Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Opposite of Never

Today I was here:
Tomorrow I will be here:

 I am heading east for a month to work in the Forest Service's Washington Office. It's a big deal to leave here, so I took a hike up the West Fork Wallowa to think things over.

I was fascinated by the pattens the ice makes in the river.

Little ice flowers in a stream.

Stepping outside of the boundaries you have chosen for yourself can cause an uneasy feeling. Moving to this valley, I drew lines around myself, plunging willingly into setting down roots. I was thirsty for sameness, to drink the same water, climb the same mountains, love the same person. For someone who has moved aimlessly around all her life, this was more adventurous than anything I had ever done. Weaving myself into a fabric that has expanded to take me in feels like freedom more than all the packing I had ever done, every first hum of car wheels on unfamiliar pavement, the gap I left behind slowly filling the way my bootprints fill now as I walk across a half-frozen stream.

I crunched up the trail. The sun was washing down the peaks that surround Ice Lake and mini avalanches, spindrift really, floated down the exposed rock. Ice swirled in the river. The temperature hovered at five degrees.

As I walked I thought about our comfort zones and how they can stretch and contract. Sometimes other people show us how to cross those imaginary lines. Other times, propelled by longing and desire, we re-draw them ourselves, like when I taught myself to swim long after childhood, floundering down the pool, learning to breathe.

After a few miles I began to posthole and it was time to turn around. The sun had reached the trail, filtering down through the spruce trees in a muted whisper. The only conclusion I had reached is that if you pull the purse strings of your comfort zone too tight, you are missing the essential deliciousness of life.
So I will go out of the valley that holds me like an embrace, but I won’t be gone long, just long enough to prevent myself from hardening like ice. I won't be a person who says never.

At the same time I am who I am, so I will be looking for a little bit of wilderness, even in DC.


  1. Oh Mary, lovely writing! And the funny thing is that I was pondering the exact same thing as I drove back to Seward today, those peaks towering over me so that I felt alone and sheltered in my car. Maybe we are kindred writers, following the same wave lengths? And I know you will find much wilderness in D.C. You will bring the wilderness with you.
    P.S. Don't you just love, love, love the blue/silver/lavender shadows of winter?

  2. Ah, Marre I will miss you. Hope that you will be able to keep us updated on your adventures while in DC. Have fun!

  3. And contrasts in life are good, I think. You will find things to like there in D.C., do good work, bring a fresh breath of the field into the closed-up offices. And all the while the Eagle Cap and the arms of your valley will be waiting for you to come home again.


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