Interrelated love and life

…I thought of the February letters. So to them I went. Do you know it took me a whole hour to read all you wrote to me in a month?

What wouldn’t the world give to have them? For, my darling, they are the most beautiful expressions of love I have ever read. So tender and loving and beautifully said. They began with the hyacinth letter–the Revelation.

Dorothy Freeman, in a letter to Rachel Carson, January 31, 1955

Dorothy referred here to rereading all the letters Rachel had written to her during February of 1954. I myself continue to read the women’s letters very slowly, still making my way through the letters of January 1955–but with stubborn optimism about our new childcare that begins tomorrow!

Two passages are most striking to me from this passage of Dorothy’s letter. First is her question, “What wouldn’t the world give to have them?” As someone who studies the history of queer rhetoric and letter-writing practices, though usually from the nineteenth century, I share with Dorothy the sense that Rachel’s letters–and Dorothy’s–are unbelievably valuable.

Like many women before them, Rachel and Dorothy deliberately destroyed some of their passionate letters. But we, “the world,” are so fortunate to have access to what letters are extant. I am grateful to Rachel and Dorothy; I am grateful also to Martha Freeman for her editorial work. I suppose I hold these kinds of letters from the past, much like what survives of the natural world, with a certain reverence.

Second, the above passage from Dorothy’s letter referred to Rachel’s “hyacinth letter.” While Dorothy characterized all of the letters as “the most beautiful expressions of love I have ever read,” it was the hyacinth letter in particular that amounted to “the Revelation.” Martha Freeman noted the importance of this letter, from February 6, 1954, to both women. “Over the years,” Freeman explained, “this later gained in significance for RC and DF and was always referred to as ‘the hyacinth letter.” The letter became part of what Lida Maxwell has characterized as the lexicon that Rachel and Dorthy developed for their loving relationship.

So what does the letter say? Here is the key passage:

Do you remember what someone said to the effect that (I’m quoting very inexactly) if he had two pennies he would use one to buy bread and the other to buy “a white hyacinth for his soul”? You, dearest, are the “white hyacinth”…

Rachel Carson, in a letter to Dorothy Freeman, February 6, 1954

More on the hyacinth letter in future posts (and here too, I hope). With today being Martin Luther King, Jr., Day in the US, I have found myself wondering about any potential connections between King and Carson as contemporaries. My search was quick (have I mentioned we don’t have childcare right now?). It didn’t uncover any actual meetings of the two. But there is some commentary on connections in their thinking about interrelatedness.

Coloring with the little one, who mostly likes to eat the markers and crayons.

For example, Drew Dellinger has pointed to lines from King’s Christmas Sermon of 1967. King said, “It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” “Then, with a sentence that could easily have been uttered by John Muir or Rachel Carson,” according to Dellinger, “Dr. King stated, ‘It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated.’”

By 1967, Carson had passed. But in 1954 and 1955, when she and Dorothy wrote the above letters to each other, King began “his pastorate at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama,” earned his doctorate from Boston University, and became president of the newly formed Montgomery Improvement Association.

What if Carson had engaged with King’s thinking about the interrelatedness of life and love? What if, from Carson’s earliest contributions to ecological thinking and activism, she had recognized the connections between her work and environmental racism that have been underscored by the environmental justice movement?

These are questions I’m thinking about today. Yesterday, I capped off last week’s base-building with a hike. My friend Lib and I hiked a stretch of the Standing Stone Trail, near the Stone Mountain Hawk Watch Platform. The drive down the mountaintop afterwards was icy and treacherous, but the hike was beautiful.

On the Standing Stone Trail, orange blaze ahead and to the left.

The week:

M, 1/112.5 miles, walked close to home pushing the little one in the jogging stroller

Yoga with Adrienne’s Breath Challenge (YWA), day 10
T, 1/122.3 miles, walked with the kiddo in stroller

YWA, day 11
W, 1/134 miles, ran pushing him in stroller

YWA, day 12
Th, 1/14about 1 mile, walking and running around The Arboretum at Penn State with the family

YWA, day 13
F, 1/151.6 miles, walking with little one in the stroller

YWA, day 14
Sa, 1/16about 1 mile, again walking around the Arboretum with the fam, as well as some friends

YWA, day 15
Su, 1/176.9 miles, hiking a section of the Standing Stone Trail with my friend Lib
The view from where I parked.

Sponsored Post Learn from the experts: Create a successful blog with our brand new courseThe WordPress.com Blog

Are you new to blogging, and do you want step-by-step guidance on how to publish and grow your blog? Learn more about our new Blogging for Beginners course and get 50% off through December 10th.

WordPress.com is excited to announce our newest offering: a course just for beginning bloggers where you’ll learn everything you need to know about blogging from the most trusted experts in the industry. We have helped millions of blogs get up and running, we know what works, and we want you to to know everything we know. This course provides all the fundamental skills and inspiration you need to get your blog started, an interactive community forum, and content updated annually.

January 6

Darling, again let me tell you how sweet every moment of our being together was for me. Another lovely memory to be added to so many others. Of course, I believe the setting for our type of happiness is at its best in the natural world but if we can’t always have that we can create our own “quiet bower” in a man-made environment, can’t we? It wasn’t too bad, was it, dear?

How queer, almost, to see the moon above the skyscrapers? Well, what really matters I suppose is that we see it together!

Dorothy Freeman, in a letter to Rachel Carson, January 7, 1955

Dorothy wrote these words the day after she left New York, following her and Rachel’s 44 hours together there (yes, they counted, and recorded in their letters). Not surprisingly, given how a shared passion for nature was the animating erotic of their relationship, Dorothy saw “the natural world” as the preferred setting for their “type of happiness.” Yet it was in a hotel room in the city where they could really share every “sweet…moment” together alone.

As I wrote last week, Rachel and Dorothy were physically separated for most of their relationship and, even when they were together, usually family members were there too. Indeed, in a January 6 letter from the day before–already writing while still en route home from New York–Dorothy noted “how much it added to the joy of it [their time together] not to have to account to anyone else for all of those 44 hours.” What made the New York trip special, in other words, was not just the “queer” setting, but that the two women could be alone in each other’s company.

For me, early January was marked by little alone time this year, and I’ve made minimal progress in reading the letters since my last post. Partly that’s because my spouse Jess’s and my planned childcare fell through. That’s always a nightmare for the working parents of young children, but especially so during the pandemic. Plus I spent too many of my non-work hours—by which I mean the hours when I was attempting to do only one job instead of two—listening to the news.

I mean the news first about the Georgia runoffs and then especially about the mob of pro-Trump white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and conspiracy theorists who stormed the US Capitol in protest of democratic election results. In listening to such news and commentary throughout the week, what I mainly thought about when I thought about Rachel and Dorothy’s letters is what’s not in the letters.

Like so many white people, Rachel and Dorothy wrote without acknowledging much less working to counter the white supremacy of their time. In William Souder’s biography of Carson, for instance, he discusses how she admired the nature writing of Henry Williamson, but nowhere appeared to acknowledge that Williamson was a a Nazi-sympathizer. According to Souder, “Carson could not have been unaware that Williamson’s politics were extreme.” However, it is “unclear whether Carson understood how Williamson’s nature writing and his interest in farming and rural life fit into a mythical narrative embraced by the Nazis in Germany where so-called blood-and-soil literature celebrated racial purity and a working life close to the land.”

I don’t want to jump too quickly to my own conclusions about Carson’s complicity, because there’s plenty more I need to read, both by and about her. Yet Souder’s observations ring true in the sense that white people, even when not asserting obviously white supremacist views, often enact a “silent” complicity.

One might object that Rachel and Dorothy’s letters were intimate, romantic even, and so it makes sense for them to have not commented on the racial politics of their day. But having that option–to focus on their relationship and shared passions while ignoring racism–was, in itself, a form of privilege.

Consider, for example, another set of same-sex romantic correspondence I have studied, between two nineteenth-century, freeborn African American women, Addie Brown and Rebecca Primus. While Addie and Rebecca’s letters were decidedly romantic, their intimate expressions intermingled with their conversations about race. For them, as African Americans writing before, during, and after the Civil War, “ignoring” white supremacist racism was not an option. (You can read their letters in Farah Jasmine Griffin‘s edited collection.)

I talked about January 6th’s white supremacist and neo-Nazi violence while hiking with my friend Josh today. Of course, as Sam Sanders wrote today, “It all feels new. But it is not…Our current troubles — and our current administration — are both just the latest chapters in America’s ongoing battle over race.”

Josh and I hiked 9.2 miles and saw a pheasant along the way.

Base-building for this week:

M, 1/4Yoga with Adrienne’s Breath Challenge (YWA), day 3
T, 1/5YWA, day 4
W, 1/61.2 miles, walked w/ kiddo in the jog stroller

YWA, day 5
Th, 1/72.2 miles, ran w/ him in stroller

YWA, day 6
F, 1/81.9 miles, walked w/ him in stroller

YWA, day 7
Sa, 1/91.4 miles, walked w/ Jess & little one in stroller to the park & played some basketball

YWA, day 8
Su, 1/109.2 miles, walked w/ my friend Josh on the Spring Creek Canyon Trail

YWA, day 9

New Year’s joy

Darling, I’ll mail this…and consequently it will be my New Year’s greeting to you.

My darling, 1955 is going to be another milestone in your life. My greatest wish for you will be that it can hold only joy for you–all kinds of joy–the joy of finishing the new book…and selfishly (on my part) the joy of having me this time to share all the joys…

And, of course I don’t need to tell you what 1955 is going to mean to me–just because of you!

So, darling, my sincerest good wishes for this wonderful new year, with, as always, deep, deep love–beyond expression, really, my dearest one.

Dorothy Freeman, in a letter to Rachel Carson, December 28, 1954

Dorothy Freeman sent this New Year’s greeting to Rachel Carson just before the two women were able to get away together. They stayed at New York’s Barbizon Plaza Hotel for two nights, from January 4 to January 6, 1955. This chance to be alone with each other in the same place was a treat within the context of their relationship, which was carried out largely by letter or in close physical proximity to family members.

William Souder discusses the trip in his 2012 biography of Carson. According to Souder, the women’s “letters became more expectant than usual” in advance of their “escape together to New York just after New Year’s.” The women debated where to stay and whether Rachel should use an alias when checking in. They questioned, also, whether they could “hide their emotions and restrain themselves long enough to get up to their room.”

On January 6, as Rachel departed from New York, Dorothy wrote, “Oh my darling, how wonderful to have had these hours–how many?–approximately 44 I think. / Thus far I have no regrets.” In reply, as Souder explains, Rachel “was uncharacteristically circumspect,” though she noted “they’d had a ‘lovely interlude.” Souder continues, “Dorothy’s caution–did she fear that regret would come with time?–was as unusual as Carson’s reticence. Had they been intimate in a way they were now reluctant to acknowledge?”

Responding to his own question, Souder doubts that “sex” was “a part of their relationship,” drawing on historically wide-ranging concepts of “romantic friendship” and “Platonic Eros.” I have more to say about Souder’s doubts, as my scholarly work uses archival research to investigate the erotic dimensions of romantic correspondence between women. But I’ll hold off until I’ve read the rest of Souder’s book as well as the letters themselves.

Whatever we might doubt or speculate about the potential sexual and/or erotic dimensions of Rachel and Dorothy’s escape to New York, the letters about it amount to a shared experience of heightened emotion. A source first of anticipatory joy, and then “memories” of “a lovely interlude” with “no regrets.”

My own new year has included the mundane joy of getting back to walking and then hiking–not yet running–after that bit of foot pain on Christmas morning. I took off four days, with zero pain on the fourth one, and then returned slowly. On January 1, having done a few short walks on the treadmill and smooth sidewalks, I ventured out with my spouse Jess and our little one for our own version of a First Day Hike.

We didn’t make it to a state park this year, instead staying close to home in order to get back in advance of freezing rain. But we covered just over four miles with the jog stroller, including a portion on the Musser Gap Greenway. It was cold. And it was beautiful. Sharing time with these two is definitely among my greatest joys.

I also returned in the new year to my longer Sunday hike. I met my friend Erina and Sammy the dog at Tussey Mountain, where it quickly became clear there was too much ice for hiking safely without cleats. So we headed instead to the Patton Woods Nature Recreation Area, stopping on the way to pick up Erina’s spare pair of cleats. There the snow started to come down and we ended up covering 9 miles, which included losing the trail briefly after a good bit of snow had accumulated. Again, it was beautiful.

Here’s the trail before it was quickly covered in fresh snow:

In the new year I am adding two other elements to my base-building. Santa brought me a new Garmin, and it counts steps. (Yes, my last Garmin really was that old, and I would have kept using it if my kid hadn’t chewed apart the deteriorating band). So I’m fitting in more short, easy walks with the goal of reaching 10,000 steps even on my rest days from working out. I won’t track steps indefinitely, but it’s fun to play around with for now.

I’m also adding daily yoga for this month, as Jess and I are doing Yoga with Adrienne‘s 30-day breath challenge. We did a similar yoga challenge last year, and then kept going with a daily yoga streak for over 100 days–which turned out to be very helpful during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Speaking of getting through this pandemic, here’s a New Year’s Day piece on staying socially connected this winter. Hiking with others is on the list of options!

And here’s this past week’s base-building in advance of the Homestead Challenge hike:

M, 12/28Rest day, first day with no foot pain
Tu, 12/292 miles, walked in neighborhood w/ spouse & kiddo
W, 12/301.5 miles, walked on treadmill
Th, 12/311.8 miles, walked in neighborhood w/ spouse & little one
Fr, 1/14.1 miles, walked & hiked on Musser Gap Greenway w/ spouse & kiddo
Sa, 1/21 mile, walked w/ spouse & little one to park to play

yoga, 48 minutes
Su, 1/39.7 miles, hiked with friend: first .7 was on Tussey & next 9 were on trails in the Patton Woods Nature Recreation Area

yoga, 37 minutes

Christmas light

“What can I say to you tonight that has not been said before? Or that is not already in your heart? What new words are there to describe this beautiful experience we are sharing?

We both know that no new words are necessary–that the three simple words that were first said a trifle shyly in a pre-Christmas letter in 1953 still say all that need be said. But for tonight, my dear one, I would like you to think of those words as written on the Christmas sky in letters formed of stars, shining with the reflected gleam of the invisible light of which we know.”

Rachel Carson, in a letter to Dorothy Freeman, “For Christmas Eve,” 1954

It was Christmas morning at my house. And this weekend’s hike was about to be canceled, though I didn’t know it yet.

Up to that point, the morning had been pure magic and wonder. In this case, I don’t mean wonder at nature or “the Christmas sky.” I’m referring to the wonder of watching our 18-month-old experience new toys, shiny bows and lights, even a peanut butter blossom cookie for breakfast. I felt wonder, too, at all that my own mom must have done, year after year, to help create in me this incredible sense of delight on Christmas morning. Wonder, in other words, at the power of collective ritual, memory, story.

But then I stood and felt a sharp pain on the side of my right foot. I assumed it was just a cramp, waited a few seconds, and stepped down again. More pain. Then I chided myself silently, because this particular pain is so predictable and preventable. Lately I have been running 3 miles most of the time, with only one 4-mile run thrown in each week. But this week I ran 4 miles, really pushing the pace, and then ran 5 the very next day. Perhaps more importantly, I made this slight increase while wearing shoes that are worn down on the outside heels. For me, running in shoes that are too worn out leads to foot pain every time.

I have half learned this lesson already. In fact, there were two new pairs of running shoes, still in their boxes, sitting upstairs in my closet. But it is not enough to have the gift of plenty shoes. You also have to put the shoes on.

The next morning the pain persisted, so I texted my friend to cancel our planned Tussey Mountain hike. Today the pain is less sharp, my next pair of new shoes is set out, and I’m hopeful I’ll be running and hiking again soon. Until then, I have more time to enjoy with my family–and more time to read with my foot up on ice. As I continue to make my way through Rachel’s letters, I’ve also started this biography as well as A Hiker’s Guide to the Rachel Carson Trail, which was a Christmas gift from my spouse.

Rachel’s “For Christmas Eve” letter (1954), quote above, was actually one of two. According to Martha Freeman, Dorothy had requested “two Christmas Eve messages, this one to read on December 21, the eve of her Christmas celebration with her son,” and the second for December 24. The letter continues to wonder at “this beautiful experience we are sharing,” knowing that, whatever mysteries mark the shared experience, there are “three simple words” to describe it.

The letter is noteworthy because, in Martha’s collection, what follows next is “the first preserved letter” from Dorothy. (More on the destroyed letters in another post.) Addressing Rachel with “My dearest, dearest Darling” in the salutation line, Dorothy responded, “Darling, I brought all your Christmas Eve notes with me to read them over again. How very sweet, dear. And I wonder when you read my Christmas Eve note to you if you will find the Stardust very thick. Neither of us knew what the other had in mind–the theme was the same–ending with the invisible light.”

I’ll end, again, with this week’s training log, cut short as it was:

Tuesday, 12/22Ran 4 miles on neighborhood sidewalks
Wednesday, 12/23Ran 5.1 miles on paved paths close to home
Saturday, 12/26Unplanned rest day due to injury
Sunday, 12/27Unplanned rest day due to injury

Carrying and caregiving

“When I feel, as I do now, the pressure of all the things that seem worth doing in the years that are left, it seems so silly to be spending my time being a nurse and a housemaid.”

Rachel Carson, in a letter to Dorothy Freeman

Today I hiked without the little one strapped to me for the first time since I started this training—the first time since he was born, if my memory serves. It was a liberating feeling.

Don’t get me wrong. I love hiking with him. The warmth of carrying him so close. His wonder at new sights. My joy in seeing them through his eyes. Almost everything is more fun with him along for the adventure.

Still, all the moms (and equally involved parents) who I’ve talked to seem to agree on one thing: caregiving, however important and gratifying, is also tiring. It’s more tiring to hike five miles carrying a toddler than not, and not only or even primarily because of the weight being carried. It takes energy–mental and emotional labor–to attend to the needs of a small person who truly needs you.

Rachel Carson knew about the demands of caregiving. She never married or gave birth, and those who sought to discredit her ideas emphasized that she was a “spinster.” But as anyone who reads queer history knows, there are many ways to create a family, and just as many ways to caregive. In Carson’s case, she served as a caregiver for her aging mother. In addition, a niece and her son lived with Carson. The niece was ill, and when she passed away, Carson adopted her nephew.

According to Martha Freeman, granddaughter of Dorothy Freeman and editor of the women’s letters, Carson “almost never complained” about her caregiving responsibilities. But there did come a time when “her family situation was becoming more and more troublesome and demanding.” When caring for her nephew “compromised the time she needed to devote to writing.” At that point, Carson wrote in a letter to Freeman, “When I feel, as I do now, the pressure of all the things that seem worth doing in the years that are left, it seems so silly to be spending my time being a nurse and a housemaid.”

I first learned about Carson’s family responsibilities in this podcast interview with Nancy Koehn, a historian and professor in the Harvard Business School who has studied Carson’s leadership.

When discussing Carson’s earlier years, Koehn described how Carson was unable to finish her PhD because of familial and financial responsibilities. What I appreciate most about Koehn’s account, though, is that she underscores how the resilience and other capacities that Carson developed through caregiving carried into her leadership in what would become the environmental movement.

It seems that, even as Carson’s familial and caregiving responsibilities may have taken her away from educational opportunities and writing time, those same demands helped to shape her contributions as a writer and leader in a positive way. I don’t mean to idealize the inequities of women doing a disproportionate amount of the world’s necessary yet under- and unpaid reproductive labor. Recently these inequities, like so many others, have been highlighted by the global COVID-19 pandemic (at least with respect to the families of heterosexual couples).

I consider myself truly fortunate that my spouse is so involved in the care of our child. I am grateful for every moment with both of them. And, it was wonderful to head out by myself today, meet up with a friend and her dog, and hike with only my own stuff on my back. After a snowfall of about 15 inches earlier in the week, today’s hike was a winter delight. We hiked on Musser Gap, climbed up to Hubler Gap Vista, and then made our way back.

All that said, the highlight of my week wasn’t this view, but pulling my kiddo around on a sled in our backyard. In addition to lots of playing outside with him, here’s my training log:

Tuesday, 12/15Ran 4 miles on nearby paths and trails
Wednesday, 12/16Ran 4.4 miles, part of it on the Musser Gap Greenway, pushing the little one in a jogging stroller, with a friend
Friday, 12/18Ran 3 miles on the treadmill
Sunday, 12/20Hiked about 5.1 miles on Musser Gap, with a friend

Veery love

“First–in answer to your answer to my veery letter–I thought the whole episode pretty starry, beginning with the fact that, as I learned the other day, while I was in the Rock Creek Park listening to veeries and wishing for you, you were walking along your road listening to wood thrushes and wishing for me!”

Rachel Carson, in a letter to Dorothy Freeman, June 5, 1954

The afternoon when I started reading the book of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman’s letters, I got excited by the editorial introduction alone. But then it was time to make dinner before I had made my way to the letters themselves. So I put the book down and searched instead for podcasts that I could listen to while chopping vegetables to roast. I expected to find episodes with background information about Carson’s life, and I did. I also found this absolute gem.

As noted in the BirdNote summary, this podcast “is the story of Carson and Freeman’s relationship. It grew from their shared love for the natural world — and one species of bird in particular: the Veery, a kind of thrush. Plain looking as it is, the Veery has a beautiful song. And that song matters to Rachel and Dorothy. It’s an expression of the wonder they experience in nature — and in each other.”

The podcast includes an interview with scholar Lida Maxwell based on her lovely essay, “Queer/Love/Bird Extinction: Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring as a Work of Love.” There’s a lot in the podcast—and especially the essay—that I hope to circle back to in future posts. What I’m most taken with first, though, is the notion of what I’m calling “veery love.” As Maxwell states in the interview, she is not interested in “classifying that feeling” of love between Carson and Freeman, in terms of “saying…they were queer…or it was just friendship.” Rather, Maxwell is interested in how Carson and Freeman understood their loving relationship.

According to Maxwell, Carson and Freeman’s letters developed a lexicon for describing their relationship. As part of that lexicon, they understood the relationship with each other in relation to the veery, a kind of thrush, and its special, two-tone song. More specifically, they characterized their wonder about the mystery and beauty of their love as akin to their wonder about the veery’s song. As Carson wrote in the letter above, they shared the “starry” experience of “listening to veeries” and “wishing” to be with each other.

While reading Carson and Freeman’s letters, as well as work like Maxwell’s, I am also building my base before starting to do longer hikes in preparation for the Rachel Carson Trail’s Homestead Challenge. What this base-building phase has looked like so far is running 3 mornings a week, usually 3-4 miles, and hiking on the weekends. That said, what I know about training is from running, and marathon training in particular. I still need to research how to smartly train for a hiking challenge.

But so far, since starting the blog, here’s what I’ve done:

Sunday, 12/6Walked 5.2 miles on Spring Creek Canyon Trail, carrying kiddo on my back, with friends
Monday, 12/7Ran 3.9 miles on neighborhood paths, pushing the little one in a jogging stroller, with a friend
Wednesday, 12/9Ran 4 miles on nearby trails, pushing the kiddo in stroller
Friday, 12/11Ran 3 miles on the treadmill
Saturday, 12/12Hiked 4.8 miles on Shingletown Gap trails, carrying the little one on my back, with a friend
Sunday, 12/13Hiked 4 miles on Tussey Mountain, including the Lonberger Path, kiddo on my back, with a friend

During the Spring Creek Canyon hike, the kiddo—who normally sleeps in his crib on a set schedule—fell asleep on my back for the first time. My friend Josh captured the cuteness, which I’ll leave you with today.

Wonder

“So, my dear, when you say, ‘Don’t you ever wonder at it?’–of course the answer is yes–I feel such a joyous surge of wonder every time I stop to think how…something so lovely and richly satisfying came into my life.”

Rachel Carson, in a letter to Dorothy Freeman, February 6, 1954

Early this morning I ran 4 miles, mostly on trails, pushing the little one in the jogging stroller. This is a routine kind of run for us, though important to the base-building phase of my training for the Rachel Carson Trail‘s Homestead Challenge.

Less than a mile from home, as the kiddo kicked his legs in the air, I saw his white and grey checked sock and realized we’d lost a boot. I turned around, groaning internally about how far we might need to backtrack. Instead, I saw a cyclist in the distance, reaching down to pick up the boot. The cyclist rolled toward us with the boot in hand, then passed it to me as went by, exclaiming, “great handoff!”

A few minutes later, I had turned onto another trail, and I was listening to a podcast about Tuesday’s rollout in the UK of the first fully tested coronavirus vaccine. There was movement to my left, and I looked up to see what I believe was a pileated woodpecker, large and red-headed. At that moment, the trail was quiet except for my feet and the stroller’s wheels making contact with the ground, the wood pecking in the tree, and I felt what I can only describe as a kind of wonder.

Forms of wonder have been on my mind, in response to the reading I’ve done so far about Carson and Freemen’s letters (more on that in my next post). Possibly altered by some state of wonder, my next thought was, “maybe this really is ‘the beginning of the end of the pandemic,'” as the podcast title suggested.

Don’t get me wrong. I live in the US, where COVID-19 cases and deaths are the highest in the world. Perhaps yesterday was the beginning of the end, but this beginning is one of incalculable loss, with the end still out there on the horizon. And even when we do reach the end of this end–once vaccines have been widely distributed and taken–we’ll still be a country marked by disparities in access to healthcare.

I kept running, thinking these thoughts. Then I heard another cyclist slow down next to me. They reached over, still moving, to hand me a pair of white knit gloves. I let them know the gloves weren’t mine, but still, felt grateful. Felt wonder.

How wonderful it was this morning, to share the trails with the woodpecker and the cyclists–and the kiddo, who removed and dropped his boots not one but four times.

Getting started

It’s official. I’m the odd duck walking around my HOA’s neighborhood sidewalks in hiking  boots with a toddler strapped to my back. Also official: I’m training for the 2021 Rachel Carson Trail Challenge’s “half.” 

The full Rachel Carson Trail Challenge involves hiking the 35-mile Rachel Carson Trail, just outside Pittsburgh, on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice. The event is not a race. The Rachel Carson Trail is hilly, with no switchbacks, so it is a challenge simply to complete the entire distance between sunrise and sundown. The “half,” or Homestead Challenge, is 18 miles. That’s a distance that feels more doable to me as a new mom, and an academic mom. For me, it’ll take (re)training just to carve out the time for my love of outdoor physical challenges.

This blog will chart my training, with kiddo, spouse, and friends often at my side. My intention is to walk with them through this winter—when we face constantly higher (yet uneven) peaks in COVID-19 losses and so much more—and still keep moving, as much as possible, in the direction of what brings me joy.

Along the way, I also want to learn—and share with you—about the trail’s namesake. Rachel Carson (1907-1964) is most widely known as an ecologist and author of Silent Spring (1962). I first heard her name shortly after moving to Pittsburgh in 2009 to start PhD study. Having heard that my research involved same-sex letters, a new friend sent me a link to this edited collection, Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman, 1952-1964. It consists of letters that Carson lovingly exchanged with her friend, Dorothy Freemen, over the course of eleven years. 

Doing the math now, I realize that I’ve been meaning to read these letters—just as I have wanted to hike one of the Rachel Carson Trail challenges—for almost eleven years now. So I think it’s time.