Total Miles: 1939.0
A Eugene O’Neill play isn’t typically the first place one would go to feel uplifted. There’s a depth and darkness to the themes he explores, none more so than his semi-autobiographical masterwork, Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Addiction, despair, depravity, familial dysfunction—it’s all there. And if you were waiting for a Hollywood ending, keep waiting.
Taking place over the course of a single day and night, we see the Tyrone family as O’Neill saw his own, their every foible laid bare. On the one hand, it’s a story that is as depressingly heartfelt as it sounds. And on the other, it is a story about people struggling against the inevitable, and the almost admirable beauty that resides within that struggle.
There’s not a moment that comes where we, the audience, have the sense that any of the family’s demons will be overcome, despite efforts from each that offer occasional glimmers of a very distant hope. We’re left empty, knowing that tomorrow will bring a journey into night just as lengthy and pained as today’s for the Tyrones.
In case it wasn’t obvious from this and two past posts—A Raisin in the Sun and Angel from Montgomery—I’m enamored with the theme of struggle and the human condition. It’s a theme that’s examined in stories that may be ugly, uplifting, or even hopeless, but there’s always the undercurrent of what Teddy Roosevelt was getting at when he said “it is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” The outcome is less important than the commitment to the struggle itself.
But not all struggles are as destined for failure as those of the characters in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Thru-hiking is a struggle of a different kind, but a struggle nonetheless. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a struggle we sign up for.
Today again brought a literal connection to the play’s title, as we journeyed through a long day and into the dark of night before it would be over. And just as we’re led to imagine that the characters of the play will be destined to the same fate tomorrow, so too shall we.
This journey, however, wasn’t nearly the downer that O’Neill brought to life, the only inevitabilities being the sun, wind, and tired feet. Dropping off the mesa, we fell into a world of cacti before following up the course of a tiny stream as it led into a canyon shaded by Ponderosa pine.
Climbing away from the desert floor, the cacti vanished in favor of perfectly open Ponderosa forest interrupted only by meadow lands that had been tightly “mowed” thanks to the grazing of cattle. Some of them were even kind enough to share their water with us.
What goes up, must come down. Giving away our hard earned ascent, it was back down to a new valley floor and the dodging of tiny cacti. The sun dropped lower over the pines that lie ahead and held what would be our home, one that we wouldn’t reach until twilight had become starlight. Another long day’s journey into night.