On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
My scheduled companion for this week’s hike of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail” unfortunately had to cancel. “Uh oh,” I thought “where am I going to find a hiking buddy at the last minute?” I called my friend Maggie Terry, who enjoys hiking, to invite her on the adventure. I should say “My GOOD FRIEND” because Maggie, despite a torn rotator cuff and having to reschedule her physical therapy appointment for said injury, eagerly agreed to join me on the Appalachian Trail for the 33rd time this year. Thank you, Maggie!
For late August, it wasn’t too hot at 9:00 a.m. as we climbed out of the car next to the wild grapes, along Route 77. First things first…we tasted the grapes, which were not nearly as sour as last week, and then liberally applied insect repellent. I must be honest, the heat and humidity don’t bother me, but the bugs bug me! When it cools off and there are fewer bugs, Maggie invited me to hike Bob’s Hill in the Catoctin National Recreational Area. I’m looking forward to the beautiful overlooks that she described.
As we looked over the field of wildflowers toward the woods, I had a flashback to my childhood. The sky was the exact same color as the crayon labeled “sky blue” in my coveted box of 64 Crayola Crayons. Then I remembered getting in trouble because I didn’t want to share them with my sisters. But, if you had sisters, they probably broke off the points of your crayons too! Under the bright blue sky with high wispy clouds, which offered a reprieve from the hazy humidity, Maggie and I took in the beauty of the wildflowers. We marveled at the colors and textures of Queen Ann’s Lace, Chicory, Tall Thistle and Allegheny Monkey Flower and the incredible variety of butterflies that were flitting from one flower to the next.
We weren’t very far into the woods when Maggie pointed out the hickory nuts along the trail and in the woods. Even though they are “tough nuts to crack”, Maggie and her husband enjoy shelling and eating them. According to a quick google search, hickory nuts are the most calorie-dense wild plant food that can be found and an excellent source of protein. As I contemplated foraging some hickory nuts, Maggie cautioned me not to try to open them with my teeth. I wonder how many people have cracked a tooth instead of a nut. Thanks to Maggie, I won’t make that mistake!
As we hiked the trail, Maggie told me about a twelve-day vacation she took with her friend Maureen to the White Mountains in New England. They visited Maggie’s brother for a few days and spent time at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vermont. This lodge, which is described as “a little bit of Austria and a lot of Vermont” was founded by the Von Trapp family, of The Sound of Music fame. We had a great time reminiscing about the movie but since I’m practically tone deaf and Maggie is a classically trained pianist, I didn’t torture her with my rendition of “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria.” That just wouldn’t be a nice thing to do!
Speaking of Maggie’s music ability, she comes by it honestly. We talked about her 97-year-old mother, Nancy Ellsworth, who was the first female concertmaster for the Washington Opera Orchestra back in the 1950’s. She was a real trailblazer, and the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Maggie is also strong and independent and raised her two daughters, Nancy and Michelle, to follow their grandmother’s legacy.
The conversation went from music to literature. Maggie is an avid reader and recommended several books by Elizabeth Berg including “Talk Before Sleep” and “What We Keep.” I shared that I had just finished reading “The Only Woman in the Room” and was looking forward to reading “Writers & Lovers” by Lily King, which is the September book selection for the Prime Time for Women Book Club.
I walked this section of the trail 32 times before I hiked it with Maggie but, thanks to her, I saw something I’d never seen before. She pointed out an old wooden deer stand 25 feet above the ground, high in a leafy tree. Amazing, I don’t know how I never saw it before! It’s one of the joys of hiking with a different companion each week…every woman brings fresh eyes to the experience and willing shares her unique perspective. Then, looking at my friend with a fresh perspective, I took her photo as she posed next to a lovely fern growing out of the lichen-covered rock wall.
One day before our hike there was a Tornado Warning from the National Weather Service, which explained the number of tree branches and limbs that crossed the trail. We moved a few small branches but mostly just went around them. The heavy rain that accompanied the high winds may also explain the variety of mushrooms we saw, from little orange mushrooms covering a rotten log to white button mushrooms no bigger than a dime to the largest mushroom I’ve ever seen! I used my hiking pole as a reference and took a photo of that mushroom…and when I got home, I measured it. That guy or should I say “fungi” was 20 inches in diameter!
I used to work with Maggie, she as a therapist and I as the Community Outreach Coordinator, at Hospice of Washington County. I asked her if she missed work and her answer without reservations was a “NO!” Maggie explained, since developing Primary Progressive Aphasia (PPA), work had become stressful. Even though Maggie’s supervisor felt her diagnosis didn’t negatively impact her ability to help clients, Maggie decided to retire. Maggie explained that PPA is a neurological condition in which language capabilities slowly and progressively become impaired. The changes must be very subtle because I’ve known Maggie for years and I couldn’t tell that anything had changed. Maggie said the treatment for the conditions is much the same as for patients diagnosed with heart disease: eat a healthy diet, stay active, be engaged in meaningful relationships, and keep stimulating the brain by pursing interests and hobbies. Maggie pursues her art, plays the piano, works to maintain friendships (like saying yes to a last-minute hike) exercises daily and is one of the healthiest cooks I know! As Maggie struck the “strong woman” pose I thought: It takes strength to accept a progressive diagnosis and live fully with optimism and joy. That is what Maggie does, every day. She is my friend but also my inspiration.