Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Men I Left Behind... the title of an essay I wrote that will appear in the anthology Permanent Vacation (Bonafide Books) that comes out in May! Though I have had several essays published before, I am seriously excited about this one. The anthology is about living and working in national parks, something I did for years and years and still get nostalgic about sometimes. There was something fresh and exhilarating about moving every six months, most often headed into the unknown, to a new park, a new state where I had never been. I couldn't wait to explore the mountains and the rivers of my adopted place. It turned out not to be just parks, either, but national forests and refuges too.

Doing so however meant leaving people behind, friends I camped and hiked with and good and no-good men too. Leaving was always a toss-up: was I making the right decision? Was I leaving behind the one, the only man who would ever get it? (No.) Would I ever come back to this trail, this view? (Sometimes.) Would I look back, years and years later, and never regret every single step along the way? (Yes!)

I can't reproduce the essay here (you will have to buy the book!) but I can reminisce on a few characters, male and female, who made driving away not so easy.

TP  Man, the first one I left behind, an island dweller, a bicycle rider, a poet but a man of few words. Sitting with him on  a bluff overlooking a big blue lake, watching the sun drop soundlessly into the indigo, someone unseen coming out and playing a flute: Best. Date. Ever.

The Sawtooth Valley Gang, a rowdy bunch of trail beasts and wilderness rangers, who were my first adult family. We were like long lost brothers and sisters, sleeping in bags watching meteor showers, soaking in hot springs in frosty October, howling at the moon.

Cute smokejumpers one and two, it never worked out for us, but I loved your energy, your shaggy-haired enthusiasm and your grace. Keep one foot in the black, guys.

Jack T, Cindy and I trailed you like puppies while you showed us how to determine a hazard tree. You were like a substitute grandpa, but cooler, because you knew how to climb trees. You called us Hank and Sam because you didn't want to slip up in front of your wife, who would be insanely jealous knowing you worked with two long-haired twenty-somethings. Cindy told me you died of lung cancer, but I don't really believe it. I can still see you pondering a tree up Mineral King way.

And then there's Alaska, beautiful, moody Alaska, not a person but a place, but just as memorable and with just as much personality. I left you for the sun, but I can't lie, I miss paddling out in Sitka Sound, rafts of otters tagging along, the sharp-edged mountains etched against a forbidding sky.

There's lots more, but it isn't good to look back for too long. It prevents me from loving where I am now, this bright canvas, this place that I never want to see in  a rear view mirror. My wandering days were so rich, so abundant with people and places. Even though this life prevented me from holding down a regular job until my thirties, battered my knees, and sometimes made me cry, it turned me into the person I am now. Someone who has been everywhere and knows where she wants to be. Right here.


  1. Beautiful post -- I'd love to read the essay.

  2. So would are great, too!

  3. Congrats...and just one word for this "summary of an essay": Wonderful. Great word pictures and photos. Will love to read the anthology.


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