It makes sense that we would go back to the forest to get married. At the altar of fern-laced trunks—the big, ancient trees that teach you how to grow and stay—Mark and I conspired to celebrate binding our two lives together last Friday.
Family and closest friends embarked on a journey to meet us there. It was far. They navigated traffic, paid bridge tolls to cross shimmering waters, and bravely left behind LTE and 3G to follow written directions to a dirt parking lot in the woods.
By the river, on the brink of a waterfall, I said my promises to Mark, and he said his to me. We talked not of chains but of the freedom in standing together. We talked not of giving things up, but of gaining strength and certainty. We talked about what love might look like—then, now, forever.
Plummeting water was the music. Garden blooms veiled my head. As I spoke, a strange salty water sprang forth my eyes. We both felt weird—light and full of vibration, floating and spinning like plumes from a dandelion. The only thing holding us to earth was the crowd gathered round. Without our people, we might have wafted clear off into the ether.
After the ceremony, we drank cups of champagne, then drove in a big caravan back to the city and into the storm. The rain fell in a curtain beyond the tents while we ate and drank. It was a soggy feast day, but warm with love and friendship. Kids played, defiant of the wet weather. The puppy turned into a feral creature—biting the heels of revelers as they walked by with heaping plates of food. Magick was all around.
People ask if it feels different. It does. It is different. We’re bonded for life, by symbolic rites carried out in front of pine fronds and faeries—but also in reality. In our purpose. In our finances. In our house. In our hearts.
Puppies: Apropos of last weekend when I went over to Jesse’s house and met his new dog, which made my day—my world. This young, sleek fellow is a parvovirous survivor. You can’t keep him down. Convalesced from his ailment, he now likes to hang with the big dogs, nipping at their heels, and then fall over spent to nap amidst cool shade. I can’t explain it but I just feel better—more tethered to earth—when I’m near a sleeping dog.
Josh Brolin on What The Fuck: A great actor who shines in person, too. There’s a deep satisfaction to knowing that a guy you gravitated towards on screen due to his rough wit and hard-boiled-ness is, like, really that guy.
My garden at 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday: This weekend I sat out in the yard looking, just looking. There was a wonderful heat. There was so much noise—bees and blue jays, kids and cookouts. I could see the blue, way up there in the place you can never really go. I felt comforted. I felt confident in a future.
Piney’s gone. There, I said it. He’s on the other side. I’ll tell you more about it sometime, but for now I thought I’d get out of town. Get moving. Move on. I never did know anything else to do.
In our ambition to flee, we thought about driving south to California—but ended up heading north and west—the northwest-est—to the Olympic Peninsula. Here, is where the trees are so old and tall they meet in a perfect V overtop the road. Here, is where arctic oceans end in glassy bays at the feet of a razor-sharp range. Here, depending on who you are, is the promise land.
Pic by Mark.
Camping without my dog, or any dog (who is “my dog” anymore? I’ve had many …) was strange. After making camp, I didn’t have anything to do, no one to keep an eye on or worry about (except Mark, and he doesn’t need eyes keeping on him). I just sat in the sun and drank wine and read while the tide rushed in. Darkness fell, the stars came out—stark, distant, beautiful. When I looked up, a vast loneliness harpooned my soul. Guys, I’ve always been searching for something and never really found it. Maybe it’s the big “why.” Maybe it’s the definition of “me.” Having no real answers for you, I do know that the path to self discovery is a way full of desolate wonder. I leaned in and stoked the fire.
Pic by Mark.
Pic by Mark.
Sunday morning we awoke to whale spouts past the breakers and a pale, slippery head emerging from the sea. Rising and falling. Curious, but not too curious. An intelligent eye looking solemnly our way. I don’t have particularly eloquent words for what it feels like to see and be seen by a whale. Special? We felt special. It was everything you could hope for. We packed up and went home.
Pic by Mark.
A while back after my boss returned from sabbatical in Europe, we had a conversation about the thing we really remember and hope for from a trip. Those encounters of “where-ness.” This has nothing to do with all the stuff you saw or plans you made, but rather a single experience—often just a flash—where you felt like you were an authentic part of a place.
He told of a sunset walk through Madrid with his wife, the air all warm and glowy pink, when they sauntered into a medieval square and were greeted by the student choir sitting on the fountain steps singing “Hey Jude.” The tune rose and fell as the pigeons flapped for scraps, and people milled around in a relaxed fashion—on their way home from work or out for an aperitif.
This moment had a live-in magic, and he thought he might remember it forever—or for a long time at least, long after he forgot the train rides and museums tickets.
It got me to thinking about trips of my own. What were the highlights? The squishy candy middles?
My rally through Canada last summer was full of them. Like: our first morning in Nelson—a laidback mountain town on a cold-water lake. My old friend Mark who lives in Nelson advised us on a morning wander. “Hike up the Pulpit early before it gets too hot,” he told us and we listened. Straight from the café with paper cups of dark roast still in our hands, we began our ascent on a morning of dazzling heat and beauty. The trail to the Pulpit—a big rock looming on high over the town and lake—was essentially just a steep set of stairs carved into a plummeting hillside. We climbed and climbed. Soon we were high on caffeine and lung-fulls of warm, tree-scented air. I nabbed a sweet, mealy saskatoon berry and popped it in my mouth. The temperature rose. We sweated into our tee shirts. Less than an hour later, we emerged onto the precarious sun-washed rock AKA my forever happy place. Overhead, bluer than blue sky. To either horizon, steep green valleys. Directly below, the city and of course the lake—calling us back down for an afternoon swim.
The dreamer in me loves every season. The realist knows life is better in the summer. I do do winter though. Me and the cold know something about each other, like on horrendous wet days splashing around in the streets when the foul weather reflects my inner gloom, or all the solitary walks through snow I use to cultivate quietness of mind.
Then spring comes and life’s just a grand fucking party.
THINGS I FORGET ABOUT IN THE WINTER
Sleeping with the window open.
Sunday mini-ramp sessions.
Feeling fresh air against the freckles on my arm.
Enough daylight after work for the pursuit of happiness.
That BBQ smell.
Bicycles as transportation.
Doing nothing and feeling good.
The warm air currents—a love letter from the sun.
I procured a split board in the fall to reconnect with my love for winter snowboarding. In general I’m retired from Oregon resort riding. It doesn’t give me what I need and so I stopped thinking about it—stopped setting aside time for it.
With skins, poles and a dog, I can now explore in the deep snow heretofore only post-hole-able hinterlands. I went out to do that for the first time a few weeks ago, and the simplicity of it made me very happy. It felt so much more like “play” than any snowboarding I’ve done recently. Free from set agenda and people, from reliance on chairlifts or runs. Just me and a quiet ecosystem of powder dollops. And it was fabulous exercise. My body grew warm and my lungs worked hard. My face steamed into my goggles, and I sent a prayer up into the trees that my muscles would continue working, my heart keep pumping. They did. It did!
At the top—which wasn’t even the top but an unassuming pause point where we decided to strap in and send it—I felt that old excited flutter for the descent. An old forgotten feeling. And just like that I was off, dipping through the trees with the dog hot on my tail.
I’ve long suspected but never really known until now—splitboarding is the winter recreation of simple people like myself. It’s been warm here in town, but let it keep snowing up at altitude, so we can all get up and get out just one, maybe two more times.
A new mountain bike: In December Mark gifted me a two-wheeled steed in honor of the winter Yule. I’ve been craving a method to get way out into the backcountry and feel like come summer I will do many horrendous climbs and long loaping descends on this bike, and it will calm my troubled spirit.
Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer: I only read sci-fi when it comes recommended from my big sister, as she has immaculate taste in the genre. When this book arrived, I knew I must read it and did so in a matter of 3 days. It takes you inside a dreamworld flowing with the odd and creepy, never painting the full picture but instead a vague outline, remaining mysterious, knowing all the strangest things are cooked up by your own imagination. The book is part of a trilogy, and spoiler alert—they made a movie out of ’em starring Natalie Portman. Better get reading!
60 degrees on a Saturday: You wake up inside a house with glowing windows. The day shines with opportunity. Go out and do stuff, or sit at home, it doesn’t matter. Life is better in the warmth and light.
Rebecca Gates from the Spinanes: Me, Colorado, died red hair, corduroys and a cardigan, listening to the Spinanes in between Geology and German class. Fast forward 20 years to Oregon, and there’s Rebecca on stage in front of me playing soft-as-velvet acoustic guitar in a halo of purple light.
2017: The year that saw a new pup, a hundred road trips, a thousand trails—long, winding and otherwise. It was the year Mark gave me sparkly ring, and took all these lovely pictures of me wandering around. Proof! I embrace the wisdom of walking. It was the year I got a new job at Nemo. Procured a parcel of land in the woods near Bend. Built a fence. Cried over my old dog Lefty. Spent the night on a mountain in a blizzard and didn’t die.
Photographs aren’t real life, but they’re a slice of it. I’m glad my better half is always snapping away pics when I’m not looking, because then on dreary January 2nds, I can look back and know that I really did it. I went outside and followed the path, contemplating all the craggy views and forest sprites. I left behind the computer and the television in favor of simple happinesses with man and dog, blank-brained meditations on the trail and other moonshine of the mind.
If my year were only these images, I would be happy. Luckily, it was even more.
I’m averse to the word “busy.” I also hate the concept. It would be cool if every time I was inclined to say I’ve been busy, I just said that life was “full.” I’ll have to remember that. Anyway, abundance has been on my side. Lots of work. Lots of friends. Lots of dog chaos and yardwork and social functions and exercise and driving. As mentioned elsewhere, I have a new full-time job that takes up a fullness of time. And yet I’m light of step. Despite new responsibilities, I can’t remember a time when I felt freer. It’s good to be moving and feeling right and in an atmosphere of growth.
Aaaaaanyhow, this is all just a longwinded way of saying that I’m a weekend warrior now, and I’m good at it. For instance I catalyzed this Sunday by going up to Mt. Hood and white-walking through the new fallen snow. There was powder dolloped on all the trees and a cold freshness to the world that I almost never encounter anymore. The smell. The smell! It was pure Colorado childhood. My childhood exactly. Walking down the driveway past the frozen pond to the bus stop in the early morning dark as the snow plow did slow circuits up and down the hill, its headlights transformed into strange glowing orbs in the clouding powdersmoke. The smell and the cold and the snow took me straight back there for a moment. And it was nice.
Also: Despite all of the bad things in the news, everyday, relentlessly—there’s a lot of good stuff in the ether, too. Have you watched Godless yet? Have you gone soaking in the Kennedy School pool in the rain? Have you read the book Bluets? Have you eaten the chocolate caramel cream cupcake from Back To Eden?
It was hard to find time amidst the juggling and scrolling to drive out to Three Rivers and winterize our trailer. And yet we did—out of fear. Remember last winter when we all got snowed in in Portland for 2 months?
The trip was last minute, a little panicked, but the drive was so beautiful we forgot all about that. The colors as we passed over the volcano—crimson scrub oak between the dark, mysterious pines, and when descended onto the plains everything got softer, warmer. Pale gold-spun grass, burnt orange brush, gauzy evening light. When the day fell, we were warm in the trailer. The puppy slept literally on top of me. Cramped quarters are the coziest (and happiest). And getting punched in the face with a paw first thing in the morning is one of the rare joys of being a dog owner.
So, we applied to have water routed to the property, and we built a small roof to keep the snowdrifts at bay. That is all. Just these small things are what we can do right now. Though I love the little trailer, I’m still haunted by dreams of a wildly cozy A-frame. I hope my cabin aspirations will birth reality in the coming years, the kind of reality that involves a couple dirt movers and a concrete truck to pour a foundation.