries,” she says. “We won’t rush. If you want to and get to go, then we’ll take our time.”

“Alrighty.  I’ll talk with the fam and get back to you.”

“Ok!”

JoAnn texts me a picture of the hiking plan:

BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING TRIP GUIDE. 

FOUR DAYS, THREE NIGHTS. 

HAWKSBILL TO SWIFT RUN VIA LAUREL PRONG. 

TRIP DESCRIPTION:  MOUNTAINS, STREAMS WATERFALLS, RAPIDAN CAMP HISTORIC SITE. 

The twists and turns over varied terrain and elevation changes are listed as if the line dashes on the map are no big deal. Easy peasy.

23 MILES – IF all goes as planned.

MAY 04, 2016

I wait for the right moment. I pace from the kitchen to the laundry room to the family room. 

More pacing. There is no right moment.

Paul rests on the couch. I eye him. After all these years, I remember the butterflies we shared when we pretended not to look at one another the first time we met in the Young Adult Sunday School class.

He had been a visiting college intern in his last semester. I was there that day because my campus minister challenged me to go back to my home church one last time before moving my membership officially to the church where I had been attending for months. Being there was me fulfilling a promise.

If I had my way, that day was just a formality. A box to check, then move on.

But someone caught my eye. Everything changed fast.

While dating, we celebrated our total opposite personalities—bragged about it even. I would say things like, “He likes a home to be organized.” Then he would say, “She likes a home to be clean. This should work out perfectly.”

Once married, simple differences like how to set up house overflowed into differences in how we view the world. Even though we see things somewhat similar, it became cumbersome to constantly translate the nuances. Over the years, we evolved from both wanting to prove a point when we tried to talk or argue to me agreeing with whatever most days. I grew tired of expressing, “We are saying the same thing.”

I still adore his broad shoulders. I like the way he smells like Lever 2000 soap–and sometimes after shave when we can afford it. I appreciate the way he nurtures and cares for our kids. The pictures of how lovingly he looked at both newborns are forever in my mind. He acts like he is going to be fine with Jacob leaving soon, but I am fairly sure he will struggle when departure day arrives.

I am both mad at him for 23 years of reasons and mad about him at the same time. Down deep, I love him in a way that is eternal no matter what. Our shared faith has been the foundation that did not crack although the metaphoric home built above the foundation is not as strong.

It is time. 

“I need to talk with you about something.”

He hesitates, “Oh boy.”

I take a deep breath and tell him about the trip opportunity. Then I get serious. 

“Look,” I say.  “I’m dealing with a few things.”

“Ok,” he says.

“My brain is fried. I need this hike to take me out of my comfort zone. I need to get away. Like, deep into the woods away both mentally and physically—something I can’t believe I’m saying.”

He turns off the TV.

I continue, “I am incredibly sad. Sad because Jacob is leaving. I am in denial that Ben is old enough to go to high school. And I’m angry.” Pause, “Angry at you.”

He says nothing but listens with his temples pointed in my direction.

“I am mad because it seems like you never made a solid effort to get a better job when I switched to non-profit work. I could totally accept if you tried and failed, but not trying is hard for me to accept.”

Shoot. I said the word never. We agreed long ago not to use trigger words like ‘you never…’ or ‘you always….’

We are silent for about 30 seconds. He has not moved.

I go for the summary, “So, two main things:  One, I’ve got to let go of this anger toward you. Going through the motions of being nice when I do not feel nice has worn me out. I need a break.” 

I exhale. “Two, I am super sad because we have to let go of Jacob. He is so young.” My eyes become wet.

“Basic training means we are not going to be able to talk with him for weeks. Then there may be times where he deploys to fight a stupid war that most Americans do not seem to know is still happening. Technically this kid is joining during a time of war. This is not like moving to a college dorm. Signing up for active duty is a change much more abrupt and final feeling. This feels like a sacrifice. I’m struggling with why our son? And, why anyone’s son or daughter?”

Paul is either tuning in deep or blocking my words to protect his own feelings.

I sniff. My tears are a steady stream now. “Plus, I may have to let go of the organization that I worked all these years to develop. I love what I do. It does not seem fair. Worse, I find myself mad at God for not providing. We have had too many years of financial strain. I picture going on this trip, sitting on top of a mountain, throwing my dreams off the side while saying ‘Take it and do your will, Lord. Take it. Take it all. I cannot carry these burdens anymore.’”

I whisper, “If word from the mountaintop is that I am supposed to let it go, then I will. Someone else can lead. Or, we’ll close the doors.”

Silence.

Then Paul looks at me for the first time, “Go.”

He has an understanding look on his face—not at all the look I expected. “Do what you need to do and have fun.”

That’s it?

I expected him to give me reasons why I should not go hiking given my lack of experience. No doubt, he would have multiple valid reasons.     

I take a breath. “Ok.”

His kindness and acceptance are a terrifying miracle. Um, maybe you should talk me out of this, Babe.

“I’ll send you a text of the hiking plan. If you want to help me plan or gather things, I’m open to your ideas.” Long ago the man was in the Army National Guard. I know he has outdoor survival skills knowledge.

He nods.

Later I tell the boys. Ben-Just-Ben shrugs, “Ok”. Jacob says he wishes he could go with me, but he is pumped about going to Texas soon.

I text JoAnn—I AM IN!

MAY 5, 2016

A group of us are going to celebrate Cinco de Mayo and our friend Deb’s birthday at the local Cancun restaurant.

After working professionally together for over a decade, Deb and I have accepted in recent years that we have become good friends.

I have not had a chance to tell her about the AT trip. It would be fantastic if Deb were going too. She would be wonderful addition to team camaraderie.

Last night and this morning, Paul and I began making a list of supplies needed. He also began giving me tips like, “Don’t set up your sleeping bag on a tree root. Look for a soft spot or spread leaves out underneath where you rest.” I have been thinking about details while still processing in my own head the fact that I am going at all. There is lots to do and not many days to prepare.

Deb, JoAnn and a social work intern, Courtney, are already seated at a long table when I arrive. There is room for other guests who will come and go as part of the birthday celebration. A boxed cake is on my end of the table. 

We exchange happy birthday greetings and food orders arrive. We also celebrate that Courtney is about to graduate May 14 from Xavier University.

My mind quietly thinks about the AT trip while people joke and chat. I do not plan to discuss the trip at all today since this is a gathering for other reasons. I want to tell Deb on my own when I get a chance.

One of the silent things I ponder is that the cost of this trip is an issue. I can’t make purchases. We have no credit cards and the debit card is stretched to the penny each month. I consider who in my neighborhood and friend circle might allow me to borrow equipment.   

Knowing where my mind might be, JoAnn interjects, “Hey Glenna. You’re going to need a good pair of hiking boots.”

Deb says, “For what?”

I am surprised. JoAnn must REALLY be over the top excited about this trip. 

All eyes turn to me. I answer, “Well, within the last 24 hours I’ve agreed to go on an Appalachian Trail section hike with JoAnn. We’ll be in the Shenandoah National Park area for almost a week.”

I look at Deb. My raised eyebrows ask if she would like to go.

Reading my nonverbal cue, Deb says, “That sounds fun, but my knees could not do that.”

Courtney, though, looks more than intrigued by the idea. She asks about the dates and if other women can join the team. Is she interested in being part of this idea?

“Are there bears in that area?”

JoAnn answers Courtney, “Oh yes. We will have to put our food in a Bear Bag, then use a rope to throw the bag up and over a tree branch away from where we set up camp.”

My eyes widen.

“Snakes?” Courtney asks.

“Yes, some poisonous. Some not.”

I start to think that Courtney going on the trip could be good. She is young and probably could run for help if we need it.  

Then an opportunity-to-help-look comes over Deb’s face. She says, “Boots!  A few months ago, I stopped by a shoe outlet in Louisville. There was a $7.50 sale on Swiss hiking boots that were originally priced $110. I don’t hike. They were not my size, but I couldn’t resist knowing that someone I know surely will need them especially for that price! What size do you wear?”

I reply, “9.”

Deb says, “I had no idea why I couldn’t resist those boots. This must be why. I will go home tonight and let you know what size they are.”

The table oos and ahhs. “This may be divine,” JoAnn says.

Then Courtney offers, “My sister is into this kind of thing. She has hiked a lot and has all the equipment. I can ask her for advice.”

I will welcome all the advice and divine intervention I can get.

As we are in line to pay for our food Deb says to me, “This will be good for you to get away after Jacob goes.”

I nod, “Exactly.” 

7:00PM

I receive a text from Deb with a picture of the boots—SIZE 9!

Glenna—WOW.  MAGIC BOOTS!  THANK YOU.

Deb—THIS TRIP IS MEANT TO BE.

If you’d like to listen to the Audio Version or support this creative work, click here for my podcast chapters.

Fun fact: I am beginning to include extra content that only can be found on the podcast.

Thanks for reading or listening! Check back April 4, 2021 for Chapter Three.

© Copyright 2016 Surrender On The Trail – Glenna S. Edwards

Gus Deployment Part Two

Before soaring on United Airlines one day in August, two TSA people panicked when I placed a pet carrier on the security conveyor belt.

I said to their reaching hands, “It’s empty. Don’t worry.”

Whew! Their blue shirts relaxed a bit.

“I am heading to get my son’s cat,” I said to more people than probably wanted to know that day.

My mission: Get the cat. Keep my emotions in check. Spend as little money as possible. Stretch granola in backpack.

One thing I’ve learned about being a military mom is that tears are the enemy to be embraced. I can be happy for our son = tears. I can be proud = tears. Saying hello = tears. Saying goodbye = tears.

Fight them and the tears are worse. I attempt to embrace and let them pass. If you’re a military parent, you know this roller coaster.

Son-1 and I strive for what we call “the good good-bye”. He tries to laugh when my face swells. There is something about military life that makes the words “gut wrenching” meaningful as an experience rather than a phrase.

Once in New Mexico, I see in our son right away that he is feeling about his cat a little like what I feel when he and I separate for months at a time. He hugs Gus, plays with Gus, and takes long looks at Gus. I imagine he is burning the memory of Gus into his soul with enough love to last for many months until they reunite.

20190822_074029_hdr3407183576012685705.jpg

Meanwhile on minimal sleep for a 24 hour trip, my mind focuses on how to get a cat across the country without losing him.

“Ok, Mom. You guys have to go now,” Son-1 said about 40 minutes before I planned to leave that morning. He did not want to cry. I understood.

We place a “calming collar” on Gus and put him in the pet carrier.

“Here. I got you these,” Son-1 hands me breakfast. It was thoughtful of him to stop at a gas station for Pepsi and Swedish Fish with me in mind.

I stress-nosh on the red fish when Gus begins to wail in the car. Have I mentioned that Gus and I had to drive 90 miles to the airport?

Son-1 and GF warned me that Gus does not like car rides, but I know his wail is more than a dislike of the car. Gus knew I was taking him from his people.

Gus cried.

I cried.

Hubby called once while I was stopped in the desert by a police blockade. Missiles were being tested nearby. Stopping only made Gus cry louder.

“It will be ok, Gus.” I turn him so he can see me through his net. That didn’t help. I wonder if his claws will rip the carrier netting. Then I remember that I packed a small roll of duct tape. Hopefully I will not need to figure out how to repair or get him back in the carrier if he escapes.

I hyperventilate on the phone to Hubby, “Don’t. Tell Son-1. That. Gus. Is.” Inhale, “Crying.”

“Honey, catch your own breath. It will be ok.”

Sure it will. I am in new territory: alone with a cat, saying good-bye to our son for his first deployment overseas, and driving toward El Paso, Texas which dripped with sadness in the air from recent events.

There are security options with a pet in an airport. I could take the cat out of the carrier and walk through the screening device. No way. Or I could request the private room to take the cat out of the container. Sigh.

In the private room, the TSA agents share horror stories, “One time a cat died right here at this check point.”

What?!

“Yep, the owner overmedicated the cat.”

I feel so glad we did not medicate Gus. I zip him back inside with our new bonding and determination. We can do this, Gussie-boy. G-ma will protect you.

At our layover, I bravely allow Gus to walk around an indoor pet spot.

I pose him for a picture near the airport’s USO. “We are on task, buddy.”

message_15664933324315090975878001862128.jpg

He and I people watch at airport gates.

Inside the carrier is one of Son-1’s worn t-shirts. I explain to the cat that the shirt is for comfort.

“Don’t worry, Gus, your owners will be back for you.”

The t-shirt also connects the dots of smells for the pets waiting at home. Once back in Greater Cincinnati, there was minimal quarantine time and/or hissing by our welcome wagon pets. They recognized Son-1’s scent. They gave us looks like, “WTH? Meow. Ok, fine.”

Gus settled in with cat toys, scratch pads, and favorite play-sleep spots. He marvels at the new sights through our window: chipmunks, leaves, grass, snow flurries. It’s different here.

20191120_2158306816176562510411457.jpg

And sometimes Gus hangs out near the door patiently waiting for Son-1 and GF to return.

Job 12:7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Posts about Gus are dedicated to his cat parents who are currently deployed separately in the military. Please pray for the men and women who endure loneliness in the name of freedom during this holiday season.

Let there be peace on earth.

GF, Son-1, Gus, & their promise rings.

Gus the Deployed Cat

Our oldest son, let’s call him Son-1, has been in the military 3 years.

After moving out of an Air Force base dormitory and into an apartment in New Mexico, he began considering pet ownership.

He talked the idea over with us and his girlfriend (GF) for several months. Son-1 and GF landed on a cat being the best option for them. “But,” he asked me. “If I have to deploy, Mom, would you come get the cat?”

Would I come get the cat?! The words stuck with me for a while. I convinced myself that Oh, it will be a while before that could happen. And Oh, maybe if he deploys, then the timing will work out that his girlfriend or someone else can care for the animal. I won’t really be needed.

We are the type of family that stick with a pet for life. Ultimately I am glad Son-1 got that memo. Pet care is a serious commitment. He’s turning out to be a responsible guy. I think surely my son won’t need me in this way, but if he does, I said, “Yes. I’ll be there.”

I pause here to mention that when our first pet, an insane nearly untrainable and somewhat aggressive 10 lb. dog passed away, then it was a full 9 years before we were willing to have a pet again.

And–once upon a time, I was not a cat person at all. I harbored years of judgement against cats. What I saw and smelled at various homes growing up was not something I wanted in my life. But then one day in 2010 I fell for the tiniest little kitten in Jackson County. I remember our young boys whispered to Hubby, “Mom. Picked. Up. A. Cat.” And Hubby whispered, “Yeah, something’s going down here. She never does that.”

We brought that sweet baby home.

I bought good cat litter. We established twice per day scoop policies. The next year we gave her a friend. Two cats. Clearly I lost my mind.

Fast forward back to last year, Son-1 and GF chose a cat named Gus from a shelter. He had been left behind by other people once or twice. Gus would be left behind no more.

“He is cross-eyed, Mom,” Son-1 said over the phone. “The vet doesn’t think he’ll do well if he is out in the wild.” So Indoor Gus began a sweet life with his new mom and dad.

And Hubby and I felt somewhat like distant cat grandparents.

The first time I met Gus I observed that because of his eye situation he tilts his head back to see when you walk into a room. It looks like he says, “Whaz up?” every time.

Gus out of NM Window

For several months we enjoyed pics and texts about their life with Gus. They were a happy little pet inclusive family.

Then GF received notice of deployment. She had several months to prepare. The couple thought they’d cuddle with their cat until she left. Then we were all surprised when Son-1 received notice that he also would deploy but with only 3 weeks notice. Eek! Gus moved up on the extended family priority list. I had made the promise, so you know what happened next.

We rapidly picked the 24 hours that I would fly alone 3200 miles round trip on a tight budget to get Gus. Hubby and I couldn’t help but feel like I was going to get our grandchild-cat.

G-ma is coming!

[End of part one. Stay tuned for part two.]

Job 12:7 But ask the animals, and they will teach you…

Gus downward pose
*The story of Gus is posted with permission of his 21 year old active duty military parents.