On December 28th, I was super excited as I drove my car to meet Michele…
According to the weather forecast it was supposed to rain like crazy for the 43rd hike of “A Year of Hikes: 52 Weeks, 52 Women, Same Trail.” It didn’t! You want to know why? Because my hiking companion, Suzanne Mazzei, and I both carried rain gear in our backpacks! Honestly, it is more accurate than the Weather Channel…if there’s rain in the forecast and your unprepared it will rain 100% of the time. If you are prepared, no matter what the chance of rain, it never does!
It was really fun to hike with Suzanne who I’ve only seen a handful of times in recent years. We go way back…our daughters met at Paramount Elementary School and remained good friends through high school. Back in 1999, when the girls were in kindergarten, a dear friend, Roxanne Ober, and I decided to run for the elected school board as a slate. That had never been done before in our county and Suzanne, incredibly supportive, stepped forward to be our campaign manager. With Suzanne’s help and a strong grassroots effort, we won by the biggest margin in the history of Washington County!
Walking over the rocky, leaf covered trail, Suzanne and I reminisced about our daughters going on vacations with each other’s family. My daughter went with the Mazzei family to the Florida Keys and Kristin came to the weeklong Howard family reunion at the beach in Sandbridge, Virginia. Kristin, undaunted in the least by the size of our family, participated in the Howard Family Talent Show! A more accurate description would be the “Howard Family Non-Talent Show” as the sibling who burped the ABC’s won the contest one year! Kristin showed commanding presence and style as she attempted and succeeded in naming all nine of the Howard siblings, their spouses, children, and grandchildren. She started a tradition that continues to this very day! Every person who marries into our crazy family attempts to do the same, though few succeed. I must admit that it has gotten harder over the years as there are now 89 names to remember!
Despite the gray, drab and rather chilly morning, the colors of the leaves still on the trees managed to brighten the day. The water dripping from the trees overhead along with the wind rustling the leaves, created a lovely, soothing sound that reminded me of my grandson’s sound machine. We stopped a few times to practice “forest bathing”, intentionally using our senses to take in the beauty of the day. We noticed the leaves on the forest floor were wet and shining with moisture, creating a colorful pattern of yellow, red, brown, and gold. For the first time I thought the downed leaves were even prettier than those on the trees. Imagine looking through a kaleidoscope and you will have an idea of what we saw.
As we hiked down the incline by the lichen-covered wall I asked Suzanne to catch me up on her family. She and Rob, her husband of 33 years, have three children, Daniel, Nick, and Kristin. Daniel, who is in the Coast Guard, and his wife Carly live in Florida and have two children. Nick has one son and works for SI Tix, a new ticketing platform featuring a flat transaction fee for sporting events, concerts, and theatre ticket purchases. Their youngest, Kristin, has a dental practice in Ocean City, Maryland and was recently married. Suzanne’s face lit up as she described her daughter’s wedding. We even stopped in the middle of the trail so that I could peak at photos on Suzanne’s phone of the beautiful bride and her grandsons, Tucker, Parker and Landon, the adorable ring bearers. I asked Suzanne about her most cherished memory of the wedding and without hesitation she immediately said, “Just looking at Kristin and seeing her so happy. I will always remember the joy on her face.” As I took Suzanne’s photo by the lichen-covered wall, I could see the joy on her own face as she recalled her daughter’s joy.
Continuing down the trail we discussed how our lives had been impacted by the pandemic. We worried more, traveled less, missed seeing friends but most of all, we missed seeing our grandchildren as much as we would have liked. We also discussed some new hobbies we had time to pursue because we were at home. With more time on their hands, Suzanne and Rob pursued their interest in gardening and developed a particular passion for growing dahlias. Suzanne explained that after blooming for most of the summer, she recently dug up the tubers and “put them to bed for the winter” in her garage. Sleep tight, little dahlias! My husband and I also garden but this year due to COVID 19, we had a more robust vegetable patch and enjoyed the pleasures of harvesting and cooking straight from our garden. Just last night, I made a delicious recipe from Bon Appetit using tomatoes, peppers and basil picked earlier in the day and served it with sauteed kale grown in our backyard…yummy!
Approaching the powerline field, we could see a thick blanket of clouds overhead but still no rain fell. The color of the trees on either side of the field appeared muted, maybe even a little melancholy. Somethings in life are inevitable. Leaves fall and kids grow up. Suzanne and I are happy for our children as they pursue their dreams, but we agreed, we still worry about them. Suzanne said, “For parents, worrying sort of comes with the territory.” I agreed and told her about our daughter’s brush with death when she developed a bilateral blood clot to the lung and spent five days in the ICU at Georgetown Hospital. To this day I am thankful for the excellent care she received. With enough scary moments behind me, and now in my sixties, I do a better job of practicing gratitude and living in the present moment, letting go of the past and worrying less about the future…but there’s always room for improvement!
Suzanne and I walked along and talked a lot. We chatted about our sisters, her identical twin sisters and my six sisters. Interestingly, we were both heavier than our sisters and discussed how that impacted us then and now. One year for Easter, Suzanne’s mother filled her Easter basket with fruit while her sisters received chocolate. As Suzanne was sharing this story, I was reminded that there’s a big difference between intention and impact. Suzanne’s mother may have been trying to help but that was not how it was perceived. My mother on the other hand, said, “Bernadette, you are always going to have a weight problem. Don’t wait to love yourself when you reach some ideal weight. Love yourself now, as you are.” Though she told me I was overweight, that conversation was the beginning of the end of dieting for me, and I’ve been happier and healthier ever since.
Suzanne loves to travel and particularly loves to cruise. She told me about some of the trips she has taken with her husband and those she is looking forward to taking. As Suzanne struck the strong woman pose I could tell it wouldn’t be long before she is packing her bags and off on her next adventure! Hey, COVID, get out of this strong woman’s way!
On the way down to Warner Hollow we noticed Turkey Tail fungus almost covering a snag and a few other kinds of mushrooms but not nearly as many as in past weeks. By the time we reached the stream the wind had really picked up and my hands were freezing. Luckily, I pulled gloves from my new Prime Time for Women backpack and was good as new! Before heading back up the hill, we took a couple of lovely photos. I liked the picture of the leaves floating down the stream, but my favorite was of Suzanne standing on the planks over the water with the yellow, green, and gold leaves in the background.
On the way back up the hill, Suzanne and I realized we share a similar struggle. Both of our fathers-in-law are still grieving years after the death of their wives. Despite caring, committed, family members who offer tons of support, we agreed it is painful for all concerned when they are unable or unwilling to accept it. Suzanne said, “When my daughter got married, she attached a charm with her grandmother’s image to her bouquet. It was bittersweet because her grandfather couldn’t bring himself to attend his granddaughter’s wedding without his beloved wife.” Sometimes life is like that.
Almost back to the car, we began talking about the books we were reading and the book clubs we belong to. Suzanne has been a member of the same book club for more than 20 years and has developed numerous friendships over that time. We agreed that it is enjoyable to analyze and discuss characterizations, settings, themes, and plots but that the real pleasure and benefit of belonging to a book club is the chance to connect with other women and nurture friendships.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail is another great way to nurture friendships! I can honestly say that spending time with Suzanne and all 42 women before her has enriched my life, boosted my happiness and filled me with purpose. “A Year of Hikes” started as a way to connect with others during COVID but it has become so much more…and I am grateful!