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John Francis – My Walking Pilgrimage

I clearly remember learning to walk. I remember falling and the frustration of trying to stand on my feet unsupported, without the help of parents. Finally, there was the euphoria of one day rising by myself. Like a young bird flying, my hands flapped, and my feet lifted to make the first wobbly steps to the other side of the playpen. No one was around, no aunties or uncles urging me to walk. I was alone in my joy, not knowing that this moment would color the life that stretched out before me. Not until I had grown and left my inner-city Philadelphia home for the hills of Marin County, California, did my walking truly blossom. Living adjacent to the Point Reyes National Seashore, I was drawn to explore the nearly 150 miles of trails that led through bishop pines, firs, and redwoods to the ocean.

It was an idyllic life until January 1971, when two Standard Oil tankers collided in San Francisco Bay, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of oil. This is paltry when compared to the Exxon Valdez, which spilled 11 million gallons in 1989, or the more than 100 million gallons that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico from the Deepwater Horizon in 2010. But the Standard Oil spill happened during a cultural revolution, my failed attempts at higher education, and after my consuming enough alcohol and other substances to earn the designation of being lost.

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