Category Archives: Health & Wellbeing
“I ask you to stand with me at this new turning-point of our life, that we may look before and after, and judge ourselves alike in the light of early dreams and accomplished goals. We cannot too often accept the challenge of self-examination. It will hearten, it will steady, it will moralize us to reassess our hopes, restate our ideals, and make manifest to ourselves again the principles and the purposes upon which we act. We are else without chart upon a novel voyage.”~Woodrow Wilson, The Ideals of America
I’m not sure how often we get to look back, or do look back, at the life we have built – especially when intentional decisions were made in the hope of a desired end. I have not lived an intentional life, at least not the way some do, setting goals like a road map to some desired future outcome. I mostly lived my life by desires and found creative ways to fulfill them. They were short term goals that satisfied an itch but that ultimately got me nowhere beyond the goal. The person I had become had come into being absentmindedly, as if I were merely a passenger on the ship rather than the captain. It was not until my mid-thirties that I began to know who I was and what I wanted.
When I awoke and realized that I was the captain of my ship and took the helm, I saw myself and began to understand how all of the pieces of my life shaped the internal form of who I was and I liked who I was despite how directionless I had lived. The haphazardness of my life had also shaped me. There is a certain beauty in the mystery and discovery of self but there is also the dull remorse that follows discovery, as knowledge reveals lost time and opportunity.
The eventual awakening that provides a clear view into the exhilarating array of possibilities of a self-directed life if not made early in life is short-lived and inevitably constrained by the decisions made along the way that anchor one to a certain path. Perhaps this is why people seemingly stop living. They may never have really lived before, but once that perspective is gained, the burden of reality is that much heavier to bear and then all that is left is the struggle to carry on and not succumb to routine, resignation or distraction.
Two years ago I sat on the precipice of a decision. Like Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, I knew enough to know that every decision was a one-sided door and that walking through any one of them meant not going through any of the others, and further, that once I crossed the barrier between then and now, my life would turn down the road chosen – for better or worse. This decision had the potential to set my life on a trajectory of my choosing. So sitting at a soccer tournament in Las Vegas, challenged by the book I was reading, I let the world know of my impending choice, and then I jumped.
My calculations were accurate and the door I chose brought me where I wanted to go, but ironically, not what I wanted to become. Like being granted a wish from a genie, the consequences were only visible once the wish was attained.
When we are young, we don’t understand the weight of our decisions and that’s probably good. The young do so many things that the experienced are no longer willing to risk. They build mountains and seize opportunities that bring joy later in life when security and safety are paramount. But there is a difference between wanting something and wanting to be something. Not being something as in a profession, like being a lawyer, but being in terms of who you are – what you are. The first is external, the second internal.
I didn’t know what I had at the time of making my decision – which was time. Sure, there were struggles and desire for things and opportunities I didn’t have, but there was a plenitude of time for thoughtful introspection, for the formulation and sorting of ideas, for crafting ideas into something meaningful to my life. There was time to connect – to people and place. It was a fertile land, both mentally and physically. And now, though I am on the path that I chose and wanted, I look back with longing. Is that the curse of growing older? Or is it the challenge of growing older – to fight for pockets of time that enable you to infuse the mind and soul with intangible riches? To deposit life’s capital into your internal bank account that runs dry without use?
I am impotent with busyness; my mind and body consumed with work and chores and focused learning but starved for sustenance and nourishment. There is no room to roam, to let my mind float and to see. My body lacks the soreness of labor and movement. A cold front has moved into my being and I am trapped under the inversion of my decisions. I’ve succumbed so quickly – more quickly than I’d like to admit. Routine, comfort, and mindless entertainment have unwittingly become my companions. How quickly we divest ourselves of the responsibility of living intentionally.
But like Mary Oliver said, I have seen the difference between doing nothing, doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. As we get older, the dichotomy between how things are and how we’d like them to be is stark and so it is redemption we seek – renewal and meaning and depth – that signify a life well-lived, well-worn, and hard trod – but to have fulfilled that end begs repeating the question: What do I want and how badly do I want it? Because life is not static and neither are we.
“…I don’t know exactly what prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
It’s Christmas morning. My kids are sleeping softly…or are lying awake, quietly counting down the minutes til they can finally open presents. I’ve gotten up early to do homework, the perpetual student. But my mind can’t seem to focus on ArcMap and GIS. Instead it keeps rolling back to stories.
I have been given books filled with stories written by past relatives. They have become part of the fabric that makes up our Christmas rituals. Old Santa Claus (1) and the Wheeler boys is particularly fun with three boys of my own. I read the names. I don’t know any of them, but they are mine – my people – and the realization that I am theirs brings a subtle pride and sense of belonging. I love that they wrote their poems, songs, recipes, and traditions. They are the notes that anchor our family to a song that continues in time as long as we don’t stop playing.
At our annual family Christmas party I was given a book by my grandmother. She had written memories of her eight children and gave us all a copy. It got me thinking about my own kids, things I would want to pass on to them and stories I’d like to put down for posterity.
Due to a recent conversation about Christians and climate change with a good friend of mine, my mind was already churning up memories of events in my life that were significant in shaping me and the way that I think.
My friend had written a scholarly article that had triggered the conversation wherein he referenced the conversion of a man to Catholicism and eventually to becoming a monk that was in response to reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
My friend argued that Joyce’s description of his early Christian experiences was so authentic that they swayed someone toward the faith through his novel and then suggested that most people are swayed by experience rather than intellect.
My conversion to accepting climate science was wholly the opposite of that, but strikingly similar to that of the Catholic monk who read Joyce. It happened through reading. I read great minds argue tenets of environmentalism and every one of them gave sound and compelling arguments – ones that I couldn’t help but acknowledge had merit.
Even though I didn’t accept any one philosophy in its entirety, I did accept; however, that each was valid, and they swayed my thinking. This was the primer that opened the door to accepting climate change science and connecting the dots from what the science was saying to my own choices. I could see the ethical imperative to do something about climate change, if possible, because of the ripple effects my choices would have on others – particularly the poor and disenfranchised.
Unfortunately you cannot un-know something and the by-product of knowledge is action. If you know someone is being abused, you should do something about it. If you know a stop sign means stop, you should stop. If you know that climate change is real, then you must examine your life. There is a certain danger that comes with knowing – in knowing, you no longer have the comfort of living without conscience. You know you should act. Of course ignorance has its dangerous consequences too – and those can be just as painful – but they don’t carry the weight of guilt that comes with knowledge.
Because I love my children, it’s not hard to love others’ children and to ache for those who will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. Because I can put myself in their shoes and can imagine the fear, pain, and heartbreak it would bring me and mine, I am compelled to do my part. Which brings me to another story.
Anton Chekhov’s, The Bet, has had the single biggest impact in my life and it happened in second grade. My teacher, who I don’t even remember, showed a video of the story. It took me until about a year ago to discover that the story was not some obscure educator’s tool, but a famous classic. I don’t know why she showed it, but her decision to do so dramatically shaped my life. It may also have been the beginning of my love of Russian writers, but I digress.
In my little eight year old head, I learned that there are things much more valuable than money and that many confuse God with money. I also learned that it matters how you spend your time, and that learning was one of the most valuable ways to spend it.
As I sit here on a dark Christmas morning awaiting the ritual of opening presents around the Christmas tree with my family, Chekhov and the wisdom in his story is not far away. How we live, how we consume, what we leave for our children, and their children, matters. This may very well be the story that I add to the annals of our family history.
- Old Santa Claus by Jennie Snow Christensen
Old Santa Claus put on his boots and his coat and buttoned a muffler snug round his throat. “I have dolls, books, skates and what-not and yet there is something I must have forgot….Now what can it be?” he said with a frown, “But I must make haste, or be late into town.”
So he jumped in his sleigh and rode off through the snow, for the jolly old fellow had miles to go. And hours before the bright moon went down and Old Santa was happily riding through town.
“Oh Ho! I am here!” he said with a shout, “And the lights in the windows are nearly all out. Now first to dear little John Wheeler’s I’ll stop, for his book and his skates and his sleigh are on top.”
He came to the Wheeler’s and what did he see? Pa Wheeler, Ma Wheeler and the Wheeler boys three. Old Santa Claus chuckled and listened awhile and his face was a light with a mischievous smile.
“Oh Ho! So the Wheelers are planning to see Old Santa Claus, are they? Well, bully for me! I saw just in time to spoil all,” chuckled he. “Why, boys ought to know its against Christmas laws for children to see old Santa Claus.” So he hastened away with his bag full of toys and filled up the stockings of good girls and boys.
Back to the Wheeler’s he came very late, jumped out of his sleigh and passed through the gate. “Now that chimney looks rather narrow and high,” said St. Nicholas, looking up into the sky. “But all it requires is one pinch of snuff — to go through that chimney I’ll be small enough.”
He owns a small airship as everyone knows, and up to the roof in his airship he goes. Then into the chimney he creeps very sly, but when half way down he sends up a shrill cry: “Oh where is my snuff box — my snuff box!” calls he, “The thing I’ve forgotten, it surely must be! The snuff that I carry to make me grow small! Help! Help! I am fast in a hole in the wall!”
“I cannot get either one way or the other. My sides, I declare, are both crowding each other. Too fat to go up and too fat to go down! Get up, Mr. Wheeler, and wake up the town! I cannot grow smaller — my snuff I’ve forgot, and I’m fast in the chimney all covered with soot.”
Then he kicked and he yelled , and he yelled and he wriggled, and the Wheeler boys hearing his plight lay and giggled. But Santa sent up such a very loud shout that the family arose and went hurrying about.
Pa Wheeler got ropes, and Ma Wheeler got worried. And off to the neighbors the Wheeler boys scurried. They called out, “Help, help!” and they woke up the town and the people in nightcaps came hurrying down.
The crowd gathers fast, and excitement increases and some begin tearing the chimney to pieces. “Go slow,” cried St. Nick, “Or my head will be damaged, with judgment and care this affair must be managed.”
The neighbors worked slowly, each striving to pick, piece by piece from the chimney the plaster and brick. Soon they had uncovered Old Santa Claus, and the night air was filled with a hundred hurrahs! As out from the chimney he came with a bound and bowed right and left to the crowd gathered ’round.
Then slyly he winked at the Wheeler boys three. “You’ve seen me at last, my find lads,” chuckled he. “And now to your beds, and I’ll return when you’re safe and sound, sleeping and snoring again.”
“The chimneys now days aren’t wide enough, nearly, however, I’ll visit the boys and girls yearly. My sides are all bruised, and I feel very sore, so hereafter, I think I’ll come in at the door.”
With a jump and a bound and a twinkling of eyes, he left the crowd gaping in open surprise. “Merry Christmas,” he called, “and a happy good night!” Then he jumped in his sleigh and was soon out of sight.
2. The Bet
I am a blue collar progressive. It’s kind of exactly how it sounds. Both descriptives represent a paradigm or worldview rather than being literal. By blue collar I mean that I come from humble beginnings and still live in the economic lower to middle class. My parents didn’t make a lot of money. Both were government workers, my dad a city planner and my mom an assistant to the attorney general. It sounds pretty good right?
While my parents were technically white collar professionals, their income more closely resembled that of blue collar workers and so did our home life. We didn’t take fancy vacations, have a swimming pool or nice clothes, or get vehicles when we turned 16. We always knew we weren’t rich and we always knew the people who were.
Education was paramount in our home. Having open minds and thinking forward as well as questioning traditional lines of thought or those in authority was encouraged. A liberal education was a thing of great value. Being able to intelligently discuss ideas and argue logical, well-founded points of view was the currency we bought and traded with. Culture was something to be cherished, preserved, and enjoyed. Civilization was the idea that people working together could create a society that was great for everyone, and everyone mattered. Nature was something to enjoy, respect, and to run to for solitude and prayer. Wilderness was where God lived.
This upbringing inadvertently taught me how to find riches in simple pleasures and it taught me how to become secure in who I was rather than in what I owned. My status resonated from within rather than from without. I lived countless lives and discovered cities and places around the world through books. It is where I learned to love the outdoors whether it was lying in the cool grass in my backyard or fishing from a canoe at Strawberry Reservoir and grilling and eating the fish we caught afterward. My entertainment was humble and inexpensive. It included taking drives through the mountains, hiking, and star gazing.
Now that I am an adult and I have a career and children and make that same lower to middle class income I find that I struggle with the same things I did as a kid: not having enough money to do the things I want to do, not having all the things I’d like to have, and not having the ability to give more to my children than I had growing up. I have limits.
I struggle with finding joy and satisfaction in the life I am living. I teeter between the joyful surprises life offers and longing for a life I don’t have. It is a mentality to be happy with what you have and with where you are in life. It requires having control over your thoughts in what is literally a constant mental exercise. Learning to be happy with what you have requires finding or seeing other types of wealth. I call those things simple pleasures. Mostly for me it boils down to three things: time, people, and nature. We have unfettered access to all three; it’s what we choose to do with them that makes the difference.
We have all heard that time is love or time is money. What this implies is that time is valuable and how we spend it determines the outcome of the budget of time allotted in our life, it determines our state of mind, our successes and regrets, and our overall well-being. Our choices can produce wealth, the lack of wealth, comfort, excitement, an enjoyable job or a miserable career. We can use our time to enjoy life or we can squander it. Time is a choice. Who we choose to spend our time with is another form of currency.
People can be a blessing or a disease in your life. For me, finding people who are fun, intelligent, and humble to go through life with adds immense value to my life. People are an ingredient so easy to forget and yet so dire when they’re missing. Good people add the substance, support, and spice to life that makes it worth living. They can be the difference between getting through hard times or succumbing to them. The older I get the more aware I become that the idea of rugged individualism, doing things on your own, is a myth and a stupid and detrimental one at that. Life is hard, it’s harder alone. Having community and support can be the difference between a good life and hard and miserable one.
The last thing is nature. It is all around us all the time. It can be comforting and terrifying. It requires nothing of us. Sometimes it infringes on us without our consent, it blesses us always, and it provides nourishment to the soul. You do not have to go to nature to find it or experience it. While I would argue that you get more from it if you get into it and really experience it, I would never say that basking on a lawn chair in your backyard on a sunny afternoon is less than backpacking in Glacier National Park. One’s preference for how to experience nature is as varied as people are. It’s the value you get out of it that matters.
That being said, I would argue that getting out into open space far from city life is priceless. I harp on the value of public lands a lot and it is because having public lands around you is a treasure not to be taken for granted. There is of course real value in public land and open spaces, just look at trends in real estate around public lands, open spaces, or the ocean to see what I mean – or the politics surrounding what can happen on public lands or whether they should be public at all. But really, the value of public lands is something you can’t quantify.
Going back to my declaration of being a blue collar progressive, what makes public lands and access to them so valuable to me is that those lands offer a place free from economic status. Going into them gives one dignity and equal footing. It is free from shops and trinkets and glittery objects and costs. It is the place where worry and doubt and fear can be shed and the soul can breath and the body and think and the mind can rest. It is where rejuvenation and peace are found. It is a place where you can’t hide from yourself, you can’t compensate with money or house size or bank account, but you can be you. You can escape the charade, the keeping up with others, and unmask yourself. It is the ultimate form of freedom. It doesn’t require a flag, a constitution, or military service. It doesn’t check party affiliation or voting record. You can just be. It is existence free from the weight of the world.
Public lands make up 30 percent of the land mass of this country. Does that surprise you? It surprised me. We think of public lands as these huge chunks of land mass, but in context, they are really small islands in this country. One could argue that our public lands should not be developed at all but instead should be preserved as they are indefinitely. One could argue that the loss of economic value due to the existence of public lands is not the real loss, but rather the infringement of anymore development on those existing landscapes as they are is. We have plenty of opportunities to make money in cities and on private lands. The real threat is to our public lands.
That threat includes finding solitude 100 yards off a road. It includes the residual effect of remembering how your body felt after a 12 hour hike. It includes the enhanced refreshment of a cold drink after a grueling bike ride. It includes the studied and tested psychological benefits of being away from man-made civilization that nature provides. It includes the memories invoked when you are sitting in your office day dreaming about your next outdoor adventure or trail run or canyon. Just ruminating over it now with my fingers on the keyboard brings a soothing calm to my soul.
So now I’m sitting on my back patio, cold beer in hand, basking in the warm, amber glow of evening. A cool autumn breeze plays with the precariously dangling leaves clinging to the last hand-holds of summer and arouses goosebumps on my skin. Like the leaves in my trees I’m clinging to the quickly fading hues of the day before the purple shades of twilight creep across my yard and swallow it in darkness. It is a maddening practice to try to stop time, to enjoy the moment before it slips through my fingers, but it is the waltz of my life right now, stealing moments of glory in between work and soccer practices.
I take a sip of my IPA and the fresh, citrus flavor explodes on my tongue and sets off a storm on the distant horizon of my mind. The sensory response uplifts a swell of an idea that gains momentum as it breaks into my consciousness. With each gulp I fall from the wave into the iridescent green underworld of sublime imagery that has been lapping at the sandbars of my mind.
A couple of days ago while researching some detail online I stumbled upon this quote by Henry David Thoreau: “Instead of water we got here a draught of beer…a lumberer’s drink, which would acclimate and naturalize a man at once—which would make him see green, and, if he slept, dream that he heard the wind sough among the pines.”
The imagery of a lumberman’s hard and toilsome work ending with a cold beer in the cool shadows of green light with the sound of the wind in the trees sends my synapses into frenzied motion mixing a concoction of remembered experiences and sensations with an anticipatory longing and desire for more. It’s more than just the words; it’s the knowing. I know exactly what he is talking about and that knowing is what keeps my mind in a state of agitation until I can experience it again.
The juxtaposition of sensory delight and nature has got my mind in a lather. I am intrigued that so often natural phenomenon is used to convey our verbal explanation or description of a sensory experience. But even more is Thoreau’s injection of hard work thrown into the mix insinuating that through it the joy of simple pleasures is enhanced. I would argue that often it is only through toil that we truly understand the subtle joy that simple pleasures hold.
Whether it is toiling under a hot sun with a chainsaw and the reward of 20 foot winds moving through the tree tops or toiling to control my mind and thoughts when life feels like drudgery, the reward is knowing that the balance between culture and nature, between civilization and wilderness, between development and public lands is still there and that despite monetary limitations I still have the options and the ability to live a simple, abundant life.
Time seems to be standing still as I sit here day after day under the great dome of the sheltering sky. Minutes feel like an eternity and I am lost in them. I have started passing the stagnant crush of time by the movement of the clouds: the buildup of great billowy cumulus towers and then the subsequent dissipation of them, the choppy puffs of woolly looking cirrocumulous floccus arching in a trail from horizon to horizon, the shifting mood of light and shade as the monolithic clouds appear, move and then disappear. And then I feel as damn near ceasing to exist as I have ever felt under the blinding, deliberate, solitary march of the sun across a desolate, cloudless, celestial landscape. I am a nomad, adrift in endless days with no anchor.
It is not just the lack of action and it is not just boredom. It is a frightening stillness. Even the air is still. So still that it leaves an unsettling fear that I am not even here, that perhaps I am a figment of someone’s imagination – maybe my own. This is how I imagine death: Nothing. Nothing to remind you that you are alive. The only indicators being the up and down of my chest and the slow aging of my sun baked skin. There is no sensual arousal when life stands still. Nothing to excite even the mind holed up in a sedentary body because the mind still needs to be touched, thrilled, moved. And nothing but the clouds are moving. Everything is standing still; even me.
I am uprooted. Temporarily, but it’s enough to give me a notion of what feeling homeless must be like. And yet I made this choice. It was a calculated (if not a little romantic) decision for career, for experience, for my love of the land – and while I am enchanted by the land, it is the known lands of home that call in my solitude.
Like a good conversation with an old friend those lands emerge in my mind as more than sweet memories; they are companions in thought and action. They are the well-worn miles of dirt roads my car has driven, the rocky trails my feet have trod, the dust and air of familiar scents my lungs have breathed, the soothing backdrop to lifetimes of daydreams, and the inspiration upon which my words emerged. Yes, they are old and trusted friends. Time counted out in cadence with the tempo of my heart and the endurance of my body was an investment that has made those places an essential ingredient to what I call home. But this is not the home of my childhood, it is home by choice.
Thomas Wolfe famously said, “You can’t go home again.” Two great American writers had strikingly different views on home and both took opposing views on Wolfe’s assertion. Wallace Stegner disagreed with Wolfe while John Steinbeck agreed. Stegner believed that it was possible to go back home but that it’s getting harder due to lifestyle, and bemoaned our loss of roots. Steinbeck, on the other hand, believed that being on the go is in our blood, that we were born from a long line of restless peoples of Europe who left home for a new land and that being a nation of nomads is in our collective DNA.
I agree with the essence of what both had to say.
Americans are nostalgic people. We cling to lost time and by-gone eras like children who’ve lost a favorite toy. We never want to grow old, never want to change and yet we are the very agents of the change we so despise. Furthermore, we grow tired of old things and yearn for the new. Perhaps that is why our version of home is such a convoluted and paradoxical one: we are people of the past and future but rarely the present. We live in the tension between wanting to leave and wishing we had stayed, hating that there is loss attached to either choice.
But I believe there are two distinct versions of home: the one of our childhood in which we have no choice and the one as an adult in which we do. If we stay in the place of our childhood, home is like a yo-yo: we go out and come back, always having that familiar place to return to. To leave is to disconnect from the metaphorical umbilical cord and start anew. It can be a disorienting and lonely, but also exciting and new experience.
Both choices leave a longing that resembles sadness because to never leave is to wonder what else is out there, and to leave is to wonder why. And because we hate pain we fluctuate between the two trying to find happiness. We settle on what once was because nostalgia, which is neither happiness nor sadness, feels so good. It is a panacea for how disconnected we feel.
As my mind floats uneasily in this no man’s land of trickling time, the images of home are overshadowed by a new song that draws my attention. It is akin to nostalgia, but more solid. It is a call for change, but is not an alluring siren promising my heart’s desires. The melody is a sweet one that seems to dance with the rhythm of my life. And it is this that makes me think that perhaps home is an evolving idea, one that matches the eye of the beholder and one that can vary from a static to a dynamic idea, as changing as the person it resides in.
Perhaps home is more like the transient theater of the sky and the memories of our youth like twinkling stars. One is trajectory while the other is fixed. In other words, home moves with us through time.
I have been home, or at least to the places of my youth, and I can’t go back. To go back would be to turn back time to a period when the world was bigger and I was smaller, to a place of ignorance and wonder, to a place that no longer exists. I have lived a lifetime between then and now and I have changed, as have those places. I don’t recognize them now; I don’t recognize myself in them. As Steinbeck said, “You can’t go home again because home has ceased to exist except in the mothballs of memory.” When I go back I am the ghost of a past that no longer exists except in my mind; which is why home is such an elusive idea, the meaning of which is held suspended in one’s mind.
But the idea is real. I have lived in places that were not home, they were where I resided for a time and are like bus stops in my memory. But they also helped me identify what home is to me.
Steinbeck said when contemplating roots, “The pioneers, the immigrants who peopled the continent, were the restless ones in Europe. The steady rooted ones stayed home and are still there. Wouldn’t it be unusual if we had not inherited this tendency?” But as all things sweet need their opposite to be experienced Stegner said, “Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend.”
Which is why, perhaps, we cling so desperately to the idea. Because we are a restless nation, we know only so well the peace that comes with permanence and so we are always longing for it – the comforting permanent idea.
As Tom Wolfe said, “Perhaps this is our strange and haunting paradox here in America — that we are fixed and certain only when we are in movement…that we never have the sense of home so much as when we feel we are going there.”
The song of home I hear and will likely follow, I suspect, leads to the autumn and winter of my life. I am not the same person I was at 10, or 20, or even 30. I am the person I was in all those years combined with a lifetime of experiences of joy, pain and sorrow, ignorance, futility, wisdom, as well as years. To stay forever in one place is to ignore the beating and changing of my own heart. I have grown older and have no desire to return to a by-gone past. As beautiful as the shining stars in the night sky are, they are a distant beauty. I want to remain in the ever changing, yet recurring burst of a rising sun over a mountain in the morning and the golden rays of a sleepy sunset at the end of a long day. It is not so different now as it was when I was young – I have the same eyes, but my old eyes describe a different world than my young eyes.
In seeming anguish Stegner queried, “I wonder if ever again Americans can have that experience of returning to a home place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to?”
His question seems to ask if it is possible to return to a home place that one has loved deeply. I’m not sure. To leave a place “intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to” with no intention to return is to end a relationship; it is a sort of betrayal – which may be why one can never go home again afterward. The loss is too great, the return too painful, the memories only sweet through the lens of nostalgia.
Then again, if it’s all in our heads then the hurtle is self-imposed and returning just takes an act of forgiveness, some humility, and the ability to accept ourselves as we are in the present; prodigal sons if you will. You can always return.
Wolfe said, “The mountains are my masters. They are rimmed with life. They are the cup of reality, beyond growth, beyond struggle and death. They are my absolute unity in the midst of eternal change.”
And that is the heart of it, is it not? That home is the abiding idea in the midst of a changing reality. It is the constant, the ever-present within us. What is outside must match what is inside. Even as I sit here writing, my spirits lift as my mind returns to an old image, the diffused nebula of which makes up the essence of a place I call home. Amidst the seemingly frozen time of endless days I find peace in an airy landscape that mimics what I see in my mind: the clouds roll in on a colossal canvas before my eyes, undulate and erupt into cloudy mountain ranges slowly navigating the sky until the invisible stroke of the painter’s brush washes them away with a furious stroke of angry ocean waves that cool, dissipate, and dissolve from a foamy froth to wispy nothingness.
And when the day has passed and the clouds are gone I feel as though I have traveled through time over countless landscapes and lived a thousand days in one still afternoon. When I come out of my reverie time begins ticking again. Home recedes from my mind as the hum of activity propels me into evening, supper, and then twilight; blinking stars, and then finally, sleep. And in the morning it starts all over again, until one morning when it will end and I will go home again, for this absence is only temporary.
While not the home base of my youth, my return home is to “a place so intimately known, profoundly felt, deeply loved, and absolutely submitted to” that I count clouds to pass the time in my longing. The familiar landscape where I invest my time and upon which my idea has settled is the place where well-known faces can be found, the sound of their voices can be heard, where a warm embrace can be had, where laughter is the music, soft sand is the path, and joy is the welcome mat.
The clock said 6 a.m. The house was dark and quiet. I slipped out of bed to the smell of freshly brewed coffee coming from the kitchen. I looked out the window. No rain. A cool breeze blew in, a remnant of the passing storm. I sipped my coffee. It was a good day to break in my boots. I laced them up and headed out the door.
It’s not often that the desert is humid, so the air was uncharacteristically thick and heavy; permeated with the pungent smell of earth and vegetation. The sun struggled to break through the clouds, but break through it did, leaving warm kisses across the land. With views like this, I could have hiked in ski boots and would still have enjoyed it.
It’s not about how long you live, but how well you live.