A Message From the “Other Side”

When I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail with my friend Joe Donmoyer the other week and his son, Shawn, we came upon a family of thru-hikers. I was immediately impressed and learned that the Canadian family had an 11, 13, and a 15 year old with them. They were already half way finished with the epic trail. After I congratulated them, I looked at the kids and asked, “Are you having fun? Do you like it?” They shrugged.

I said, “I get it. A little boring in the great green tunnel? “

They nodded. “My kids would have a hard time too, I believe, but then again I spoiled them out on the Continental Divide.”

And the mother looks at me in disbelief and says, “oh my God, are you Cindy Ross? It’s because of you and your book, Scraping Heaven that we are out here. If you could take those babies across the Rocky Mountains, I knew we could take our family across the Appalachian Trail.”

She went on and on for awhile and then asked if her husband could take a photo of us together. She whipped off her hat and her glasses, smoothed her hair over and affectionately put her arm around me. I felt as though I looked pretty darn bad after hiking and sweating all day but I was happy to stand there with my new favorite fan.

I hiked away marveling at how you never know whose life you are going to touch when you are a writer. I have spent the greater part of my life as a writer expounding on the virtues of taking your children out into the natural world and how to do it. From a quick paddle to an epic 3,100-mile traverse of the Continental Divide. I have hoped that I have inspired a few families to at least try car camping at their state park, but you never know what kind of an impact you have.

Taking your family on an epic 2,100 mile traverse of the Appalachians is life changing stuff, and to be even partly responsible for making that happen makes me feel like my life and my work has not been in vain. Like a teacher, every now and then you get a positive affirmation to let you know your seeds have been sown on fertile ground.

These moments help writers when they are struggling with a monstrous project like writing a new book. Especially when it spans a monumental amount of time like 25 years of material. Especially when the content is controversial and your daughter, your #1 editor, screams at you that you can absolutely CANNOT write about family bath time nor hardly anything else that’s private and personal.

That’s ALL I’ve ever written about- personal and private stuff. I have been told that that is where my real strength as a writer lies (not in grammar or punctuation or any other mechanical skill that most good writers possess because my formal education was in the fine arts, not writing) and in my blatant honesty, helping my readers connect and believe they are not alone in their feelings.

When I wrote Scraping Heaven, I did give the manuscript to my husband, Todd to read and edit. But afterwards, my writer friend, Mary Alice got ahold of it and would ask me, “What was REALLY happening here with you and Todd?” and prompt me to tell her the rest of the Paul Harvey story. I’d delve a few layers deeper and hit upon richer material and she would say, “That needs to be in there,” and so it got added.

When the book was published, Todd began to read it aloud to Sierra before she went to bed. He would come down from her room and reply, “I don’t remember reading that before,” and I broke it to him that it probably was in the second edit that he didn’t get to see and smile sweetly to him.

My daughter Sierra said that there will be a stiff price to pay if I do not respect her wishes and privacy when writing Modeling a Life, about raising and educating my children alternatively. She said our relationship will suffer. “Is it worth it?” she asked.

I teased her and replied, “That depends.”

She was too young to put her two cents in when I wrote Scraping Heaven. Todd just shakes his head and knows his wife is completely unmanageable. Sierra has her mother’s mouth and opinion.

This may be some of the reason I have been dragging my feet these past years and have not displayed the level of commitment that one needs to see a book through to publication. When half of a chapter has big X’s crossed out- not just sentences or paragraphs but whole graph, it is not exactly encouraging.

And so I allowed myself to be sidetracked, by veterans and their cause and a whole slew of excuses. But the time has drawn to a close. Bryce has graduated from art school and if I want him to illustrate it, I’d better get my dibs in for his time before he commits to other projects. And, both children are well on their way to impacting the world positively. I did want to be able to walk the talk.

Dedication has been renewed and work at turning the manuscript into an attractive package for a publisher is underway. And to verify that I am on the right track, I had a message “from beyond” this weekend.

I was attending the Elk EXPO at Benezette. I was standing there minding my own business licking an ice cream cone when a couple came up to me followed by two children. They said, “Are you Cindy Ross?”

I said, “yes.”

“It is because of you that we are here with our children. You are the reason we travel and go everywhere with our kids, having adventures in the outdoors.”

I smiled happily.

Then they asked, “Did you get that book published yet about raising and educating your children yet?”

I said, “Funny you should ask. I have recently gotten back to work on it with renewed passion.”

“Well, we need to read it. Please hurry up and get it published.”

And I said, “Thank you. I needed to hear that right now.” And they walked away.

I have no idea who they are, or where they are from. I didn’t want to know. I viewed them as angels, messengers from the other side. And I am going to listen to them.

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14 thoughts on “A Message From the “Other Side” Leave a comment

  1. Twenty or so years ago, when I first discovered my passion for backpacking, I read your book, A Woman’s Journey. I have read everything you have written since then, including the hand written letter you once sent me after I wrote you to tell you how much I admired you (which I still have in my box of my most special letters). I climbed Electric Peak when I worked in Yellowstone National Park one summer. As I signed the summit log that day, I quoted you in it and my friend and coworker, Keith Koepsel, proceeded to tell me he knew you from the Colorado Trail! That’s when I wrote you and you so kindly answered.

    Fast forward to this past April, when the world seems small yet again. We hosted the family your post speaks of as they passed through our neck of the woods in western NC (at least I’m assuming it’s the same family–I can’t imagine there’s too many Canadian families with 3 children of those same ages thru hiking the AT this summer!). Their journey and visit prompted me to pull Scraping Heaven from my shelves and revisit it. It was then that I googled your name, in hopes that I might stumble upon a professional website or blog. I have thoroughly enjoyed following your blog.

    Meeting the Tougas Family and rereading your book inspired me to search for more challenging adventures for my kids rather than day hikes or 1-night backpacking trips. So we have been chipping away at the Foothills Trail in NC and SC and we all agree that much longer thru hikes are in our future one day!

    When I read that you homeschooled your children, it struck yet another chord in me, as I am homeschooling my own as well. The “blatant honesty” you refer to and your gift for writing about the “personal and private stuff” are exactly why I love reading your words and it’s what makes you such an incredibly inspirational person in my own life, in more ways than one. Best wishes to you as you dive back in and finish it. I, too, eagerly await reading every word of it.

    1. wow Nancy- that’s all I can say is wow. Your words mean so much to me. It is lonely work for us to sit as these computers and pound keys, especially when voices say, “Why would anyone care about that?” I never heard voices in my own head trying to defeat me but the voices here in my family, meaning well and a good sounding board can get loud- literally- so you do wonder. I have always felt that if we could figure out to share what was inside all of us, as I do not believe we are no different really inside, then we would not feel so alone and we would feel connected not separate. That is what i have tried to do. Thank you of seeing that and wanting to hear it. Words like what you just shared with me make my life worthwhile. That is a huge gift you have given me. Thank you.

  2. I’m so proud of you Cindy! So many people hold back from living their life dream. You are a wonderful example of positive influence for a hurting society! Thank you for celebrating life!

  3. Looking forward to your new book, Cindy! I can understand the dilemmas of writing about your life with your family, but I’m sure you all will work it out. I asked Porter to vet each major draft of my book, and he was extremely generous about what I included.

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