Here’s to the unknown

I got up and made myself a piece of toast with garlic hummus, tomato and avocado at least three times this week. Who has time to do this in the morning, you may ask?

I do. I live 7 minutes away from work. I don’t have kids, just a part-time dog, and I recently left an 11-year relationship and called off the same engagement for the second time.

Yes, you read that correctly. The same engagement. Twice.

It may sound like bragging, but I’m definitely not. There’s a gaping portion of me that makes me feel like a complete failure and piece of shit who doesn’t deserve millennial toast. But I rise in the morning and nourish myself nonetheless.

Thank god for work flexibility and also that I’m an overachieving ferret who refuses to let her work quality plummet due to an unfortunate life circumstance. Because yesterday I walked into the office at 10:30 with wet hair streaming down my back and dampening my t-shirt and still somehow managed to get my shit done decently.

I won’t dwell too much on my relationship because I actually really loved the person I grew up with and almost married, who I was basically already married to. And I respect his privacy. He was the introvert, and I was the introverted big mouth who adored him openly but who also crossed a hell of a lot of lines.

Leaving a good person who loves you is a hard thing to do

And I don’t entirely recommend it unless it means that you’re being true to yourself. Leaving him doesn’t feel like I won some kind of battle. I wasn’t degraded, belittled or starved for attention. I carried out my own ambitions and activities a majority of the time. It’s just that as we grew older, we had less and less to talk about and connect over. The silences were uncomfortable, but they were filled with their own truths. And finally it occurred to me that we were on two separate journeys that I had been trying too hard to jam together.

In the end, this was the right thing to do, but I don’t feel self-righteous about it. I feel sad. And every morning that I’ve woken up this week I’ve asked myself the same question:

Why are you fucking do this to yourself?

Answer: Because I want to feel like myself again. And I want to connect to my purpose. I don’t want to openly say “God’s plan” at the risk of God’s people filling my life up with their own agenda of what they think God’s plan is for me. I am a spiritual person, but I’m very wary of sentimental, fact-denying groupies and people who overly project their spiritual endeavors onto me. There is a lot of that lately.

But yes, I am doing this in a big part for spiritual journey/personal growth reasons. To connect with the activities, people and groups I get excited about and who make me come alive. I’d like to share some of my juju when I am ready and a little past my current heart sickness. And to make whatever mediocre difference I can on this rapidly decaying planet.

It’s a very uncertain time in history that we’re currently in, and how do I experience it fully if I’m hiding away in something I don’t wholeheartedly believe in? I just want to embrace the bigness of my life. Even if right now that means taking small steps to the toaster. Or taking my part-time dog with me on long walks.

I have my part-time dog with me this week. She’s a two-year-old coonhound mix. One fellow trail walker once told me she looks like a beagle on stilts. And the description fits, so I use it.

Anyway, I’m going to cut this short because I think it’s about time I take my beagle on stilts for a walk. Thank you for reading.




Sitting in my car

I do this thing where I sit in my car in the winter. Sometimes I read the last bit of something. Sometimes I let the lastest song on repeat fill me. Sometimes I do nothing except let the day’s unresolved extraness leak from my skin and settle into my seat.

I wait until all the heat leaves my car, until my toes are numb from the cold. When I can’t take it anymore I go inside to my warm home that I am lucky to have, even if its ceilings are stained in the blood of dead flies, and it’s on the third floor.

I don’t really know when I started doing this. But I killed my battery doing it the other day. I left my lights on. Sean helped me jumpstart my car.

I’m sitting in my car right now. I can see Sean in the window. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing. My eyes aren’t the best in the dark, but I think I figured it out. He’s holding two ends of a Christmas tree in his hands.

He probably wants to surprise me. I’m surprised alright. Why does he continue to choose me? That’s a legitimate question. Not for him, but for me. It’s my song on repeat.

I snap pictures of him with my eyes. I add more to his living eulogy I’ve been writing inside my head for over a third of my life and go inside.

Inside, Sean smiles and strings lights.

On climbing mountains

The sleepy shop owner who just sold us a fly swatter looks at us with eyes like damp leaves when we tell him we have never hiked in the Smoky Mountains before. His jeans have large holes smeared in green like fresh open wounds, but he still has a tinge of nostalgia in his eyes.

I run my fingers over a cedar coaster that sits in the palm of my hand. Sean takes a practice whoosh with the new swatter, whacking dead an imaginary fly. We tell the shop keeper we enjoy his work. We mean it. He tells us it keeps him off the streets. He rolls his head back and laughs like a ruffian.

We can tell that he’s comfortable with silence as he assesses our city nerves. We dart our ping pong eyes around the shop at all the items he borrowed and made from the trees. Propped up against a table, is an intricately engraved mantelpiece. I can make out the carving of an eagle dipping in and out of grooves in the slab of wood. On the tables, there are piles of pine cones, empty nests, flaps of leather—bits and pieces dispersed, yet orderly, like a mechanic’s shop.

“Give me your map,” he finally says. I fumble the map before handing it over to him. He begins to trace the trails on smooth paper with his rugged fingers. He flips it upside down. He might as well be closing his eyes, reading braille. “Here. This one will feel like it doesn’t end. It’s a tough, old trail, but it’s the least crowded. And when it ends, you’ll sure as hell know.”

He nods his head simultaneously with our “thank you” like he already knows. He recedes into his shop like a bear into its den. We look back over our shoulders before we exit. He uses a small knife to carve the handle of something—another fly swatter, an eating utensil, maybe a hairbrush. Wood shavings fall to the floor.

An hour later Sean and I are standing where he pointed his finger on the map.

The wooden sign has chipped, white letters covered in splotches of bird poop. It reads, “Ramsey Cascade Falls 4.0 miles.”

Last night, the cicadas pulsed louder than our two voices. Shaking like hundreds of maracas inside our chests, they made it clear that the land in the mountains belongs to them. As we begin the trail, we can feel them watching us from the trees. They don’t say a thing as we crack twigs and rustle leaves underneath our shoes.

The breeze carries a light mist. I pull up my hood. Sean tightens the straps of his backpack. He is excited to break in his new pack. I remember when he first tried it on in our living room weeks ago. He had said in his deep, booming voice, “Trust me, Sarah. I used to be a boy scout.”

I squeeze Sean’s hand. We have little to say as we breathe in the soft, intermingling scents of pine and wet dirt.

The ground starts off with gravel, which is short-lived. The further along we go, the more the earth juts with jagged rocks. The grass gets heavier and begins to wander like wild sideburns on the sides of the mountain’s face.

Sean spots wild turkeys. He scampers after the mother and her two babies. The mother’s fatty wattles jiggle as she huddles her babies close, quickly escorting them away from Sean, who’s running at them like a jolly pup. His backpack bounces behind him.

I can’t take my eyes off the ground. Knobby vines crisscross through the dirt and make their way back to the trees. They dip into a palate of freckled stones. I pick up a stone and hand it to Sean. It’s smooth and looks like it has been splattered with white paint. He rubs his thumb over it before he slips it into his pocket.

This becomes routine. I find a red spotted leaf. It looks diseased. I hand it to Sean. He slips it into his pocket. White pedals float down from a looming tree. I catch one, feel its velvety skin. I hand it to Sean who slips it into his pocket.

I think of the sleepy shop keeper. I imagine him picking up his favorite things and slipping them into his pockets.

We wear our explorer eyes like 3D glasses. We spot thin brooks, gaping like scars between rocks. We ogle at bright, yellow fungi, flickering in the weeds like road signs warning passersby. Sean squints at the water spiders moon walking on top of water. They’re almost opaque; we can hardly see them. I have the urge to call them Jesus spiders. I point at a mud colored gecko on a boulder. It pretends to be dead. I find a cave. I ask Sean if he dares me to poke my head in, and he tells me not to be stupid.

water spiders Gecko FungiTree

Somewhere we read that a couple of hikers carelessly left food on this trail, and a bear helped itself to their leftovers. Bears start off afraid of humans. And then we give them reasons to track us—like littering our remains. Some rangers shot that bear down when it started attacking people. I wonder if the ground shook when the enormous, brown mass collapsed to the ground. I think about the surface area of plants flattened underneath the weight of a lifeless body, the animals around it watching from safety of their caverns, trees, and holes.

I remember all the objects in the gift shops with the beloved smoky beast tattooed on them—blankets, wristbands, shot glasses.

Passing the den, I hope to catch a glimmer of brown, but it never comes.

The trail quickly begins to elevate. I can feel a squeeze in the back of my calves. I grab at branches, roots, and clumpy ledges for balance. I push my palms into them and propel my body forward. My muscles surge with electricity as the steps get bigger, my leg span gets wider. Drops of sweat kiss Sean’s forehead. Somewhere beyond the next set of boulder steps we can hear rushing water.

Sean pack Sarah climb

This becomes a pattern. We climb and climb until we meet rushing water. We run into little falls collecting into shallow pools. We’re careful not to stumble over the slimy rocks when we dip our hands into the cool water. Sean crouches low over the water, cups his hands to fill them, and splashes the sweat from his face. He replenishes it. I scan his face to see if he looks younger, as if the water is made of secret magic. “What are you looking at?” he asks, and I laugh.

Sean splashSarah falls

We lean our backs against thick trunks that stoop over edges crumbly as pie crust. The trees seem to look down. We follow their gaze that points to the falls. The little falls don’t look so little anymore. The higher we go, the longer their reach. They pile on top of each other and blend into one another. Each fall is a strand, and together they form a luscious, streaming head of hair. The mountains have long hair.

It’s a long way to fall. “Boo!” I psyche Sean out, and he staggers away from the edge with his hand on his heart.

“Hey, um, this is the closest I have ever felt to you,” I tell him. I know it’s not just the adrenaline speaking. And it’s not the proximity to death either, even though with a simple misstep, I could plummet. And I know that Sean wouldn’t be able to save me. The more likely reason is that there’s nowhere else I would rather be but here with him, nothing else I would rather be doing than climbing this mountain with him.

I never thought I would climb a mountain. And if I did, I imagined I could come up with something that wasn’t sprinkled with clichés, but everything I feel is what they say, except more enhanced because I feel it now. I’m here, and I don’t want to be anywhere else. This is true. I feel pure. I feel centered. I feel strong. Look at me climb. See my hands grab hunks of dirt. See my legs propel me higher.

The best feeling of all is feeling exposed. The vulnerability is as tender as a baby. Mountain climbing is intimacy—like a virginity I didn’t know I had until I lost it. It’s something you let go and give back to the earth. It’s as if you’re designed to do it.

I will backpack these feelings with me when I go to work, when I’m miserable in traffic. I will rinse and repeat, “I am strong. I am pure. I am centered.”

When I feel alone at my desk or even with a crowd of people, I will remember what it is like to be completely filled up with the sight of weeping waterfalls guarded by mountains. Or maybe the mountains are the ones who weep. It’s comforting to think they cry too.

The longer we climb, the louder we whine. “Are we there yet?” we pout with fat lips like kids in the backseat of a car. We drag our heavy limbs.

We hear a pounding like watered down thunder. This must be the end, we think. We pummel through the last set of steps. Our legs ache, but we ignore them. We hobble like turkeys to see what is on the other side of a colossal rock.

We sure as hell know we’re at the end. Water spills from every pore of the jagged, enormous rocks assembled in such a way that pulls the falls together. They knot into one, and I can’t tell which fall is which. The head of long hair is braided. The beads of water bounce from one rock to the next. We feel the spray on our faces. My lips tremble. All I want to do is touch it. I draw in close like a mosquito.

Sean and I cross the slippery platform. He suddenly loses his footing and plops down in the base of the large waterfall. I gasp and hold my breath for a second, terrified the current will sweep him away over the top of the falls, all the way down from where we first began to climb. The falls at the base of the mama waterfall are even more treacherous. They drop down soundlessly, but with violence. They would take Sean. There would be no time for words.

Sean stands up and brushes himself off. No big deal, the look on his face tells me. I huddle close to him, but we chuckle at his close call.

We inch closer to the grizzly waterfall. A family snaps photographs underneath the falls. We watch them grinning like children on their first day of school. One of the little boys is wearing swim trunks, wading in a pool of water. He has collected rocks and piled them on top of one another like a miniature Stonehenge. He had quite the inspiration for his pile of art.

Finally, we each reach a timid hand out to greet the waterfall. The water shakes our hands. It rattles through our entire bodies. Our teeth chatter, as we squint and smile against the spray.

Fallskid falls

“Beautiful,” the shy Sean says confidently. To him, this beauty is a fact. He doesn’t question it. And neither do I.

After our initial transfixion, we accept the sight of the waterfall. Sean and I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and watch the falls as if we do it every day. When we pack our things to leave, I feel a swell of pain in my chest. By now, the waterfall has become a friend.

We look over our shoulders for the last time, reluctant to leave. “Hey, let’s run,” Sean suddenly says.

“I accept your challenge, young warrior,” I say.

Sean and I race each other down the mountain. He doesn’t go easy on me. I don’t go easy on him. We’re not even Sean and Sarah right now as we become one bird that takes flight over the familiar rocks and through the trees we’ve met once before.