Climbing Mountains

One month out since setting out. One week out since coming off the trail again. Even here, off the mountain, still climbing. Still practicing climbing the mountain.  

A first take at remembering and writing, a few days later at the cabin in the West Virginia woods along the New River, older than the hills it runs through.  

Later, an early morning in Berea, Kentucky, starting again, looking back at these days in the woods. In the separation, the time apart on the trail, a frame made for noticing, for seeing what can’t be otherwise. We’re always climbing the mountain, we just don’t usually see it as we’re going through the motions, through the day without a distinct and noticeable beginning, middle and end. Without the physical awareness that climbing is what we are about and made for.

And today, this early morning of orange, gold and crimson leaves, a fall not yet finished here, see things now I couldn’t see then. See things differently than I did a week back in the cabin in the woods on that morning writing up the notes and later at breakfast at the diner. See the desire to see things, find meaning. To be on a journey that is going somewhere. See there is no pure memory. We are always remembering differently through the lens of today.  

I made the call two weeks ago on the way to meet my friends and head out on the trail. Pouring rain in the parking lot outside the closed McDonalds by the Mobil Station. Wherever this is, it is not home but a by-way, a way-station, an in-between. A good place to talk about home and how possibly to get there.

He reminds me what has happened. There has been an ending, a leaving of a frame, an institution, a location, that defined an identity and way of life.  

And now, out here, experiences of dislocation and location. 

Yes, joy and presence and in the naming of it, yes, to see it all the clearer, all the more. Those particular moments that linger – the kayaks in the glassy still bay, the mist rising, the sun setting gold across the water. These moments to return to. The pure joy of being here in the outdoors, in the beauty, the swing of the trail. That day of cold and rain and sleet and the light so gorgeous.

And this as well, in the heading out into this unknown, a mind and ego that longs to return again to the only orientation its got, to what we had been and are no longer. The ways and relations of the past that helped define and make who we understood ourselves to be. The memories we conjure up to find ourselves recognizable. This tightening, gripping, holding onto a story that is no longer there. A hand hold without anything of reality to hold. A dream.  

But how to dream forward – how to reach out and grab hold of something not yet there, unseen and unknown.

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog”, E.L. Doctorow wrote, “You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” 

I turn on and off the high-beams wanting to see a bit further down the road. Wanting somehow to see further that is not possible. We can only see this far.  

Crawled out of the tent in the dark, following the sound of the stream. Following the beam only as far as it would show, until I am here at the edge of the stream, kneeling on the log, filling the pouch with water.  

Out there on the trail in town, running the dark roads, stars shining bright above, turn to something off there in the field, a grunt, a shuffling, something beyond which my light can see. 

Vow to use this time of challenge and beauty to work deeply within. 

Vow to seek not refuge in the dream of the past or fretting on the future but to bring awareness and curiosity to all of it here, now, the dreaming and dread, the spinning and certainties.  

Vow to notice it all – this present joy, this breath of life, this regret, this expectancy. To find location in the dislocation. The home that is here in all of it.  

Yes, it’s about hiking the trail and the process of getting there. Not about getting to the top. Yes, a certain compassion and acceptance that there are peaks and valleys – that this is the way. A way where wider arms are needed, beyond either/or to a both/and kind of living.

An awareness that I sometimes see, that all comes and goes, nothing stays the same. And so to get all the nourishment out of this time by bringing a curiosity to all of it. What is this joy and what of this melancholy?  What is this aliveness?  What is this craving?  

Where is this belonging, where this home that is not outside to cling to or inside to attain, but that is here already in all of it.

Sometimes, arms stretch wide to touch.

Sometimes, heart softens to see.

I start the car, pull out of the dark lot to the thumping of wipers in the heavy rain.  

The coyotes yapping and howling in the moonglow outside the door of the cabin.

Unzip the tent, crawl out into the starlight and rain. 

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