An attempt to describe bits of summer on an Arctic Island –
Through all of this the one thing that I see repeatedly is that mysterious, surreal, ethereal color. The aquamarine of the imagination. Surely there is no real color like this. It is so intense it almost glows and, when seen in deep crevices, blocks all in a pile with a deep hole and light between them, it fairly jumps out of the blocks and into the air around you. This against a sky so gray it is almost violet, that bruised color of dark clouds on bright but sunless days. It makes for an incredible waking dream of time and motion.
Many years ago, when I was fresh out of college and writing my first résumé, I was instructed to include an objective; how else would my targeted employers know what my goal was? The first draft I wrote stated, “Objective: To find a position as an international traveler. No reports, no deadlines, extensive vacation time, and limitless expense account required.”
Through all the field work, across all the states and all the years, I think this is still my objective.
Have camera. Can write. Ready to go.
I think, when I take the time, my best writing is in the form of letters. I lament the loss of paper and pencil and I lament my horrific penmanship and the tendonitis that makes it worse. Alas.
Maybe what I really mean is that I miss this avenue of exploring adventures, thoughts, feelings, and ideals. I took the time to lay out my life in a way that shared the adventure with someone else far away who was living their own adventure. In return, I always hoped to see a piece of their reality in their own hand, in their own words when their response landed in my mailbox. It is a bit of life past. That sounds so nostalgic.
I am not typically nostalgic.
It is easier, of course, to type out a quick note, fling it through cyberspace, knowing that it will arrive across the globe in someone’s inbox in a matter of nanoseconds and they will know that, in some way, they came into your thoughts. Yes, it is easier. I can let them know what I had for breakfast, what I plan to do that day, what the weather is. It is really no different than old-fashioned letters. Yet…
Yet, somehow, the substance of letters wasn’t just in the written content. Today many of us sit in front of our computers for long hours every day. Throwing a quick note into the email stream is no less routine than brushing our teeth or letting the cat out (or in, or out, or…). Writing a letter was a commitment. It said, “I am sitting down with you and a cup of tea for an afternoon chat” or “let’s have a beer and a late night philosophy session.”
Quick emails, on the other hand, are a way of saying, “I haven’t forgotten about you but I don’t have the time to really engage.” Letters, even those that took days or weeks to finish, (maybe especially those that took days or weeks to finish) definitely required engaging. Responding was something to look forward to. Rereading the letter you received, making time to enjoy the process, knowing that you were about to spend time with a friend. The actual writing flowed more slowly, forcing your mind to slow down and savor what you were writing and to choose words more carefully and with more meaning.
I’ve written letters while backpacking and camping and at random field stations, on countless beaches, rock ledges, and at the kitchen table, and once, I wrote a letter with paper and pencil on the steering wheel while driving across North Dakota. Have you ever driven across North Dakota? Right? Perfect place to write a letter.
Now we can do something similar with our smart phones. We let everyone in the world know how cool we are to be wherever we are at this given moment doing something amazing. It feels more like competition than joy. Definitely not the same.
I started this blog not knowing what direction I would take with it. I have the need to write more, the desire for more interaction, and the hope that if I am going to fling words into cyberspace they will resonate- even a small ripple can change an entire pond.
Consider this blog an open letter from The Road not Taken Enough.
Yesterday morning I took the road to Lostine, Oregon; I drove to the end, the Two Pan trailhead at the edge of the Eagle Cap Wilderness. It was 38º in the shadow, but, above the trees and the ridge to the west, the sky was blue and the fall sun strong.
The trail was flecked with slivers of gold, tamarack needles in spirals and geometric patterns. I passed through a troop of kinglets squeaking in the treetops, then across the single-log bridge over the East Lostine River and up through the switchbacks.
I came out into the meadow at the base of Eagle Cap; ponds, the river, and sun-dried grasses stretched a couple miles south before dissolving into the dark trees at the foot of the mountain. The air was absolutely still and the entire meadow was silent.
Days like this always draw me away from whatever else life insists I do. They are the perfect days to play hooky from work and from memories and old thoughts that linger in my head. To me, the last days of autumn are a reminder that life is short and I need to soak in every drop of sun and life and possibility.
I hiked to the river crossing, sat on the footbridge, ate lunch. Then, with a wild chipmunk circling the perimeter of my lunch space, I leaned back and closed my eyes. The water sang under the bridge. Two ravens had a discussion far up the eastern ridge. The chipmunk scolded me for leaving no trace. I absorbed all that I could.
The sun leaves early this time of year. Rather than continue up, I turned back.
The pikas, silent on my way in, now chattered and scorned me for giving up so easily. Alas, I don’t have a fur coat and haven’t collected grass through the long summer days.
Although the trail back is mostly downhill, I moved more slowly. Yes, I’m getting older, but more than that, I am less willing to leave this place.
Everything is changing so rapidly. How much longer will the pikas survive here? They can only move up the mountain as the lower elevations warm. Late-October and there is only a dusting of snow on Eagle Cap. Maybe I can squeeze in one more trip before winter arrives.
I believe that whichever path I choose, it will lead to something and will require missing something else on a different path. To me, the question is, “What am I willing to miss?”
I am willing to miss a daily commute.
I am willing to miss 9 to 5 confinement.
I am willing to miss meetings and conference calls.
I choose a life structured differently.
I choose the Road not Taken Enough.