The ones who stayed sent roots down deep. They were part of the place in a way I could never be. At the same time, I never believed in permanence. After all, I saw how things changed by being in the mountains every day. There were avalanches and microbursts. Tides. The Ring of Fire. Wildfires like the Yellowstone fires of 1988. People vanished too, into the ocean and off the mountains. Always I learned to distrust permanence.
That's not to say that I didn't throw myself wholeheartedly into each new endeavor or relationship, but always I kept a piece of my wandering soul tucked away. I thought: if the worst happens, I won't crumble like a late-fall leaf. I'll always have somewhere to go.
I thought about all this a lot this week when I went to a tiny island where my life took a U turn. Here was where I decided to step off a straight path and veer into the unknown, taking jobs like fighting fires and trail work. This is one of those places, of many, where I could have stayed, but I chose to go.
|Obligatory tourist photo|
"Who are you here with?" asks a man I have just met at a party. "So, you just travel around the country alone?" the woman at the place where I am staying (in the Honeymoon Suite, no less) asks. I forget that things are not the same back east as they are in the restless west, where I see strong, capable women out climbing, hiking, traveling alone all the time.
It is a bittersweet walk down memory lane, because I know that I don't belong here. There was a time when I wanted to, more than anything, but my itchy feet took me away. Now I can't imagine living here, bounded by water, where I couldn't walk twenty miles in a straight line, where there are no mountains.
I head for the trails, and here is one thing that was absolutely the same. Back in my twenties, these trails seemed to go on forever, and now they seem strangely short. But they are deserted and beautiful and I love them. I run and run and my back doesn't hurt, not one bit.
For years I thought about what would have happened if I had crossed the gap to be one of the people who stayed, not only here but at a dozen other places fringing the national parks where I worked. But this weekend I realized it's time to let go of those balloons and let them fly away.
Yes, I thought. Yes, there are.