(Written Feb. 9) – I’m batting out the notes for these things the day of the event, but then polishing them up after the fact. I don’t want to publish lousy grammar…especially as I’ve spent seven of the last ten years of my naval career teaching writing!
Today my multimedia workshop students were cut loose to go shoot their final project. Tomorrow (Feb. 10) they “go live” promptly at 10:30 a.m. with a three minute multimedia project that will be 2/3 video, 1/3 photos and/or graphics, and music. The music has to come from a copyright-free source. Two of my students, TJ and Weston, wanted to do a story about hiking the Path of the Gods. This is a long, windy, narrow mountain trail along some of the most famous coastline in the world.
South of the Gulf of Naples is the magnificent Amalfi Coast. Rugged coastline cutting into the sea and punctuated by the famous Isle of Capri. I tagged along with TJ and Weston ostensibly to provide mentoring and inspiration, but deep down let’s be real–I’m a tourist at heart. I joined the Navy to see the world, and joy shared is joy doubled! Getting to to hike this place with two other Navy photojournalists whom I get share the joy of the hike and the joy of of capturing imagery…it does NOT get any better than this!
This was the most strenuous hike I’ve done since the Ridge Walk on Guam–a hike along the ridges of the island’s southern mountains. The trail is distinct and well marked, but that’s the end of the easy part. Much of it is loose rock, uneven stair-like formations, and edges with no guard rails averaging 500 meters (about 1,640 feet) above the sea.
We discovered enormous terraces built into the cliff side that used to host vast lemon groves (the Amalfi Coast is famous for its lemons). Many of these have been abandoned in the face of cheaper lemons from elsewhere and the move of the younger generation into tourism services. The upshot here is that the abandoned terraces, their retaining walls no longer maintained, are steadily increasing the risk of landslides along the coast. Famous towns like Amalfi and Positano and other could be tumbled into the sea in the future.
However, as TJ and Weston and I found, the area is not abandoned. The sound of sheep and goats wafted around from hidden places inside the forest clinging to the mountain. Despite the early February date, we ran into a few other hikers here and there (yes, our insurance covered the collisions).
All the while we were filming, photographing, slipping, sliding, laughing, and feeling like we were at the top of the planet. Behind us where towering cliffs shaped by eons of geological processes; below us was endless, unstoppable sea.
We finally discovered and ancient, abandoned villa on the cliffside. Two girls were there–French film students on holiday. Weston shared his lunch with them and started a long and entertaining conversation.
The house was hand-built of stacked stone. We wondered about the origin of the house until TJ noticed one clue that he pointed out to Weston. They called me over to look at it (I have a master’s in history–American Civil War history, but history–and a limited background working in museums).
It was a nail. Just a nail. A rusted nail sticking out of the rotting lintel over the main door.
A rusted nail…and that one clue told me everything we needed to know about the house.
The nail had a square shank. Square shanks mark nails as pre-1800 artifacts. Staring in 1800 the incipient roots of the industrial age resulted in nails being made with rectangular shanks. By the 20th century mass-produced nails developed the round shanks we know today.
So, based on that nail, I can date that structure to at least 1800, if not earlier. It’s at least 217 years old, and we’re eating lunch under its shadow looking a viewmost people in the world will never see. Even more–this is a WORK DAY for us; we’re being PAID to hike this world-famous trail of the gods!
This has been a highly eventful trip for me due to a number of personal hits that came my way since I got here. I excused myself to go back inside the old house for a few moments alone at the top of the world. TJ, Weston, and the two Frech girls we met were outside talking and eating.
Perhaps the Path of the Gods might be able to afford me a moment with God.
I’ve said it before: in 1999 and in 2016 Naples and Italy played major roles in my professional life. I’ve also indicated with all the subtly of a hand grenade in a barrel of oatmeal that Naples has been the scene of yet a another major shift in my professional life for a THIRD time.
I planned on retiring from the Navy in September at my 20-year mark pending acceptance to the College of William and Mary’s Ph.D. progam. April was the date results were expected. I knew I was not a shoe-in; nothing like this is ever a guarantee. But I reckoned I had a very good shot and I really, REALLY wanted it.
Of course, you can guess the outcome.
I found out last week, just after I get here to Naples, that I was NOT accepted.
I could still retire, but my daughter is in the Hampton Roads area. Right now the local job market for photojournalists, public affairs/information specialists, training managers, etc., is saturated. I could easily find work if I moved, but I’d prefer to stay near Katrina. So, the best chance for that is to re-enlist and stay Navy. I’ll be rolling back to sea duty, but the Norfolk area is big enough that I have a good shot at staying in the area.
Additionally I own a house that needs a new roof and several new windows before I could realistically sell it and make a profit. Going back to sea and banking the sea pay would provide the money for both improvements. I could then rent out or sell the house at a profit.
But…my fish. Since my divorce I had to give up my dog and ferret. I just was not home enough to care for them. So, I took in four bettas (before you ask, they’re in different tanks!). I really love those fish and, as silly as it is, the idea of having to give them up to go back to sea hurts a lot. After all, they were, if you will, my “therapy” animals as I got back on my feet. The idea of losing my fish has become a huge sticking point for me.
So I spent some time alone in this abandoned house on this isolated cliff in Italy. I touched the ancient walls and listened, trying to hear any stories the house had to tell. I looked for shadows that might indicate the lives that had gone ahead of me in that place. And I talked to God a bit. Talked about my fears (going back to sea has set my agoraphobia off BIG TIME). Talked about my griefs (potentially losing my beloved fish). Talked about being tired of having to juggle all this alone and of my deep, painful desire for a partner. Talked about feeling more alone than I have in a very, very long time and needing help…help that can only come from Christ.
Were this a TV show or high-budget “Doctor Strange” movie then clouds would rumble, the ground would shake, and the Voice of God would speak.
This isn’t a a TV show or high-budget “Doctor Strange” movie. The wind whispered through the house as the voices of my companions wafted about. But when you talk to God, if you listen and just…just accept He’s listening…well, things do shift. Quietly and subtly, but they shift.
So anyway, I walked out of the house a bit calmer. I do not know what to do or how anything will shake out–especially about my fish. But a certain level of panic has subsided. I was able to start moving into that moment where “life moves on, and so do I.”
I have NO idea what is coming next, but it seems that walking the Path of the Gods gave me a chance to be heard BY God, and that is always a big deal.