I have lived in New England for 7 years now (not coincidentally, the same amount of time I have been with my husband). The last three years I have lived here full-time; no summers spent in the Northwest for me. 7 years represents just under a third of my life. My adult life has been lived in New England — four years of college, three of marriage in Boston. I have lived in my sunny apartment in Roslindale for far longer than we spent at the Shillinger house. And yet.
Not so long ago, I treated myself to an hour long massage at a spa near downtown Boston. Although I spent the first part of it consciously paying attention to enjoying myself, I inevitably slipped into the half-consciousness of relaxation, where my mind wandered through its subconscious world. Where, you may ask, did I go? Did I wander Newbury Street and visit the Commons? Did I fly kites on Peters Hill in the Arnold Arboritum? Did I canoe the Charles?
I was treated to a slide show of the loveliest, the most beautiful places I had ever seen in the Northwest. I saw sunset on the replica of Stonehenge near the Columbia. I saw the lightening storms over Horse Heaven. I walked the quiet trails of the West Side of Mount Rainier – walking from deep forest to high alpine and returning to deep forest. I saw the rocky crags of the Coast, the salt water beating almost to the mossy feet of tall fir trees. I saw the bountiful plenty of a clear cut in August, full of red berries with the soft sound of a distant chain saw and the haunting whistle of a steam engine in the background. I saw a cathedral with walls of dark hemlock, a stained ceiling of dappled needles and leaves shifting to let the sunlight down, and a faerie floor of bright green wood sorrel hiding the shifting and unreliable bones of former branches. I saw the beaver dam and the blackberry bramble. I saw the gold of Lithia Park in twilight after Shakespeare. I saw the silhouette of Indian riders on an unexpected hill. Thick snowflakes fall like a movie prop on a mountain pass outside of Missoula. My feet walked almost every step of White Pass, pausing especially outside of Nachez where I pretended to be an Indian and realized that I did not have super-human eyesight.
I think a lot about the beauty of the Northwest – especially when caught in Boston traffic on a rainy Monday morning. I have come to realize why I miss it so very much. New England is beautiful. The miracle of spring is one I never appreciated before, the architecture is lovely, the flowers or plentiful and colorful, the hills with their dappled colors are enchanting. I like to watch the fens move with the wind, and mark the progress of leaves. But New England is somehow staid. It is a question that has been answered. I look at the Blue Hills and I see the Blue Hills. They’re pretty. Yay.
When I looked out the living room window at home, I saw Round Top, with its rumors of Indian caves. It has a set of cliffs on it (which I have climbed) that seem unutterably mysterious and profound. Beyond it are mountains in which a person could get lost. I know the next road that direction, and it is far away and lonely. After that there are no roads until you come to the desert. Behind them and to the left stands all 14,411 feet of Mount Rainier. Majestic. Dangerous. Powerful. Beautiful. I once saw the moon, Venus hanging brightly on its every word, rise above the ghost of that mountain. I have stood on her hips as shreds of clouds have torn themselves on her trees, but I do not know her inner secrets. She has not confided to anyone living.
The beauty of the West I miss. They mystery and promise of mystery I had at every unexpected corner, I miss more.
I had considered writing about the fear that the mystery is gone – that the overlay of meaning was the fevered imagination of a youthful mind. There are other things there too – traffic worse than even Boston, strip malls, and more disabled cars on blocks in lawns than people. There are a proliferation of things that tarnish or hide the beauty. But I know it is still there. Every year I have come back and walked the quiet woods. The magic, the hope, the mystery – they have waited for me patiently like a field of fox glove in the warm sun waits for the forest to reclaim it. It waits for me to come there and live again, and dream more deeply, and discover that it is even more beautiful than I remember.