This week, we settled back into normal life in the Pacific Northwest, following the holidays, which nearly always also means we settled into rainy days. Nearly every day this week, we saw rain at some point, and the sky typically reflected more rain would be coming soon. Still, I find myself managing to get outside during the breaks in precipitation. I wonder if I will have developed an instinct for dryness after more time here, and I will be drawn outdoors at every good opportunity that presents itself by some sort of intuition.
To begin the week, I found Sunday would foster the rare clear sky this time of the year, and I was determined not to squander it indoors. I elected to make my first trip up Kings Mountain, one of the highest points in the Coastal Range. I had read a lot about the hike, and nearly every source I checked lists the hike as either “difficult,” or “very difficult,” or “extremely difficult.” Suffice it to say, I went in knowing this would be a challenge. And, it was that. I’m not in peak hiking shape, but even then, I think this would have left me a little sore. The trail angles straight up with mountain, with few level switchbacks. If you have a moment where it levels out and you get to catch your breath, relish it, you will very soon be climbing something akin to the slope of a staircase real soon.
As painful as it was to quads and calf, if was like medicine for my senses. I need a taste of wildness periodically, this is important to my well-being. I want to treat the more animal parts of me to something they understand better, something that makes more sense than sitting at the desk, looking at a screen for hours. I listened to water and wind, felt my heart and breath settle into a new, stronger rhythm. The trees began to thin, and as I climbed higher and higher, I saw more and more of the landscape below and all around. Green mountains and valleys, Hood in the distance on one side, the Pacific on the other. Then there was the nearly foot of snow that coated the last quarter mile or more of the trip, which was also the steepest climb of the journey.
Recently there have been several celebrity deaths that really resonated with people in my circles. Alan Rickman hit hard especially among my Harry Potter loving friends, but other general movie lovers too. Even more impactful was the David Bowie passing. Bowie’s death has been one that stuck with me more this week than I would have expected it to. I own only three Bowie songs (Let’s Dance, Young Americans, and Modern Love). I love Labyrinth, and I got really obsessed with Space Oddity about the same time everyone else recently did. But, I’d be misrepresenting myself to say I was anything more than a casual appreciator.
Still I’ve thought a lot about his death this week. It could be because a lot of my poet friends and famous poets I like reference him so much. It could be because I just days ago listened to this podcast about him living out a dream of being a jazz singer. It could be because out of so many celebrities, it seemed to me like he would be one who might just live forever and if not, maybe fly off in a spaceship and disappear. I hadn’t really seriously listened to a David Bowie song put out after the 90s, and yet I had this feeling that I wasn’t ready for him to be gone. I don’t completely understand this feeling–maybe I was just primed to feel a sense of loss. But, there it is, and it still seems sad to me that this voice has gone silent.
As I topped this summit of Kings Mountain, I felt completely alone. I was getting on in the day, and I would need to turn back soon or I’d be in the dark. I thought I might be the last person to make the summit, but then a couple came up and started snapping the obligatory selfies you are entitled to after hiking a mountain. I took their picture. We signed the little notebook left there for people to log their names and thoughts. They offered me a couple of homemade energy balls, which I gladly accepted. They tasted pretty freaking awesome at that point of the trip. We said goodbye, and they started down the hill. I wanted to stay a little longer, because there was something I thought maybe I wanted to do.
I slid out of my hiking boots and wool socks, and, one foot at a time, stepped into the snow barefoot. I’m sure my feet were a little swollen anyway, but there was something inside me wanting to know what the snow felt like that way. It was no doubt that wild part of me, wanting to know, wanting to understand the sensation. Something in me needed to feel like it knew this place beyond the pictures.
Allyson and I, on our regular lunch hour beach walks have made note of how much the ocean has carved away the sand. The beach has lost a good 6-7 feet of sand, leaving the woods just behind it seeming as if it is on a platform or stage. You have to climb to get back to the paths that lead to camp. When we left for the holidays it was there. Now it is gone, and I have no idea where it’s been put. Logic tells me it must be somewhere, but my senses have no explanation. We live in a world of disappearing and reappearing, transformations gradual and immediate.
I went for a run today on the beach with strong winds coming out of the South. As I ran North towards Rockaway Beach, the air pushed me along. The sand being moved by the gusts flowed like an aerial river all around me. I felt a part of the river, like we were running together. I felt strong. Halfway through the run, I turned to go back home and started running into the wind. It was powerful, probably gusting 25-30 mph. I had to cock my head to the side to hear at all. The sand stung as I ran against the stream of the river of air. I had to stop frequently to walk. It was not pleasant.
I thought about how I would prefer to just run with the wind the entire time, how it would be less painful, more encouraging. But then I thought about how going against the wind periodically might be important. Until going against the wind, you don’t understand completely what it is like, what it is fully capable of. You do not understand its full force and what it takes to press against it, how it affects your body. I thought about this idea with Nature or the Universe or God in mind too. We are often prone to following the easy routes, but going headlong into the powerful teaches us much more about it. It also helps us understand what a force we are riding when we do move in the same direction.
To close out the week, Allyson and I went to Seaside to catch a movie. Seaside was the first resorty beach town on the Oregon Coast, and it has this historic promenade that leads through the city center onto a very beautiful Oregon beach. There are restaurants, kitschy shops, and lots of people making their way up and down even in January. Allyson and I strolled down Broadway, checking out the shops talking about the loved ones who would like this place and that place. We saw the beach, later crossed the bridge over the Necanicum River. The sky cleared enough that we could see the moon. I think a lot about space, about how we ended up on this planet in this solar system in this galaxy. That on this night I was with this wonderful person, in this little historic beach town. How had we made it here? How had we even become ourselves?
I’ve thought a lot this week about where we go, what direction we go in, what happens when something disappears. These are regular questions for me. These moments that take place on a mountaintop, holding hands with my wife, taking in the sound of the ocean waves arriving at the beach, they are not answers to the questions, at least not in a straightforward way. They do quiet the questions for a bit, though. They make them not seem so pressing for a time. Maybe someday I will find the answers in a similar place to them.