I’m home again, reclining in my office chair; the sun is setting and I am living in this lovely duplicity of enjoying modern conveniences and aching to return to the mountain side.
Yesterday at this time, I was settling for the night. 36 hours ago, I was loading up into the Beast (my big SUV) to drive to the trailhead. In 12 hours from now, I will be driving to school. My compass rose is spinning and I am completely settled and unsettled.
When we drove out to the Three Ridges, the mountains were painted in sepia. Between the leaves starting to change colors and the burgeoning colors exploding from the rising sun, the mountains reminded me of hunched up blossoms, preparing to burst open.
We crossed a suspension bridge that gave me terrible vertigo. My horizon shifting with each step, each footfall becoming a study of gravity, was not a fun thing. Regardless, the trolls were quiet and the boys were not and we began our 2 mile or so assent.
At the Harper’s Creek shelter, we set up tents and dropped packs. Owl Singer and I shared a tent, as always, and we set ours up a lovely distance from the boys so that evening bathroom runs could be a bit more discreet. After we shed the extra weight and grabbed a snack, we started the next part of the assent.
The hikes I have been doing and love doing are nothing like high altitude hiking. I don’t have to worry about crampons or ice hammers or things like that. I don’t tie in to various hooks or locking mechanisms to feel safe. I feel safe so long as I don’t fall.
Which I didn’t do this hike! Or the last hike! Or the one before that! Woot!!!!
Leaving the campsite in the middle of the woods on a sloped edge and moving to the summit is still kind of magical. We start climbing (as in hiking upwards) and pretty soon walked around the face of the mountain (or was it the butt? I don’t know…just feeling kind of silly here). In doing so, we shifted our views from the southern end of a tight valley with the river at its base to the northern face into a wide expanse of farmland.
Sitting on the side of the mountain, on a smooth rock face, I lived within sunlight and a lack of time. I didn’t wear my watch. I didn’t check my phone. I just shared my peanut butter sandwich with Leia who also liked munching on my carrots, peanuts, and almonds. Oh…and crackers. She also drank a lot of my water.
And people wondered why I carried 12 pounds of water (I am not exaggerating).
When I am sitting on the mountains, I have shed my life. I have shed anxieties related to grading or students’ needs. I am not thinking about the next set of letters of recommendation that I need to write or the college entry essays that I need to edit. The frustrations related to constant tiers of professional development or technology training or something else because I can’t keep straight what I am supposed to be learning or what I’m supposed to be documenting cease.
I am very aware of me and my body when I am out in the woods. I am utterly aware of each step I am taking because I do not want to fall again like I did a year ago on the Priest (really banged up my knee on that one)…hey, I just got the humor. I fell to my knees on the Priest! Religious moment!!
Being in the woods, even with Owl Singer or the Boy Scouts makes me incredibly aware of me, of my identity. I become very existentialist when I am in the woods. I am listening to everything, trying to absorb every sensory detail that is out there. It’s not because I am scared and waiting for the imminent bear attack.
It’s because I am very much alive and absolutely aware of my existence and all the nuances associated with my existence. Being in the woods or just hiking in general, I strip away all the veneers and facades that I have carefully constructed over the last week or month or whatever and I am very much me. I am very much in a primal state because I am absolutely aware of my body and what I am doing how I am doing things so that I can take absolute care of myself.
And, yet, at the same time, I am absolutely attuned to the nestling sounds surrounding me. I originally typed in the word “each,” but I am no superpowered human. I am not amazing listener. I am not Thoreau.
I am Gracelesscurran.
I am Compass Rose.
I am a clumsy fate who hid her own lifeline in her pocket and stole away to the mountains to free myself from everything.
I am a woman with a crazy white-black dog that won’t stop pulling me up and down the mountains and I can’t wait to go out with the crazy dog once more.
Yesterday, Owl Singer and I were the last to return to camp. We had wandered just a bit further than the majority of the boys and we lingered on the path, talking, giggling, venting. I walked a bit slower than the rest because we were on rocky sections and my left ankle is still inclined to be weak and grumbly.
When we returned to our campsite, we reveled in the pseudo-quiet that can barely exist when 8 adolescent boys swarmed up and down the hillside in a tumbling herd of limbs and energy. One boy was cooking noodles, thought his camp stove had gone out, and poured in more fuel without checking that it was indeed out. The resulting fireball burned his friend’s nose, blistering it. Two stray dogs migrated from camp site to camp site and the boys followed, falling in love and hoping the dogs just might be allowed to come home with them.
The dogs eventually returned to the valley and promptly disappeared. We think they are local dogs who journey up the trail to hang out with the hikers and eat free food.
Early this morning, when I was living in that hazy, drowsy time of sleep and no sleep, when dreams are quick and crazy but the world is so perfect that nothing can be distressing, I heard the owls sing to one another. An owl called out, a single long syllable. It waited. And then, echoing off a different ridge, another owl sang back. A single long syllable that haunted the air before drifting away into the morning.
Cold air, a long night’s weird rest because we slept on an incline, strange dreams, and barking from the stray dogs….this was my morning. Freshly brewed instant coffee crystals in purified water taken from the local stream…water that still tasted slightly of rocks and moss and the dreams of deer that drank from it higher on the ridge.
I live in two very different worlds. A world of modern conveniences…a world in which almost every part of my existence is regulated or could be regulated.
And then, I slip those bindings and find my way to the sepia mountains….dig my hands into leaves and soil….and just breathe…