“That morning, my understanding of listening expanded and I was reshaped yet again. It sounds simple and obvious but it takes time to listen; time for the deeper things to show themselves. Just as we can’t see all the phases of the moon on any one night, we can’t hear the phases of truth or the heart unless we listen for how the truth of feeling grows full and dark and full again over time. Patience, the art of waiting, is the heart-skill that opens the world; the way opening our eyes is necessary in order to see.”
—Mark Nepo, “Seven Thousand Ways to Listen”
I wasn’t sure what it would feel like to return here, six years after my first solo excursion, to set sail solo once again. After 15 hours of driving from Tennessee, it was thick darkness on the Tamiami Trail to Everglades City, Florida. My tired eyes were glued to the small stretch of road ahead of me, illuminated by my headlights. I was struck by the calmness in my belly and chest and throat. I was surprised by the stillness in my mind. I suppose I’d expected it to ache more, to feel an anxious flight travel from my gut to my head and back again, given all the memories of love and loss that happened in the time between. But I just smiled, and I let that weightlessness fill me.
Six years ago, I also arrived in the dark. I had no idea what daybreak would reveal, and it tickled me. It’s a bit of a habit—showing up to magnificent places I cannot see, listening patiently for the sun’s big show. I laughed to myself, thinking of a good friend I’d met along the way between now and then, one who also knew this ritual well, and who, at this point, I’d had the pleasure of driving great distances with. It’s good to remember there are souls out there who get you.
The trail angel I met at Davenport Gap earlier this month, for example, had known my kayak has a name—Camellia—without me even mentioning it, simply by the way I talked about her and this upcoming trip to the Everglades. He knew how to listen beneath the words. The Appalachian Trail thru-hikers I met there knew that responding to the question, “Where are you from?” is more complicated for some of us than others. They heard me without explanation. And that chance encounter in a coffeeshop so many years ago left a quiet reminder before I left that timing isn’t everything, but patience is. Its message proved more prescient than I could have known.
And so, I just listened—with all five senses—to what this moment of arrival had to say. This little slice of time before I climb into my 16.5-foot hot pink sea kayak named Camellia and paddle over 100 miles through the backcountry of Everglades National Park, my most ambitious outdoor adventure yet; before I spend ten days alone in a place Marjorie Stoneman Douglas famously described as, “one of the unique regions of the earth, remote, never wholly known.”
You can never know what a trip has planned for you, how the sun peeking over the horizon will paint the picture of all the uncertainties you spent too much time trying to make certain. But re-arriving here has sure felt like healing, like reclaiming something that had already always been mine. I know this feeling can and will change over time, just as my tide tables hint at how to best move through the changing conditions of my paddling days ahead.
We’re all human. We all have to give ourselves grace. And sometimes, we have to give ourselves the grand romantic gesture we wish another would. We have to do that thing that reminds us who we already are—and then trust that. In arriving back to the Everglades, I realized that I’m not here to find myself anymore. It turns out I already know myself. I just need to keep trusting her now.
When I first came to the Everglades for a weeklong solo kayaking trip, I was amidst a phase of life where I had chosen to be, what I called at the time, consciously single. It’s funny how it’s during those phases you seem to meet people. While I didn’t choose to return here single again, I have moved back into a phase of conscious singledom. This time, though, I have a better definition of what that actually means—thank you, thirties, and thank you (but good riddance) twenties.
Being consciously single now doesn’t mean I’m actively avoiding dating or turning down potential romantic encounters. It doesn’t mean having a set timeframe where I’m embracing some vow of celibacy. Being consciously single means, quite simply, that I’m not seeking. I’m letting my heart open again in its own time and own ways, in a manner that moves with the waves of the present moment. It means that I risk my heart again when I see a new phase of the moon that calls me, even if breaks a suture or two—and that I keep it open even as it bleeds. It means seeing the chance to speak the moment’s truth not as a weakness, but a strength—for you can only hurt as deeply as you have loved.
Being consciously single has meant that when I’m happy, I literally yell the word “happy” when I’m on the trail or in my apartment or car or another place out of the reach of others’ ears, so that I can let it fully sink into the new neuropathways I’m weaving. It means placing a hand on my heart and whispering “grateful” more times than I can count throughout the day, as tiny bits of magic move me more than I can describe. It means that in the grips of fear, I hug myself and speak the reminder, “I’m here, I love you, and I’m listening.” It means that when my mind is racing more than I can manage on my own, I choose to dial a friend, I find someone who can help me carry it—and I remind them to dial me when they need to, too.
And yet, as I write this, I come back to the realization that none of it is really new to me. When I first came solo to the Everglades, I brought with me the phrase, “There is faith and there is fear, and they both require belief.”
I don’t yet know what this trip has planned for me, but I do know that sometimes the best way over pain, loss, and fear is to paddle directly through it. And so, here I am again, putting faith back into myself, and planning to take it with me this time when I leave—no matter who or what I find myself entangled in next.