Winter blanketed the banks of Holman Lake on a January afternoon in Tuscarora State Forest. Visibility along Fisherman’s Trail diminished as the second leg of the season’s first real snowfall intensified.
Ahead of me, a crossroads: do I trek on, risking an increasingly icy commute home through the mountains? Do I turn back now, surrendering to the conditions and forgoing further exploration?
The mantra in my head, as it so often happened, as it is so likely to be again, was a Rush lyric.
Shadows on the road behind
Shadows on the road ahead
Nothing can stop you now.
I glanced down at Daisy, my Lab/Shepherd hiking companion for the last year and a half. Her snout was pointed east, toward the unblemished footpath leading deeper into the woods.
You call me, you call me.
We would journey on.
In the week since my hero died, I pined for adventure. Neil Peart was the single most influential musical and literary figure on my young and adult life. In particular, the travelogues he documented on NeilPeart.net inspired me to pursue and chronicle my own outdoor exploits. A pastime I hadn’t truly indulged in in years.
Until now, when I found myself miles deep in the Pennsylvania wilderness during a driving snowstorm.
Adventures suck when you’re having them.
I followed my front wheel down a snow-packed footpath. Downed beeches and steadfast birches, barren sugar maples and lush evergreens lined the trail. In the moments between the crunch of my boot and the pitter patter of Daisy’s paws, the hemlock forest echoed only with the sound of falling snow.
Our pace quickened as Daisy caught the scent of something downwind, most likely a squirrel. We delved deeper. The light of midday diffused as the forest canopy thickened overhead. Precipitation heightened.
Autumn woods and winter skies.
Fisherman’s Trail hugged the 88-acre Holman Lake for a mile before diverging into a series of walkways that would eventually lead us back to the trail head where my Subaru awaited. That could take hours. It could also take precious energy – a fleeting resource for a narcoleptic.
Half an hour after making the call to press on, the decision to turn back weighed on my mind again. So did Neil, and his words.
All these wounds that I can’t get unwound.
I owe so much to those lyrics. All Neil’s writing, really. His work resonated with me at different times for so many different reasons. Marathon fired the light in my eyes after four knee surgeries. Afterimage gave me solace when I lost a friend. The Pass helped me steer by the stars when every other light had gone out.
And today, in the snow-laden solitude of Tuscarora State Forest, I was reminded of another lesson.
When we are young,
Wandering the face of the Earth,
Wondering what our dreams might be worth,
Learning that we’re only immortal,
For a limited time.
The soundtrack to my life, indeed.
Bowing to my limitations, I turned my path westward, homeward. The return journey through two inches of loosely-packed, accumulating powder was taxing but assuring. Had I hiked any longer, I may have been too tired for the thirty mile commute back.
In the waning moments before departure, I was reminded that the point of this journey was never to arrive, but to pay homage to my hero.
Thank you, Professor. For everything. I am so grateful to have lived in this one of many possible worlds at the same time you did, to have found refuge in your words at the hour I needed it the most, and to have a revolving carousel of lesson and lyric at my disposal when I need it going forward.