Yesterday I finished reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, about how, at the age of 26, devastated by her mother's death and the end of her marriage and having lapsed into heroin and promiscuity, she sets off to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest trail from the Mojave Desert to Washington State.
She writes about her mother's death:
"It took me years to find my place among the ten thousands things again. To be the woman my mother raised. To remember how she said honey and picture her particular gaze. I would suffer. I would suffer. I would want things to be different than they were. The wanting was a wilderness and I had to find my own way out of the woods. It took me four years, seven months and three days to do it. I didn't know where I was going until I got there.
It was a place called the Bridge of the Gods."
Cheryl Strayed is a beautiful writer and her journey that summer from the Mojave Desert to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon is so much more than a tale of hiking. But after feeling stunned by what she'd achieved I realised that many women, many mothers I know, make that journey every day.
Some of those women are close friends, some are acquaintances or friends of friends; they are the mothers of children who are sick or have a disability or special needs. They are mothers of children who have a sadness or a pain that can't be wiped away with a wet cloth and a soft hand on their head. They are mothers of children who were born not the baby that was expected but loved and cherished even more for it.
These women get up every morning to a day that is unknowable to the rest of us. They get out of bed, put their feet into crust-mud hiking boots that are way too big for them, do up the red laces and go out into the world to battle for a place for their child.
They are the women who journey every day to the Bridge of the Gods. They make their way up through the snow mountains and down to the arid valleys. Sometimes they will see the sun hit the mountain with a shimmer that's meant for them and no one else. They will lie down at the end of the day not to sleep but to plot and plan that place in the world for their baby.
The next day they will wake with sore, blistered feet. But they will get out of bed, pull on the too-big boots, tie the red laces and begin that long journey to the Bridge of the Gods one more time.