A rhythm seeps into my stride atop the dike between Nicodemus Slough and Moore Haven. It’s Day 6 of the Big O Hike, and no longer sidetracked by work, I’m walking alone in the spaces between hikers slower and faster than me. But I’m not entirely alone. I’m chatting with Steve, who ran the hike for many years and whom I last commiserated with over campgrounds along Germany’s Baltic coast. I share my adventures and seek advice.
All of us who knew him, walking this circle around the lake, are sharing in this ritual. We’re taking him back to the places we hiked and laughed, talked and joked. I come to a bench with a sweeping view of prairie to the north, sugar cane to the south, and after a few moments of reflection, say my goodbyes.
As if in response, the distant field bursts out in flames. Even on Thanksgiving Day here in Glades County, they’re braising cane, lighting the sugar fields afire to strip the green growth and leave the stalks for harvesting.
It’s the region’s equivalent of a 21 gun salute for my dear departed friend. After marveling with my fellow hikers at the fire and smoke billowing, I take to the trail again, wiping the tears from my eyes.