By Cheryl Strayed
I am reading Cheryl Strayed’s book, Wild. It is about her trek up the Pacific Crest Trail from Mojave to the Oregon-Washington border. Three months, more or less solo.
It is always dangerous for me to read books like this because there is a part of me that would like to hike solo up the spine of the West, to go camping for months in the Northern California wilderness. Give me a river and a flat spot for my tent – that’s all I want.
The rest of me knows better. It is thinking, “No hot showers. No hot water for coffee in the morning. Bugs. Bears. Never really asleep. No Charlie.” I am not really comfortable in the wilderness, but I always crave it.
It is easy enough to talk about the hard parts, physical and emotional distance from good conversation, the harsh realities of getting food and water, but not so easy to write about the deep satisfaction of looking at the bark on a tree that looks like a 3d jigsaw puzzle. Or to examine the ground in front of me, soon to be underfoot and then passed and forgotten. Or the silence of a hot day with the smell of pine duff and dust in my nose. Or nights with strange thumps and scritches too close to my head for comfort but stimulating a curiosity that never quite overcomes the warm sweetness of my sleeping bag and the pretend safety that the thin walls of my tent give me.
This brings to mind something I noticed on a trip home from Montana. Spring is not a time, a thing that begins and ends on a calendar.
We were driving up and down mountains in June. The low valleys were hot and dry. Summery. The tops of the passes still had snow, in some areas the campgrounds at high altitude were closed, still buried in deep snow and ice. The eaves of brown outhouses glittering with icycles.
Somewhere in between, Spring was a layer of confetti, flecks of white, yellow, pink and blue dancing in the wind. A layer of renewal that had started in the valley and climbed up the mountains. We would pass from summer and as we climbed we would roll back in time to Spring then higher up we would be in winter. Then we would leave the dirty snow and mud of the passes to follow a mud filled ditch which would turn into a clear brook as we wound down into the ring of tiny buds, then the early blooms then a cacophony of color, dozens of different flowers ready for each other, ready for the pollinating bees and hummers. Then the tall grasses would turn yellow and instead of flowers there would be clouds of seed parachutes spinning in the wake of our car and rolling across the pavement. By the time we got to the valley floor it would be dry and hot, full of agriculture and the settlements of humans. Summer.
My deepest understanding of the world always seems to come to me when I glimpse the 3d-ness of it all. I am not a dot or a point on the wide, blank plane of a piece of paper, I am a bee or an ant climbing the intricacies of the pyracantha in my front yard.
I have to admit that a lot of the time I feel like that dot, maybe on a busy day I become a line going from point A to point B. It is rare that the world blooms out, that I feel how deep the ocean is and how spring rings a mountain. When I can imagine a mountain as a huge pile of rock strata with the history of our planet written under my feet. When I know in my body that I will never touch the moon or a star but that they will hang forever over this place I am flitting past.
I have to work at finding that 3d-ness of life.
There are certain artists that help. Some artists change how I see graffiti and others how I see mud and sticks. Seeing Andy Goldworthy’s sculptures changes how I see the coating of leaves on the campground floor. Seeing Jackson Pollock makes me see splotches of paint on a construction site in a new way. Maybe a movie about a teenage girl will change how I see my daughter’s teen years.
Of course this leads to the question I always come to when I write: What’s the point?
Ha. I did not intend to make that pun but I guess the answer is that I really am the point.