Earl Shaffer, adrift after serving in the South Pacific in World War II and struggling with the loss of his childhood friend Walter Winemiller during the assault on Iwo Jima, made his way to Mount Oglethorpe in Georgia in 1947. He headed north toward Mount Katahdin in Maine and for the next 124 days, averaging 16.5 miles a day, beat back the demons of war. His goal, he said, was to ‘‘walk the Army out of my system.’’ He was the first person to hike the full length of the Appalachian Trail.
The beauty and tranquility of the old-growth forests, the vistas that stretch for miles over unbroken treetops, the waterfalls and rivers, the severance from the noise and electronic hallucinations of modern existence, becomes, if you stay out long enough, a balm to wounds. It is in solitude, contemplation and a connection with nature that we transcend the frenzied and desperate existence imposed upon us by the distortions of a commodity culture.
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Chris Hedges spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009) and War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning (2003).