Turning 40

A remarkable thing happened at midnight on Saturday – I left my 30s behind and entered my 40s. At that point, I was sitting around a backyard fire with a bunch of my friends around me, having celebrated for most of the evening together. It was a fantastic day, ending a fantastic decade.

S’More creation
The reel

The weekend started heading north as fast as possible after work. Camp Wilmot was hosting a 5k, and Grey had begged to be able to go. My husband was mysteriously hiding in the kitchen and forbidding me to look in. So up north Grey and I went, arriving at Wilmot shortly after dark. We sang songs by the fire in the 100 year old barn, then moved to the equally ancient farmhouse for a ceilidh. That evokes a certain celtic air, but in fact there was rather more Macarena – although we did do one really fun reel! It was about 11 when we went to sleep in the gables of the old farm house. I was amazed at how quiet it was outside. There was no noise of traffic – no matter distance. All you could hear was the rustling leaves.

Camp Wilmot from the other side of White’s Pond
A friendly squirrel

We slept well and woke up sliiiiightly late for breakfast (but not too late!) After breakfast, we were at our leisure for a few hours. As Grey caught up with old friends, I took myself on a tour of the grounds and walked around White’s Pond. It was a remarkably peaceful hour. I was responsible only for myself. There was nothing I needed to be doing, or even could be doing. I could walk at my own pace, take as many pictures as I felt like taking when I felt like taking them. It is a beautiful place – so quiet and peaceful but full of so much vibrancy and life. And it’s a place my children love deeply. Grey waxed rhapsodic about waking to the sound of the loons in pearly gray mornings there.

Ready to run
The runners

I was back in plenty of time to get ready for the race. The weather was perfect – cool without being cold with a bit of a breeze and a bit of a haze. I forgot my arm band, so I handed my phone over to my son to capture the memorable moments. I got off to a fast start – it’s hard to accept being passed up by thirteen year old girls who are singing Moana as they easily swoop by you. But the route was not an easy one. It was picked to be as unhilly as possible, but Camp Wilmot is in a hilly area. So there was a pretty brutal last hill up to the North Wilmot church. Still, thanks to a summer of running about 4.5 miles per run, I didn’t die (or, you know, stop running). I ended up with a pretty darn decent 33:24 finish – 19th of 43 total runners (I thought there were 61 – alas no). I even had some church friends who made the trip up and were cheering for me as I crossed the finish line! It was a pretty affirming way to say goodbye to this decade. But best of all was that through the generosity of my friends, family and especially my church, I raised enough to send a kid to a week of summer camp next summer. Overall, Camp Wilmot raise $5,233.50! I know how important Camp Wilmot is in the life of my kids, and I’m thrilled that more kids will be able to go!

Grey would like you to know that the tennis courts are a lie

We came home immediately after I finished running the race. I went upstairs and gave myself the gift of taking a shower in my brand new shower. The steam unit is CRAZY POWERFUL. It’s a really, really sweet experience and I don’t think I can go back to my old shower. Then I came downstairs, willfully ignoring what was going on around me, and got dressed in a nice dress just because. Finally , Adam told me what the circumstances really were. He’d spent days getting ready to make all my favorite foods, and invited as many of my friends as he could find contact information for. He was expecting 60 people and was wondering if: chili, cornbread, six loaves of bread, cassoulet, beef barley soup, macaroni and cheese, egg salad sandwiches, blue cheese scalloped potatoes, bagels with cream cheese and lox, Doritos, watermelon, massive amounts of Lucky Charms, butter toffee peanuts and a Grey-made chocolate birthday cake were going to be enough food. (Edited to add: also, four pork tenderloins, wilted leaf lettuce salad & a charcuterie plate of my favorite meats and cheeses) (Fun fact: it sure was!) Those are, of course, all my favorite foods. I stuffed myself past stuffing. He did a fantastic job and it was all really delicious.

We all have our own guilty pleasures
Dramatic re-interpretations

The first guest to arrive was, to my great surprise, my sister! She and I don’t get a chance to see each other very often, and it was amazing to have her here! It was also rather fun to watch people do double-takes when they heard my voice from someone who wasn’t me. Heh. We sound a lot alike. I was incredibly touched by the fact that Adam had asked people to bring or send poems/writings about me. They were amazing. Adam’s was an ode to coffee (which I think we can all get behind). One friend wrote a column. There were a significant number of limericks. (Apparently Brenda rhymes with Splenda.) A friend’s daughter drew a picture of “Brenda the Bold”. I woke up this morning and reread them all – my heart is greatly touched.

An ode to the transforming effect of coffee on me

I think it’s natural at moments like this to take stock of your life and ask yourself whether you are living your one and only life in the way you intend. This weekend felt pretty amazing that way. I’m physically healthy and strong. I’m raising my children to be people I enjoy spending time with, to have strong moral and philosophical cores. I know how to nurture myself in nature. I have an amazing relationship with a remarkable man who shows his love for me in thought, word and deed. And caffeine. And I’m surrounded by an astonishing number of people who care about me. I really can’t imagine what more I could ask for in life.

My sister and me

Thank you to all of you who came, or sent notes, or sponsored my run, or wished me a happy birthday. It mattered a lot to me, and I’m very grateful. If we missed someone in this, forgive us! Finally, if you were there and you have pictures, please add them to my album!

Not going to rush to take this down!

So much, so fast, so fun, so hard

Every year during summer vacation I get this sensation of being at the top of a roller coaster that’s about to head down a vertiginous drop. Right now, I’m just about at the point where your stomach is about 10 feet above your head, and simply not falling at the same rate as the rest of you. There’s a lot of track ahead, too. Experience tells me that I’ll be able to get off this ride sometime after Mocksgiving. (In fact, often we have a very slow Thanksgiving break just to recover from autumn!)

Here’s a bit of what’s on my mind –

Ramping up at church
It’s time to kick off a new school year with my 3 – 5th graders. Today two of them got through all the books of the Bible with only minor cobwebs (you forgot Philippians!) This is great for their education and learning, but means I actually need to come up with, you know, some new curriculum to teach them. Since I’m great at scripture and terrible at arts and crafts, this is usually something I do without an external curriculum. So wish me luck. In addition, the various committees I chair have real work to do this fall, and I need to organize us to do it. GO!

While the moussaka bakes

All the fun stuff
I ran a 5k this weekend to raise funds for addition treatment and recovery. I’m running a 5k next weekend to raise funds for scholarships to Camp Wilmot (not too late to donate!) I went to Cape Cod yesterday for a Mom’s group outing. Next weekend is my 40th birthday. The weekend after that I’m going to a LARP in Connecticut, because when you’re old and decrepit like me you should try new things. Then it’s Grey’s birthday, Columbus Day, Adam’s birthday and Thane’s birthday, followed by Halloween. One weekend between when Adam’s off gaming, and then it’s Mocksgiving. WHEN DOES THE LAUNDRY GET DONE?!?!?

The Race for Recovery – I need to start using black and white filters for my post-race pictures

The attic
I have this dawning hope that at some point the attic will actually be, you know, finished. When it is, we need to move upstairs or this will have all been in vain. Stuff needs to be sorted, identified, thrown out, moved, rearranged, thoughtfully placed, cleaned, installed and photographed. This is particularly difficult work for me – I know that all the efforts that have gone before will be highlighted or diminished by these final choices: towels, curtains, rugs. We just decided that the Container Store closets are crap and we’re better off building our own, but uh… that ain’t fast. Or even all that cheap. Hard decisions and careful thinking are required here.

Also, work
This time of year is often one of the heaviest loads in the office. Everyone is back from vacation. You have all sorts of stuff you want to get done in 2018, and diminishing time to do it. Sometimes summer is lazier (it wasn’t this year) and sometimes Christmas is quiet (man, that was not true in 2017) but fall is always busy. No slack there – and possible some travel will be required.

My ladies on the Cape

Wait, I have kids?
Both kids are doing soccer – which is awesome. Thane has just started playing trumpet in band, and I love practicing with him. Grey’s new homework load is the heaviest yet and requires support and encouragement. And my family… well, I almost wrote “appreciates eating healthy home made food” except that’s not true for the kids. They’d much rather eat crap. But they need to sit around the table and eat foods that include kale with us. Speaking of which, my refrigerator currently looks like a refugee camp for produce. We had a “boil water” order in effect on Friday (when I’d normally wash and freeze some of my produce). I’d blame that on why I just stuck it in the ‘fridge, but the real reason is because we had guests. Then Saturday I ran a 5k and took a ferry to the cape. Then today I went to church & taught Sunday School, headed to the Container Store to be disdainful and then watched Blake Bortles beat the Patriots with my friends and then I caught up on the emails I should’ve handled Friday at work and then wrote this blog post. So there’s still accusatory broccoli rabe in my ‘fridge.

Anyway, it’s all going to be amazing and fun and we’ll all enjoy it tremendously and almost certainly survive. But hoo boy, it’s a wild ride!

Camp Wilmot 5k

Running is not the optimal form of exercise for me. My left knee with its largely excised menisci probably shouldn’t have to endure the pounding of my not-inconsiderable frame. Running isn’t really optimal for weight loss. I should have a more varied workout regime to be fitter and healthier.

But about three years ago I figured out that this was a classic case of “the perfect is the enemy of the good” and laced up some shoes and went for a jog. I haven’t really stopped since, although I also haven’t improved. I’m slow – my “record times” are like 10:30/mile and my longest run is just over 4 miles. Still, I’m out there once or twice a week!

So when I heard that Camp Wilmot, scene of my children’s happiest memories and moral development, was doing a fundraising 5k to raise scholarship funds to be able to welcome more kids, I was mightily tempted. But then I looked at the date. September 22nd. On September 23rd, it will somehow be 40 years since my mother did all the hard work of introducing me into the world. My 40th birthday. The big Four Oh. And my husband had put a block on my calendar for the weekend, so it was right out. Couldn’t be done. Even though there was going to be a campfire and ceilidh and overnight and breakfast in the morning. In possible the most beautiful New England fall week of the year. Not possible.

Then the begging started. PLEEEEEEZE MOM! LET US GO BACK TO CAMP WILMOT.

So I asked my husband *exactly* when I needed to be back in Stoneham and the answer was: as soon as you’ve finished running the 5K. SCORE!!!! We’re headed to Wilmot, boys!

I don’t want for many things in this world (although any implication that I’ve bought every single one of the shiny iridescent school supplies I’ve encountered this year is true). But I really really DO want more children to have opportunities like Camp Wilmot. I have first hand experience seeing that it changes the life of the children who attend it. My kids come back thoughtful, kinder, centered, with a sense of belong and purpose. I know other kids hang on to it as a loving lifeline in a hard world. And I know that for a lot of kids, scholarships are the only way that lifeline is available.

So, if you are feeling like you are desperate to give me a gift for my 40th (or just interested in making a difference in kids’ lives), please consider a contribution in any size to Camp Wilmot. And if you’re starting to think that a sleepover, cookout, ceilidh & brisk autumn run or walk sound pretty tempting, it’s certainly not too late to sign up!

The prophet John Muir

“I must drift about these love-monument mountains, glad to be a servant of servants in so holy a wilderness.” John Muir – “My First Summer in the Sierra”

My friends, I’ve fallen head-over-heels in love. This is the literary equivalent of texting your bestie from the bathroom at a date to tell her that you have found *the one*. I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without really getting to know this man who is so very perfect for me.

My heart-throb

In a desultory fashion, I saw his book when I was up at Mt. Rainier buying All The Mt. Rainier Things. And I now own no fewer than two t-shirts that say “The mountains are calling and I must go” citing him and Rainier in the same breath. So before I headed off backpacking with my son I downloaded his “Nature Writings” – which start with his autobiography. His life starts out both hard and common. He speaks of the beatings, the fighting, the memorization that mark his childhood. To modern ears it sounds beyond brutal and brutalizing. In his teenage years, his father abandons him down a well for the better part of a day for days on end (where he nearly dies), and his growth is stunted by the heavy constant labors of plowing and toiling in fields. But somehow he wakes up hours early every day and invents (without the internet, or even many books) devices whose purpose I can’t even understand, never mind whose workings.

Somehow, from that drudgery and brutality, is born an open-hearted poet.

This man speaks to me in a way I thought only Tolkien could. He is a co-religionist in every sense. Like me, he was a Presbyterian, although raised in a much more stern and unforgiving religious environment. But he seems to find God in the same places I do – in the mountains and streams and forests. His love of nature is a worshipful reflection of a God whom he never seems to be able to see as nearly as cold and unkind and punishing as his father apparently did. While is story of his youth makes you want to pity him, you can’t. Because through the 16 hour days, the frozen feet, the stunted growth he’s always noticing the beauty and the loveliness of the world and people around him.

Me and the mountain that most often picks up the phone to call me

I’ve just started on his “My First Summer in the Sierra” and oh! How he speaks of the mountains! It’s like hearing someone praise your own beloved, but in words better than you could find. It’s like hearing a prophet speak of your faith, or finding a poet whose words express your heart’s great secrets. I thought that in reading Muir I’d have to put on my “reading 19th century white dude” filter (well-honed to note and then pass by mysogyny, colonialism, racism, and a belief that not only were the spoils of the Americas limitless they were the rightful property of white folks). I’ve been astonished to meet among the pages of these mountain praises the thoughts of a man who generally seems to see all other humans as of equal worth – a man who also understands the gift and limitation of nature’s bounty. Even as he leads sheep to fatten on alpine meadows, he laments the impact of mankind and our beasts on the world, “Only the sky will then be safe, though hid from view by dust and smoke, incense of a bad sacrifice.” (p. 208) One begins to understand by whose hand, and why and how, these marvels were set aside for us in the first place.

My reading has just begun. I start to wish that I had a lovely copy of his works – a Riverside Muir as you would. It seems almost sacrilegious to read his works on the most quintessentially modern Kindle. I feel like I should find a grove in which to encounter his texts as sacred witness to God’s most glorious creations.

Chocorua from White Lake in November

There should be some great conclusion here – some wrapped up discovery. Instead there’s just a hopefulness – that his other writings refresh and inspire my heart so. The astonishing awakening of the morality and decency of those from whom we expected a more “of their era” myopia – and perhaps a similar inspiration to be better than our own era demands. The rising heart of someone who has discovered a whole body of work that seems designed to inspire them, and of which they’ve barely sipped. I can see my future self slowly meting out writings in moments of either great reflection or great need, to feed a famished soul.

“Oh, these vast, calm, measureless mountain days, inciting at once to work and rest! Days in whose light everything seems equally divine, opening a thousand windows to show us God. Nevermore, however weary, should one faint by the way who gains the blessings of one mountain day; whatever his fate, long life, short life, stormy or calm, he is rich forever.”

Mt. Chocorua at sunset

Muir, John. John Muir: Nature Writings (LOA #92): The Story of My Boyhood and Youth / My First Summer in the Sierra / The Mountains of California / Stickeen / essays (Library of America) Library of America. Kindle Edition.

Land of Ashes

[Written Friday morning 8/17]

It’s cool this morning in Ashland – 70 dry degrees under the shade of the old ponderosa pines whose roots reach deep into the cheerfully burbling Lithia Creek. I’ve loved Lithia Park, and it’s eponymous creek, since I was a girl in the first flush of my coming of age (perhaps 15?), and thought the college boys here were very grown indeed. I fell head over heels in love in 1992 with the romantic lead of “As You Like It” (the ever dreamy Ted Deasy), and have returned often enough to watch him begin taking the elder’s parts, as I have begun paying for my own tickets. (It’s a sorrow to me that he is not here this season!)

Ashland has lived up to it’s name in this week, with the sun blood red at noon with the smoke from a hundred encircling fires. As the air thickens, the theater goers are shifted from the grand outdoor Elizabethan theater to the surprisingly nice for a high school Ashland high school theater. But you cannot watch the stars rise above the flags for comedy, tragedy and history from the high school. Walking down uncommonly empty streets, faces are obscured by masks. It’s been nearly a month of unhealthy air here, and the stitch-ladies have begun turning their handicraft to N95 masks. I see more and more of them that appear attractive, artistic… permanent. Even the bright waters of Lithia seems murky with ash and fire-trace.

We saw no plays here

But while the very air we breathe may be turning against us, the actual art of Ashland is as superb as I have ever seen. I’m extraordinarily fortunate in finding a mate who likes theater as much as I do (I swear I don’t drag him – I proposed we go backpacking). So in the four days we are here, we will be seeing seven plays. We’re through five of them on this cool Friday morning, and my belief in the importance of art to show what it is you would rather not see has been swollen, like my heart.

Sense & Sensibility
I’ve never been a great lover of the Austin era romances. I’ve read a few of them, and enjoyed them, but never with the passionate ferver others express. My favorite version of Sense and Sensibility was actually a sci-fi sendup when the unsuitability of the young ladies had to do with their telekenetic and other powers. But this play was masterfully frenetic. It was almost tiring to watch the energy and enthusiasms of the young ladies and young men and gossips – the still patience of that eldest Miss Dashwood stood in most abrupt counterpoint to the chaos around her. It was a costume drama and a continual joy to the eyes. And at the end, when all the wheel of fortune ends it’s turning for the afternoon, there were tears standing in our eyes.

Book of Will
This was our first shift from the grand Elizabethan theater to the tiled halls of Ashland High, but as soon as the actor took the long trumpet in hand to herald the coming play, I was drawn completely in. This may be one of the most loving plays I have ever seen – showing long and happy marriages. It was a story of how it came to be that we still have the words of the Bard, against all odds and habit of the era. It was a good reminder of how much we owe to our forebears for their preservation of what is good and lovely. It was also very much a story of loss, and of the meaning of life. Will himself was years dead at the time of the telling, and the King’s Men (who knew his words) were also dying. The characters wrestled with questions of living now versus creating legacy, of what is owed to the honored dead, and of how to claim the very value of our days, especially when those days grow scarcer. It’s hard to say, but this might be my favorite of the plays.

Snow in Midsummer
There’s nothing quite like a good ghost story, and this one was very fine. It was a very modern retelling of an ancient Chinese story. What would happen if the honorable dead had the ability to demand justice from those who have killed them, and those who benefited from that killing? It was a very keen play, cutting to the heart of expectations, first impressions, and questions of justice versus love. It also spoke to the great modern themes of the changing climate of the world, the inequality of resources and justice, and the Chinese practice of harvesting organs from executed criminals. This is the sort of story that stays with you, and haunts your quiet thoughts.

Love’s Labors Lost
After dining with a long-lost college friend, we once again negotiated the process of getting and claiming our tickets for the Elizabethan in the high school instead. It was easier once we remembered we had a car. I’m very fond of Shakespeare’s comedies. Love’s Labors Lost seemed to echo the last two plays, with it’s sudden turn towards sorrow which questions the meaning and worth of all the drollery that makes the early acts such a frolic. In this one, I particularly noticed the costumes, going from white innocent frills throught the red of charming, lustful deceipts to the black of full mourning. The play is both a laugh at and a lamentation for youth. How very very young and innocent those kings and princesses are in the beginning. How sorrowful it is to see such folly vanish as it’s brought of age – and yet how hopeful at the same time.

Manahatta
Thursday was our light day, with only one play (and that one only 90 minutes long!). But it was a remarkable 90 minutes. Our culture is full of the trope of cowboys and indians, the winning of the west, the conquering of savagery by civilization. But from the eyes of the conquered, killed and often-displaced the story looks very different. This play was a heart-piercing dual story of the theft of the homes and lives of the Lenape people to claim the island of Manahatta for the Dutch. The wall for which Wall Street was named was built to keep them from their own homes. The second layer of the story, seamlessly interwoven, tells the tale of a Lenape woman with the highest credentials returning to Wall Street as part of the derivatives group in Lehman brothers. We watch again, in eerie echoes, as home foreclosures chase out native folks from their homes as inexorably as did colonists a few centuries before. It was devastating. It is also strange to see presented as historic remembrance things that I easily remember as they were happening. I was no child in 2008, and I remember how it felt to wonder just how far the normal order of the world would slip (as I do now).

Before each performance, for the first time ever, the company has remembered that these theaters sit on grounds once belonging to the Shasta and Takelma people. I understood better why a company that has memorized the lines from this remarkable production would be conscience-bound to confess this.

The Way the Mountains Moved
Not every play can be the best you’ve ever seen, although the OSF sure tries. This one was well acted and well executed but perhaps overly ambitious. In telling too many stories, it failed to tell any enough. It threw together the wild mix of manifest destiny Utah with Mormons, escaped slaves, 19th century naturalists, Mexican war veterans, Native Americans and pioneers. I had high hopes, but this one was not my favorite.

Henry V
This is my favorite Shakespeare play, and this was a masterful performance. I’ve never seen a Henry so vulnerable and human. His night-before fire visits, when he talks about how the King is also just a man, really resonated with the sound of truth. It made his Crispin Crispian speech all the better, when you know that he’s fighting his own feelings, doubts and fears in order to make such a bold stand. I wish I’d gotten to see the full cycle of Hal plays with this lead actor – he was superb!

Taken all together, my heart, mind & conscience have been moved by my time here. We’ve been debating the role of art for a few hundred years now (if not longer). I find as most precious this kind of art – that makes me see things I cannot myself see from where I stand. It teaches me something of what I do not know. I have never found another place that does such art as well (or even nearly as well) as Ashland does it. I wish you could all be here, and watch these plays with me, and be moved.

My mind was filled with wonder

I’ve been joking at work lately that I need an upgrade to my short term memory. I’m really good at writing things down, which has been even more critical lately since I struggle to remember the details of meetings I had just a week or two prior – there are so many incoming data pieces, decisions, challenges and threads of conversation. My home life is just as complicated and interwoven. I rarely drop balls and I usually try to be as reliable as sunrise, but before I left I failed to communicate to my husband that a) I had people ready to take our farm share b) he needed to feed the neighbor’s guinea pig. (You’ll all be happy to hear that Nova was just fine, since it turned out our neighbor’s plans had changed.) I find such lapses in myself deeply disturbing. There are many things and people that rely on my reliability.

When I landed in Washington for a week and a half of desperately needed vacation, I felt a great burden temporarily lifted. For a few days, I was beholden to no one but myself, responsible for nothing but myself. Of course, myself had planned a rather rigorous agenda of activities, but the price of failure was only my own disappointment.

My mountain

That first day we landed, tired and thinly spread, I went by myself up the winding mountain roads to Longmire to stake my claim on a piece of the mountain for two nights. And I found myself considering how my wonder and awe had been eroded over the years. Here I was, three thousand miles from the point I had awoken in the morning. Here I was, in the home of my heart looking at the great giant trees who have stood sentinel for longer than the age of a civilization. Here I was, on the exposed bones of a giant volcano fire-God, now sleepily wreathed in ice. And where was my mind and heart? Everywhere but here. I watched my attention flitter and fly like the most frivolous child, returning not to amazement, awe and gratidutude, but rather to the mundane, mean and platitude.

I thought about how my mind used to be, as a kid. I know that I didn’t spend as much time in nature as my memory and stories would make it out to be. But yet. I also know how it feels to break a dandylion stem, and have the slick mucilagenous ichor of that hollow frame slide beneath my fingers. I know the best way to walk only moderately sliced into a blackberry bramble to attain the ripest fruits. I know not only how the underside of a sword fern looks, but how its octopus-sucker spores feel rough and unmoving to the touch. And I know that in comparison to the high-growing bracken fern, sometimes taller than my youthful head, hiding dens of small girls and deer under shadowing leaves. When I was young, I really saw. And I was awed and amazed that I was *here* and got to see *this*.

For years coming home, my passions for place and awe would fly home with me – like an ancient Icarus able to take wings and fly across the clouds with a pace nearly as fast as the setting sun t chased. I was back. I was home. Here was that one Starbucks I’d loved as a girl. Here the view of Mt. Rainier that had stricken my heart with its beauty. But in recent years, that sense of wonder has dimmed. I’ve chased sunset and sunrise across the continent too many times to be impressed with it anymore. I’ve risen on one continent to sleep on another a few too many times. There are too many Starbucks, and their sugary drinks are less interesting to me. The mountain is hard to see in this hazy, fire-strewn sky.

And this year, for the first time, I saw that distance and lack of awe and was greatly grieved by it. There is no gain to such a loss of marvel.

As a parent, I’m a huge proponent of the “growth mentality” – which echoes that ancient thought that we are less who we are born to be and more who we choose to be. Driving highway 12 past the firs and vine maples, I made and affirmed my decision to be a person who notices. A person who sees things. And a person who marvels at their beauty.

By the time I got to Longmire, I had stilled my attention enough and awoken my wonder sufficiently that the rangers asked if I was ok. Something of it was showing on my face, I think. With a back country permit in hand, I slowly slowly walked the Path of Shadows, to remind myself. I sat still and looked at the lovely framing of Mt. Rainier by Rampart Ridge – made of the volcanic floes stopped by glacial ice. I smelled the sulfur of the hotsprings. I touched the broad needles of the fir with familiar fingers. I contemplated the daytime darkness of the preserved cabin. I marveled at the craftsmanship still on display in the round river stones used to for the wells – themselves harkening back two thousand years to Greek baths. I listened to silence, and I made the silence play in my head.

That lonesome valley

Two mornings later I awoke late and gazed at the most glorious beauty on my way to the high latrine. I looked over this mountain valley in the few glorious weeks in which it is open and unsnowed and covered by flowers. In that entire valley were only two humans living, myself and my son. And my heart was filled with wonder. He walked with me around that lake, and we sat on the far side, perched on warm rocks above the clearest of mountain pools. He told me his favorite hymn, which is also mine. And we sang it together. And my heart was filled with love and awe.

The very rock upon which we sang

I am down off that mountain now. Into the clarity and quiet of that mind, I have put in the highest art. I have filled my eyes, my ears and my mind with new materials (even as I have filled my lungs with smoke and my belly with good foods). Sitting under the ancient ponderosa pines near the babble of ash-filled Lithia Creek, I am readying myself to return to that world where my mind is too small to hold all it needs to hold, and my attention is bespoke by the employer who makes such cross-country jaunts possible in the first place.

As I go to close the book on my vacation, and lay down both the mountains and the Muir, I hold firm to the ground I have reclaimed. I will be and wish to be that person who notices, who marvels, who takes the time to see and know how astonishing and lovely this world is.

The living waters we drank