Each time I go on a long hike I have a long time to think, a rare privilege in a fast-paced world. A week or so into every walk, I find my thoughts slowing and relaxing, and I begin enjoying the opportunity to think a thought through to its completion, to follow a train of thought to the end of its tracks.
Perhaps as a result of my being in my 20s, this thinking eventually turns to jobs and careers and what I want to “do with my life.” On the Appalachian Trail, I decided that I wanted to have a job in an environment that wasn’t stuffy or sterile; I wanted to come down from the ivory tower and inhabit the real world. On the Pacific Crest Trail, I learned that making time for creative pursuits was important to me; I longed to stretch my brain in the way only creativity and imagination can. Finally, on the Camino, I learned that I wanted a job that wasn’t self-serving, wasn’t just about making money and getting by; I needed to do something that was fulfilling and, in some small way, made the world a more beautiful place.
The idealism there is palpable, right? But, all of my thoughts came from confronting, in some combination of my own experiences and those of others, how I didn’t want to live. I wasn’t quite sure how to go about building the life I did want to live.
There is a common idea in our society – especially among my fellow millennials – that we should each find our passion and that, upon finding it, we must then dedicate our lives to it. And, for those lucky few who seem to have always known which path they’d take – who, for example, loved science class in middle school, continued to study biology in college, and now work as veterinarians – this model makes perfect sense. But, for those of us who tend more toward the dilettante or polymath end of the spectrum, who enjoy experimenting with lots of things rather than focusing on any one, this notion of a singular Passion can be distressing. We expect something to come along that we love most of all, and I know I hoped it would ride in waving a flag to alert me to its presence; we despair when it alludes us.
On the Pacific Crest Trail, Pine Nut introduced me to Rainer Maria Rilke by reading aloud parts of Letters to a Young Poet. While Rilke’s letter full of sexual advice was bizarre, there were others that were insightful. In addition to the oft-quoted advice to “love the questions themselves,” there was another line that I’ve taken to heart: Rilke’s insistence that, to be writers, people must want to write, must need to write so much that it keeps them up at night.
In discovering my love of fiber art (entirely by accident and partially thanks to Lyme Disease), I think I’ve experienced that feeling. I find myself felting until I go to sleep and then again first thing in the morning, squeezing in moments of felting whenever I can manage it. I notice my mind wandering to my latest project while I’m tree planting, and my weekends are consumed with creating fiber art.
Just when I gave up thinking I had a Passion, I seem to have found it – or maybe it’s just a burning interest, one that will extinguish itself in time. I suppose it really doesn’t matter. For the time being, felting is something I love just about as much as I love backpacking, and that’s saying something.