Tuesday, August 6
Fire streaks through the passing days, richly urgent, impatient. We've the rest of our lives, even as we've only this moment. Cliched, but no less true: wedding, Wasatch, everything happening all at once. There's never enough time even as there's clearly yet too much. The lake at the end of the rainbow's ours in ten days and it feels at least nine too many, as these promises we draft and will make and are making continue pooling on our tongues, waiting for voice, an allowance we can't wait to air out, these treasures hot in our fevered palms. Giddy as schoolkids, lovebirds anew.
The Colockum fire's eleven days in, the cost of her fight approaching seven mil, but no longer quite the fiendish monster she once was; her disposition's markedly improved. The air's too thick and wet for most controlled burns yet, humidity holding at 40% - this the hold on progress now. Interior fuels aren't dry enough to burn out, so we rest at 60% containment.
Meanwhile we're 100% enthralled with each other, our insides burning feverishly. Hotter now and steadier than ever at the start, and this isn't how I'd learned it works, but hardly will I complain. Likewise, the nervousness & anxiety I expect to wash over at any hour remain absent, an idle threat on the horizon, imagined but not particularly real. There's just sky, sky, sky - stretching forever. As full of promise - that's our sky, wide and free! - as indifference; we've no special circumstances, I realize, that of their own accord will make our marriage better than others. Still, I know us, and I have faith: our marriage will be better.
Days forward keep building, antsily and unevenly marching. Creation lingers in the humid, again slightly hazy, air - running antithesis to last week's destructions and despairs. They're making progress on the line, only a few miles of perimeter still missing. We're making something, everything, our future by the day, each day another foundational brick and our trust mortar.
At lunch yesterday, talking about writing and our words, a point made: Experience can't match words, not looking forward or back or even straight through the center of the moment, but they don't need to either. Words are hard; some experiences are, too. Sharing those experiences, though, needn't be. Trust makes it so.
Trust allows us to steal, shamelessly. Last week the smoke stole our air, and last fall even more so; this week (and last week, and the week before, ...), this year (and last year, and the year before, ...) - and for the rest of our lives - we're stealing from each other. Stealing the individual to meld collective, a slow deposit of time and interest into each other, an infinitely repeated transaction that collectively makes one plus one another one - and that one together so much more than two apart.
Math falls as short as language here. I couldn't be happier, so stolen. This is transformation, metamorphosis, crystallization. From night into light, smoky smog and fiery fog into clear blue sky. Such theft gives the gift of hope.
Yesterday I, for the first time in over a week, ran freely. Unlike the day before, the air did not leave me heaving. Unlike three days ago, I saw no bears. Instead the air was crisp, tangy, perfect, right. For the first time in over a week, my head once again felt my own. All was well, and is well, and - I've confidence of this - will be well. For in this union, no longer is my head alone my own. No longer are my stumbles alone my own. They're also hers. And her strength is mine. One plus one is one, two together in our future, our happiness, our hope, our joy.
Sometime last night we woke to a frog, croak-croaking, the sound seemingly in her bedroom. I looked around the room, shone a light in search; still, he croaked on. Admitting defeat, I fell back asleep. Or so she told me this morning; I've no recollection of that frog. Just as the night's gone blurry, so too have parts of my past. Barely even do I remember the frog I once was. This forgetting has been one of the greatest gifts; hardly am I now a prince, but still the transformation: With her, I am the best version of myself. Kinder, gentler, more patient and more loving. Heaven is so big there's no need to look up, I know, and this here's our kingdom, and this here's our future, and I need shades so bright does she shine.
This is an old story, too. And we're still writing.
Thursday, May 9
Five hours up and down two different peak complexes did we race; I became a thin blue flame, polished on this mountain range. Broke it up for biscuits and gravy, our waitress perpetually calling us hon and pouring surprisingly drinkable diner coffee. And over hills and fields I flew, calves crying, balsam roots aflame in the freshly risen sun, ice dripping thawing from ponderosa needles, rotors loud below keeping the apples from freezing. Twenty-one weeks out. Too fast, too hard, too steep, pounding quads and the pain we'll reap. Sowing seeds, stockpiling miles, the raw smell of horses and the warm smell of hay. Staking claim to each of these slopes, rise and run and run and rise.
Ten hours the day after four, up and over and around and down. Rocks and vistas, rocks and rocks and yet more rocks, erosion chutes we'll have the gall to call trails and so barren a land, trees were a fist shaking themselves at the clouds. Climb we more than sea to summit of Rainier, yet even so - less than a hundred miles away - ne'er once see we the great white peak. Only wind and clouds and rough, rough miles, less than fifty miles but half the climb of Everest. Twenty weeks out, I looked over curtains and it was then that I knew / only a full house gonna make it through. Rocky ridges and exposed crests and the Wasatch skyline dot my dreams, alpine lakes and the glory of cold cold water on a hot hot day. It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart; days are nights and the nights are long. There's no good reason to run through sunset and into sunrise and even less reason not to; glory'll break me and glory will make me and heaven's so big there's no reason to look up.
Up and down stairs, beside and over and around creeks, smelling of wastewater treatment does the day so pass. Six hours beside the sound I run; I became a thin blue stream, swampy sweat running down my arms, back, neck, legs. Razed and hazed and broken are these legs, buried in the smoke between asleep and dreams, this beautiful shakedown, breakdown, meltdown, beatdown. A friend joins me the first few hours; he's a speedster, and this pace is not, but I labor, I labor, I lumber, I struggle. This whole thing is headed for a terrible wreck, and like good tragedy that's what we expect. Twenty-three weeks out. Of course as soon as the faster half leaves, I knock out the next few hours too quick, find a rhythm outside the rut, really put myself deep in the hurt, and another eight thousand feet in the book. On such trails, the feet tally quick; a million's unlikely as these years go, but sure as hell I'll try. Sure as hell I'll climb and climb and climb and hope to fly, freight train steady, straight on through to morning, through these red dawn mornings, and above those tamed waters; in that clear blue undertow, I saw Royal City far below, and knew I'd touched the sky.
Seven hours, up and down five peaks. Nearly a dying gasp in this fine downy meadow, burrowed in a copse of lush young firs. So violently did that fatigue wash over me, one great wall of sand and sun and trail and wind, blown out creeks and washed out roads, downed trees and burnt over slopes. Fatigue is a shirt I wear on Mondays on Tuesdays on Wednesdays on Thursdays, the world just beginning and the guests in good cheer. Then: another weekend. Nineteen weeks out, the suffering verbs put to sleep in the night. If I sleep. Tallying the passing hours and miles and long days under the sun, the future descended like a bright chandelier. Judgment day's coming. These past weeks my bones have wearied; these past weeks my legs have awoken. I feel my body's fealty in aching joints and cracking popping pistoning ankles and knees and hips; I feel miles raw and coursing, alive and vibrant. I flew over royal city last night, a bullfighter on the horns of a new moon's light. My heart is strong. My heart is strong, and so very very awake to the wide world around me, and I'll run through all these dawns.
Field upon field of golden balsamroot our vista, sandy singletrack and rolling ski trails our setting. Hell's here descended, August in May, an unfortunate magic trick of the calendar. Legs shimmering, shaking, sizzling, and water runs through us as if hydration too were a mirage. Though it snowed Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday we crisply burnt. Oh, weather. There will be, he told us. There will be. A symphony of heat, cicadas electric in the heat of the day, asses braying, and the lone wolf howling his trail I'd just unjustly run. Fifty k's in consecutive days? There's foolish and foolhardy and hell if I any longer know the difference. Miles and miles yet to go; miles and miles already gone by. Aspens bud and wildflowers yet bloom; some slopes' green hues linger, even as others approach fire-ripe brown. Dust and dust and dust above, surrounding; the lake a diamond in the valley's hand, and all that green blooms brilliant down there. Up and up and down and down and up and down and down and up, four months out. Good god, a hundred k ain't a hundred miles, but, well. The heat didn't break me, and I became a thin blue wire that held the world above the fire. The miles didn't break me, and so it was I saw behind: heaven's just a thin blue line. These weekends haven't broken me, won't break me. Peaks and horizons, miles and miles,they were coming together, they were pulling apart. I won't remember, and I won't forget, heaven is so big there's no need to look up. I've got my singletrack, and I've got my miles. I've got my horizons. Heaven's just a thin blue line and I became a thin blue flame. Burn up, flame up, run out, run on. Run on.
Monday, April 15
I. A gem this friend wrote the other day, even by his lofty norms. Of shortcomings, real and perceived. Of loss; of vulnerability; asking others to fill the gaps. It reamed my insides out, his honesty, and I wondered how he felt, so exposed. I couldn't even find the words to tell him how brave he was.
II. This morning, his words still fresh, she and I received word from another friend. Her baby, only days old, under the operating knife this morning. An inability to imagine, an unwillingness to understand - these do not placate grief or worry. Motherhood is vulnerability writ large, I suspect.
III. Today's the anniversary of my love's father's quite premature passing. Words fail. So, too, do other tokens, though hugs - simply holding the stitches of memory together - less so.
IV. A student on Thursday relates her trip to Mexico; in the span of a month she's lost two cousins, an uncle, risks losing yet another in the hospital. Her mother's bailing on chemo regularly, doesn't see the point of fighting poison with poison. So the student works - thirty-five hours a week and sixteen credits beside, supporting her ailing family. And I'm to ask her how classes are going, how we can help her succeed?
V. Monday morning of only the third week of ten and already the quarter feels raw, split, exposed. All these seams and curtains glaring, even if I ought look politely away. "Everything happens for a reason," someone posts on Bookface, and well that's horseshit of the ripest variety. My tolerance for fraudulence falls daily; a friend makes a snarky aside against Hitchens and I'm ready to war him. Reminder of a camp counselor I worked with once, who'd the same unoriginal explanation for all things ugly: "Original sin." Fear is the opposite of logic, I think, but reason somehow still scares most more.
But: April's here in earnest. We start a run in the sun, and spend as much of it in snow and hail as we do in the clear. "A lion in lamb's clothing," I remember, this weather. The balsamroots thrive despite the season's neuroses, but other wildflowers are faring less well thus far.
We're moving on, interviewing students this week, last week, next week - trying to fill next year's slots. One kid just got busted, drinking in the middle of a leadership conference. We try not to think of the walls we're butting against; I've a co-worker that fakes martyrdom, but does the least work. We're all far more sinner than saint, anyways, and even at our bests we're simply undercaffeinated.
Outside work, we're both worn down, she and I, run down after all the running up. The way these joints ache after the descents, the way this weather lays siege to our sense of decency and appropriate dress. This won't be one of those seasons that whimpers out, I don't think, not even at school. Maybe a trumpet blast at spring's end, the disorder ceasing only once the classroom's closed once more.
I'm not so sour as I'll sound. The physical fatigue of these miles, of long weekends in the mountains, feels comfortable, and holds the emotional wear as a blanket. We split a beer last night, after two beers each one night last week gave us both wicked hangovers. In some sense, perhaps we've outlived that first poison. In another, we're simply getting old.
But, truly: we're satiated in our depths, at least temporarily, by the quiet and lonely sanctuary of a steep and seemingly desolate ridge. Burned nearly twenty years past, still charred trees scatter the way. Near the top of the steepest descent we found a butterfly, its wings damaged by the hail. She cupped it in her hands, and down we continued. Even in the broken, beauty. All told, we gave four or five hours to pursue broken beauty, running and hiking and bearing the weather's frantic temperaments. Even so, a slice of fifteen minutes unadulterated sun I caught, a slice of heaven clear through the clouds to my side, firmly planted by a Ponderosa sapling.
Supplication: we asked the sky for blessing. It gave us rain and sleet and hail and snow and wind, yes, but also sun. We ran down the length of the sky, and our knees ached for days, falling as we did with gravity through the earth. This thing's holy now. We'd been to the mountaintop, and found our god, this sacristy of aches. Anything's holy now. We're tired by our weaknesses, tied together by our vulnerabilities. This thing, anything, everything's holy now.
Sunday, January 20
I pace. Phone to my ear. Trembling with cold, sure, but more with nerves - I grew up here, in this Wisconsin chill; the sun's shining, the temperature at least twenty, my breath barely a puff beside me - and of course he jokes: "What if I say no?"
We talk. It's Christmas, both literally and metaphorically. He gives his blessing, and my worries previous, in hindsight, feel silly. He knows how happy she is.
For her, for me: the question is itself the answer. We've come to this together; my question is not a surprise, and yet, pleasantly, it is. I ask and ask and ask again, each day this being our choice - each other, now and onward; to infinity and beyond - and this is a life together we build. Day by day and yes by yes.
The trip stretches before us, surrounds us, a microcosm of trips before and trips to come. Washington, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin: down. Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington: yet ahead. Hours in the car, hours to ourselves; hours of quiet company and the endless horizon and the big winter sky. It's like last year's spring trip, like last summer's vacation, like no trip before: winter is different, and now we're engaged. The car feels exactly the same, and somehow that's significant.
She drives and drives and drives, and we plan what already we've planned, what already we've known, what some part of us knew before even we ever met, what we've known intuitively. We'll marry on a lake, in the mountains, in the company of few. Chosen family will marry us, and chosen family will support us, and this community that comes together perpetually astounds us. We're surrounded by love - and the reminders of this are the best part of such a trip. This trip, especially: five thousand miles and thirteen states and fifteen days and fifty thousand smiles and our hearts breaking again, anew, with all this love. All these smiles and laughter and love.
I fall ill on the return. Spend my first conscious moments in Wyoming vomiting. It doesn't matter; we're together and we've each other and we've this family that just keeps growing, love and love and love.
In Minnesota we share boots and laughter and tears of joy, chosen family being chosen family and celebration's of love a given when we come together. In Wisconsin we share quiet company and simple, brilliant meals, find ourselves restored and rested. In Iowa we re-coffee over eggs and talk of miles behind, always looking to miles ahead. We're in the heartland, and our hearts ring full, spill over, touch the sky.
Then, Nebraska. The sun blazes for hours on the far horizon, the western half of the state one continuous field of old frozen snow, glaring. When finally the copper penny sinks behind the purple bruised plains and settles into night, a single star shoots across the sky. I'm feverish - bad relish in Omaha, we think - but a star she sees and a star I see and together were home in a full car speeding west across Nebraska's vast empty. Full with love, so full, and this trip'd already lasted forever and yet the better trip'd just begun.
Wyoming. Into Wyoming in the cold black night after a detour into Colorado; in the first rest stop I vomit. "In sickness and in health," she reminds me. In Utah I sneeze and sneeze and sneeze, cough and hack and gasp. Still, she answers with hesitation: "Yes." Again and again, yes.
By Idaho she's cold and I'm cold and our feet soak up the ice, pavement in the soles of our shoes and the air chilled ice, but I ask anyways, with this joy that still makes me nervous even as it's delicious - Will you marry me? - and she again beams, as sure of it as her name. Of course, yes.
She's known all along, I think. Melville's whale, she proclaimed, when yet this thing was unspoken, a wee sapling, an idea I'd avoid and she'd coax out. I've needed coaching, being previously better acquainted with doubt than hopeful belief. But I've her help. I'm forgetting my own bad histories and worse ideas; slowly I've learned to live in the present. Her heart she gave freely: without qualm, fearlessly, admittedly vulnerable. Much have I learned, and much more yet will I. Love? Yes. Of course, yes.
In Oregon her best friend stuck me full with needles, these sinai of mine in need of draining. Kerr'd her own share of needles; Cayly, seeing the two of us so stuck: "The two of you have such positive energy." I'd be so stuck any day. And hope to everyday, for the rest of my life.
Understatements, these are, so I'll close with this: good things are happening, very good things, and I couldn't be happier. Neither, I think, could she. This story's still writing.
We're home now. Back on our trails, in our mountains. So starts the next chapter, the next story, the next verse, the next trip. I've a good feeling about this, is what I'm saying. Yes, yes, yesses in our future.
Sunday, September 23
Flotsam: Red lines running into each other. Crowding. Bumping elbows, odors. Overlapping on maps. So much fire - Inciweb updates, and photos of the alien invasion. Air updates - ten times the particulate deemed Hazardous - and forever we're bathing in campfire. Wonder how long the thought of S'mores will induce nausea.
Boxes somewhere live in their attic, boxes affixed with my name. I think of this as emotionally preparing myself for the possibility we'll soon be hosing down the house. Somewhere up there: remnants of a move now three moves back. Probably tracing histories further. Buried in their pasts now too.
"This is probably the healthiest relationship I've ever had," I tell her. It's tremendous, the understatement. Still we're stumbling over pieces of the past, mostly my incapacities for letting go. More so, though, there's the present. We crashed into each other, plans canceled by others, into happenstance. The happiest of accidents.
Jetsam: Protect the homes. They water vacation cabins as if they were a desert crop; Klone - the hardest and yet maybe best part of Plain, I hear - burns. Slopes and slopes aflame and peaks glowing red, but those frames are safe. We've different priorities. I think of Abbey.
Wonder where I've kept what. In which move I've lost what. Which address fits when, and how priorities shift between time zones and area codes. This identity check I recently failed, not recalling a street upon which I'd once lived. Still don't know what street I was supposed to recognize. The homes of the past slide away beneath the ember of the present.
Friends culled. Histories I slowly teach myself to forget. Resolve to move on and forward, to mine the archives less. Remember there is no gold in them thar hills of the best forgotten.
Lagan: fire reclaims her lands, an angry mother to her children. I tell myself: this is the natural order. This is the natural order. This is the natural order. All of it is smoke; I think of the land and want to cry cry cry. My eyes are too dried out.
Think of books in long rows in my parents' basement still. Knowledge runs in the same cycles, I think, more lost than ever at a single time contained. Neti, Neti. So many pages written in our respective histories. I am the me I am still meeting. We all are. Everything is.
Another history, the longest ago of romances, a friendship both before and after. (So rare.) A note she sent not so long ago: This is who you were. This, I think, is not who I am. This is who I were, who I was, who I am no longer. This? Could be that again - but only in her memory. Every day we're starting fresh. I'm just jaded enough to believe in such things again.
Derelict: Those first nights we watched. Slopes burnt, lost, hopes of triumphantly unscathed trails withering by the hour. Month and a half we lost to the foolhardly laws of gravity and moving too quickly, and now longer we'll likely lose to the combined ravages of fire. Everything's dried out, cracking, smokestained - sky included. We'll find our feet - and voices, and sight, and smell - again, I think... but maybe not anytime soon.
Remember the bags we earmarked weeks ago for Goodwill. Think of those other words. Of other files, other cares, those other students. Those things to which I ought return. So many forgettings. Amnesia's a gift in this family. There are detriments to such a power, I'm sure - but I can't think of them.
Family can be who you're raised, or it can be the company you'll make, or it can be somewhere lost in between. Contradictions aren't inherent in creedos, but in communities, maybe. So deeply flawed, aren't we all? The sea can claim us. Some histories are better sunk. The present floats on.
Swim until you can't see land
Are you a man or you a bag of sand?