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The Journey

sunrise-from-emerald

Image Source: Trip Advisor

The Journey

One day you finally knew

what you had to do, and began,

though the voices around you

kept shouting

their bad advice–

though the whole house

began to tremble

and you felt the old tug

at your ankles.

“Mend my life!”

each voice cried.

But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,

though the wind pried

with its stiff fingers

at the very foundations,

though their melancholy

was terrible.

It was already late

enough, and a wild night,

and the road full of fallen

branches and stones.

But little by little,

as you left their voices behind,

the stars began to burn

through the sheets of clouds,

and there was a new voice

which you slowly

recognized as your own,

that kept you company

as you strode deeper and deeper

into the world,

determined to do

the only thing you could do–

determined to save

the only life you could save.

Mary Oliver

The start of winter.  It is always filled with so much merriment and hope, coinciding with Christmas, my favorite holiday, there is something about stepping into the fresh, crisp winter air for the first time combined with the merry twinkling of Christmas lights adorning homes and shops that makes the arrival of winter feel like a much-anticipated prize.  I find myself in Tahoe for the first time since July. It feels peaceful to be here.  The mountains have always felt like home. I woke up this morning to watch the sunrise, the rising sun rays illuminating the mountains always fill me with hope.  After last winter where my loneliness, despite being among many friends and acquaintances, approached blinding isolation, this season feels different. The clouds have been lifted, that corny song “I can see clearly now, the rain is gone” rings in my head.  For anyone who has struggled with depression, you know how it can come on, suddenly, like a bell jar covering your life as Sylvia Plath so eloquently described it, or by drips and drabs, eeking in through the cracks of your life, slowly pulling a dark curtain over your the entire world.  Depression is chronic in my family and having studied nutrition and health, I know there are many saboteurs that we have control over that can be a root of and/or exacerbator of depression, like not exercising, drinking too much alcohol or eating a SAD based diet (wait, copious pitchers of Deschutes at the Chammy  aren’t nourishing to the body?!).  In reflecting back on last winter, I see a lot of my own unwillingness to take action in my life as an exacerbator in what I now see clearly as a bout of depression.  We are co-creators with God in our lives, and if we are unwilling to participate or change our patterns or relationships we have with others that are giving us pain, then, obviously, we will perpetuate the same pain inflicting circumstances.  I do believe there are seasons in life, it’s not all sunshine and roses, and suffering is not only part of the human condition, it’s also an essential experience to be a truly compassionate person, but I also believe there’s a fine line between suffering and wallowing in victimhood and refusal to take responsibility for one’s life.   

As this winter approached, there was something about spending the winter in Tahoe that felt off, it was this deep seated feeling of ickiness, that inner restless voice like an animal pacing the cage that says “not this, this isn’t where we’re supposed to be”.  I mused on the idea of moving to Utah for the winter, which I had brazenly declared I would do over the summer to friends in Park City.  Would it be possible?  I was at the breaking point with my apartment, and although it has served me well in the city and I am grateful for the home it has provided me,  it is disintegrating on the edges – the bathroom ceiling is falling in, the carpet is old and dirty and the landlord won’t let me rip up, fire engine sirens whine throughout the night waking me up.  One day I came home to a stopped up sink, filled to the brim with brackish water darkened from rust twinged pipes.   I had read that stopped sinks are a sign of inability to make a major decision on a location move, so I decided to peruse craigslist and see what might be available in Park City.  .   I’m scared to leave behind the friends and community I’ve built in Tahoe over the past 4 seasons, but coming back to Park City,  feels like coming home.  Will it turn out to be a fantasy I embellished in my mind and this winter will be lonelier than last winter?  Maybe.  And that will be my lesson.  I certainly had my detractors for this decision, people that said I was putting the breaks on my life in California, that I’m not putting myself in a position to succeed in work or dating.  The only thing I can say about this decision to go to Utah is that it isn’t riddled with the second-guessing and trepidation the way staying in California was.  So I’ll begin my #skipraylove winter in Utah after the New Year, driving across the straits of Nevada to the Wasatch.  What it holds remains to be revealed, but I can’t wait to begin the journey.

The Healing Elixir of the Outdoors

Sunrise Wasatch

“Healing is impossible in loneliness, it is the opposite of loneliness.  Conviviality is healing.  To be healed, we must come with all other creatures to the feast of Creation.  Together, the above two descriptions of suicides suggest this very powerfully.  The setting of both is urban, amid the gigantic works of modern humanity.  The fatal sickness is despair, a wound that cannot be healed because it is encapsulated in loneliness, surrounded by speechlessness.  Past the scale of the human, our works do not liberate us – they confine us.  They cut off access to the wilderness of Creation where we must go to be reborn – to receive the awareness, at once humbling and exhilarating, grievous and joyful, that we are part of Creation, one with all that we live from and all that in turn, lives from us.” – Wendell Berry, “The Body and the Earth”, The Unsettling of America.

I had the opportunity to spend sometime this past August and Labor Day in Utah and Wyoming.  In Utah, I found myself waking up before Dawn, unassisted by the shrill ring of the alarm clock, drawn to ascend Empire pass to watch the sunrise.  I’d race up the canyon, trying to beat the sky that was lightening at first slowly, turning from blue to dark grey, and then more quickly as the sun ascended in all her glory above the Wasatch.  I’d spend the next hour or so running along the trails gleefully, I couldn’t get enough, it was like I was high on the negative ions that cluster on mountain ridges, lending a charge to mountain air.  I frolicked with the chipmunks, who tittered endlessly, bickering about who got what seeds.  I’m always curious what messages the animals are sending us, so later I looked up what “animal medicine” chipmunks offer humans, turns out the offer creativity as well as a reminder to play!  I have been putting off writing for months on end, despite the fact that I enjoy putting my thoughts to paper, thanks to my little encouragerers.

The following weekend I headed North into Wyoming’s Wind River Range to camp over Labor Day.  I was amazed that something as beautiful as the granite formations at the headwaters of the Green could not only be so beautiful but so empty.  We shared our campground with a few other campers, but largely had the area to ourselves.  Here we were in a valley as beautiful as Yosemite, but with 35 visitors, not 7 million.  We spent our days hiking and swimming in alpine lakes.  At night we’d sit around the campfire, drink beer, tell ghost stories and make skillet stew.  One ambitious night we made lasagna, after a 15 mile hike, it tasted like manna from heaven.  The deep peace and joy I found in this natural wonder was priceless.  I have spent countless hours and dollars trying to find the same type of happiness in the city through yoga classes, adoration, church, meditation, speakers on topics of interest, dinner at some trendy restaurant, but I would trade all of them for just one restorative night in the mountains.

Now, having spent the past few weeks back home in San Francisco, I find the urban landscape grates on me.  The cacophony of fire engines sounding off in the middle of the night, the backfire from a motorcycle, the endless clanging of the cable cars (which I once found charming) now is a ceaseless reminder of the discord between my heart and the environment I live in.  No longer does the city nourish my heart, but diminishes it. I long to be in the outdoors, the mountains, to sit peacefully on a back deck looking out at deer silently nibbling aspen leaves.  To know and feel the peace that nature so freely offers us daily, if only we will take the time to walk in her.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Skier

 

solo chair lift

Image Source

Last night I found myself itching to get on the road to drive to Tahoe.  “Skiing in May, what a novelty!” I told myself as I idly made plans to get on the road at 6am in time for an early morning corn harvest at Squaw.  It’s not a bottle or a pill, but it might as well be, Skiing in Tahoe has been my drug of choice over the past two years.

Once I’m on the road I don’t have to think about anything else.  The job I dread and the lonely apartment are long behind me.  Trying to write this I found myself going to extraordinary lengths of procrastination.  I would find myself coloring in the margins of my books, the tip of the pen gnawing at something inside of me that needed to come out.  It was like not writing this was also a way of not facing the issues that need to be dealt with in my life.  I’ve been so full of anxiety and insecurity looking for a new job that I just bury my head in the snow.  I can’t look for work while I’m skiing.  Instead of being honest with myself and facing my fear of being rejected.  I look at the qualifications needed for many of these jobs and idly wonder why would they ever want me?  How could I possibly ever add value to this company, I don’t know anything about this space.  So I don’t even dare, I just hit the pedal and escape up to the mountains one more time.  

 

 

Running to the mountains, running away from the emptiness and loneliness I feel only to find it staring right back at me on the empty lift chair.  I find myself justifying staying in my current position because of the freedom it affords me.  Freedom to do what?  To see beautiful places on a whim by myself?  What is the point of a life not shared?  To make for one hell of a good read when my journals are published post mortem, having been found in an empty cabin, that other lonely people can empathize with?  Life is best shared with people.  I love to ski, it is one of my great joys, but having spent many days on the slopes solo, I reflect on my best days and they are filled with friends and family!  The days where goofily sang with friends Les Miserables to our new bestie from the Singles Line, the days spent with friends who push me to be a better skier by forcing me to take the line I’m too chicken to do by myself, and the days with friends sitting in the cool evening light in the Chammy court yard enjoying a beer as the exiting sun lights up Tram Face.  

 

I find the mountains clearing, there’s something that lifts my heart everytime I start the climb up 80 above Auburn and that feeling is doubled when I get to share it with people who love the mountains as much as I do.

The Road Less Taken

I learned to ski by chance.  We moved cross country to Utah in ’94 when Dad got a new job.  My parents weren’t skiers but when the snow started falling in September, skiing seemed like the natural thing to do.  I remember my first time on skis. I had neon green K2’s with the teenage mutant ninja turtles on them that to my everlasting chagrin we did not save. I was standing on barley sloped “run” that went to the beginners lift, First Time, wailing like a baby.  Mom insisted that my younger brother and I learn to ski without poles but I was belligerent that I needed a pair to help brace myself down the scary 180 degree grade.  After much hysteria, my crying prevailed and pink and silver poles were procured.  They provided the placebo I needed to believe I could get down the slope to the lift.  As with most children, the quickness with which I adapted to skiing was unfair.  I went from barely-standing-on-2-planks-jerry-of-the-day material to a “type 3” skier in a matter of weeks.   I would shoot off any slope in Jupiter bowl, my skis turned inwards pizza wedge style, at 90 miles an hour.  It earned me the nickname “the flying wedge”.

The winter of ’94-95 proved to be one of the heaviest snowfalls in the Wasatch, with nearly 800 inches falling over the course of the season.  Neophyte that I was, I had no idea I should savor the waist deep powder I had to wade through weekly to get to the bus stop.  Unlink Virginia, whose local officials canceled school when a mere flurry broke the horizon, Utah public schools seemed to take on the motto of the USPS “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these children from the swift completion of their classes”.  The Schools did make it up to us in the fact that we were excused every Friday at 12:30 to ski a half day.

I remember our first night in Utah, we arrived at our house late at night, having driven from a family friend’s wedding in Sun Valley.  My parents spent the night in a local hotel leaving me and my 3 brothers to sleep camp style in the master bedroom on mattresses on the floor.  Being east coasters, we hadn’t anticipated the temperature drop overnight and I remember bundling myself in several bath towels in the middle of the night.  The air had the most delicious scent of pines, lemony and sweet, which drifted through the house.  In the morning we poked our head out the front door to see the view in this photo.  Pictures never do the mountains justice, but there are few things that make my heart soar as the sight of mountains.  The way they open up before you, rising up, stretching on for miles and miles.  There’s something ethereal about them.  These majestic behemoths reminding you of your inconsequential puniness.  We were split in my family about our love of the mountains.  My mom and sister were firmly on “Team Ocean”.  “They don’t move” my sister would often complain about the Wasatch.  For me, the mountains provided a playground of endless possibilities.  Hacking new trails up the summit in the summer and new lines down in the winter.  There’s nothing that can compare to the freedom when I first point my skis down a line and open up – it’s unlike any other feeling in the world.

They say life is made up of a series of seemingly small decisions that amount to big ones.  The one stranger you talk to on the lift line becomes your future roommate, the person whose ski house you crash in all winter become some of your closest friends,.  That summer, Dad decided to take the road less taken in his career, uprooting our family’s life for 25+ years in Virginia to go to Utah.  I became a skier that winter, a gift I had no idea would pay dividends in the coming decades and my passion for mountains would last a lifetime (and drive me to hilarious lengths to be on a mountain – but that’s for another story).