Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 253 - July 11th

Calera, Alabama
I struggled awake at 7:40 a.m. and the sun was already heating the earth. Enfeebled and mentally fogged, I unzipped my tent and wondered how I was going to summon the strength to pack. Probably the only motivation I had bolstering me was the fact that Donna West was driving out to come get me and take me home. If I hadn’t had a place to stay, I probably would have called it a rest day, just found me a nice shady patch of land to sit a spell and reboot. As it was though, I pulled my crap together and began walking towards 191 where I’d arranged to meet Donna.

It was a sweet, sweet moment when Donna found me because it meant the walking was temporarily done. We hugged and I got into the blessed air-conditioned motor vehicle and we spirited away. Donna handed me a slice of pound cake and I reached in the back for a can of Pepsi. Breakfast of champions right there. I turned to consider my host and savior.  
Myself and the illustrious Donna West.
I was put in touch with Donna by Traci Rainbolt, a friend whom I met and stayed with in California at the beginning of the walk so it was a special pleasure linking back to a friendship I’d made 8 months ago. Donna is 62 with electric white hair and brilliant blue eyes. She is a renowned horse trainer and gentles mustangs. I imagine the same assertiveness she has with horses comes up in her interactions with people. That, in combination with her wisdom and extensive life experience, led me to harbor a deep respect for her. Donna is informational, upfront and brisk but also kind and sweet and from the beginning I was a friend not a guest.

We drove down a gravel county road that threaded through the countryside and shortly thereafter we arrived at the house. It is tiny but beautiful and very comfortable with a porch overlooking a pasture. Two mules were pulling methodically at the grass. Donna and her husband Vince, who I never met because he was in California, recently purchased the 30 acres surrounding the home and fixing up the place has become a big project. There are several pastures, a pond, a barn and stables for the horses on the property. People bring their horses to Donna for training and she houses some of them although I learned it’s often the people who need to be trained more so than the horses. There is also a circle pen and a larger arena around which the gravel road leading into the property wraps around. It is a beautiful location with many trees surrounding the property, making it feel like its own insular enclosed space. Beyond lies the rest of the world which grows less interesting the more time you spend on the ranch.

Donna has a continual stream of friends coming in and out of her hospitality and when I first arrived I was introduced to her good friend MS. He has cerebral ataxia, a neurological condition that attacks his motor skills and slurs his speech. Walking is a full-time investment of his energy as he must contort his legs and use his arms to grip nearby objects or his walking staff for stability in order to move anywhere. But these traits quickly became secondary to my perception of his character, subverted by his twinkling humor and gentlemanly grace. I got to talking with MS over cake when Donna stepped out and I learned about his life. He first remembers developing symptoms in highschool and he wasn’t expected to be able to hold down a job much less live a full life. Yet he worked 44 years laying floors, traveled extensively and had 4 wives (not at the same time, obviously). The first two marriages lasted each over a decade and the third was good if shortlived but the fourth harmed him greatly. His wife sold everything out from under him, the house, the boat etc. and he lost all. I don’t know what it takes to survive a betrayal like that but it existed in the brilliant man sitting next to me. I liked him very much.

I didn’t accomplish much during the day. I was too damn tired, though oddly enough my body must have been confused by the opportunity to nap and couldn’t seem to sleep. In the afternoon Donna, MS and I had Rolling Rock on the porch and I floated in soft contentment knowing the next few days were going to rock.

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