I never, ever saw myself as the marrying kind. As a little girl I dreamed about the white puffy dress, but the actual groom's face was obscured and the marriage itself hazy. As I grew older I preferred to stay single: my friends seemed locked in, unable to leave for six months in Antarctica or even a backpacking trip without the support and approval of a spouse. When I started fighting fire, the thought of marriage retreated even farther into impossibility. Very few men seemed capable of having a wife dash into the house, grab her gear and be gone for three weeks, often far up on a mountain with nineteen other men.
And I was independent, I told myself. I wanted to move every six months. I wanted to be more like a river than a mountain. I wanted no dependents, no lingering guilt, no choices but the ones I made myself. I didn't want to need anyone.
Still, one day I stood on the banks of a whitewater river, aimlessly talking to a woman who was waiting for her husband to bring his boat down to the take-out. "I finally found my outdoor companion," she said. I wanted that too.; someone who loved the wilderness as much as I did but who also understood that I needed the freedom of going alone sometimes. Someone who had his own wilderness, so to speak. Our lives would intersect at the important places and spiral away too, always returning, a circle. Two people, not one. Two wholes, not two halves of a whole. That is the only way I could imagine it.
I am still learning that balance. It didn't work in my first, brief marriage, for a variety of reasons too sad to enumerate. Living in a small town alone makes you vulnerable to red-flag blindness; you can be so lonely that they can be waving high and you can escape them completely. My ex husband did not love or need wilderness or understand why place was more important than career ladder. Our trails never intersected.
In July I will marry again, to someone who loves mountains and snow and rivers. We'll hike up to the moraine above Hurricane Creek to a place where we can see Sacajawea's white crown. It will be simple. No puffy dress. A potluck and friends with guitars later. The way I should have done it the first time.
I never thought I would get married again, but here is the moment when I thought I might: I wanted to apply to a remote writing residency. It was surrounded by wilderness, seven months long, a day's drive from here, no communication except for a radio telephone. I enthused at length about all the writing I could do in this setting.
Most men might have done one of the following, since we had only been dating a couple of months.: 1) run for the hills; 2) blubber about how this would affect their lives.
But not J. His first response was this: "I will miss you terribly. But I will do whatever I can to help."
Readers, I'm going to marry him.