Osceola East

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I venture into the mountains with one enduring self-indulgent purpose: escape. If you were to ask my ego, she may admit other ambitions- adding a notch to the proverbial belt as she rises to meet a new summit, perhaps. But escape is the only force that drives hard enough to pull me from pajamas into hiking clothes early on a Saturday, calling me out into a world beyond my steaming morning coffee.

Escape is the lightness underfoot fueled by the addition of steps between my boots and parked car. And she’s like a bad habit, escape, luring me to her with promises that this will just be something sweet, and innocent, and fun, a lighthearted romp in the woods. But then by the end of the day as I trudge ever closer to my parked car the heaviness of my boots overtakes me again and I know, as I’m released back into the world, I will return for more. It might not be tomorrow, or even next week, but sooner or later I will find myself back in my car, racing from my home and my life, bursting out onto the trail, and as I run to her, my muscles screaming and my dry throat aflame, she will meet me, my escape, and I will be hit with the realization that I had never left her behind; I’d been tethered to the promise of her all along.

And then there are days like today, when the long weeks have accumulated on my shoulders and tired my eyes, and I tear into the woods yearning for escape like a junkie moving in on her fix, and she evades me. I find my path, instead, lined with hikers who have insisted upon bringing the whole world with them- their screaming kids, their yapping dogs, and technologies that ping and ring and capture images so overrun with the faces of all who travel the trail that there is no space for trees, rocks, or vistas within their frames.

At first, I make friends with denial and walk with her for a time. She speaks kindly enough, drawing me to her side with reassurance that my escape is just around the bend. But before long even she is drowned out by the sound of trekking pole armies scraping against granite, their bearers whooping battle cries through the trees. I hike faster, but around the next turn is another battalion, this one led by a fat anxious dog whose equally endowed owner refuses to step aside, thereby forcing me to yield to his stodgy pace. Together, owner and dog beat down my already weakened denial until she walks with me no more.

In her absence, I realize there will be no escape for me here. Not on this trail. Not today. I am angry at her for evading me, and at myself for craving something beyond my grasp. And then it is just the mountain and I, enveloped by the world I was so racing to leave behind. My pack tugs at shoulders that have gradually crept toward my ears as if mirroring the stance of a vulture crouched, scavenging. At least the weight of the pack draws them down. My feet sweat. I feel no lightness there today.

They trudge me on to the summit, to a view that is at once beautiful and empty. And as I turn on my heels and begin my descent to the car, I am struck by the awareness that I am just another member of the army of noise, the yapping dogs, and the selfies whose cameras click on in the absence of shutters. And I wonder, what mistresses drew them out their slumbers to the call of the mountain this morning?

Perhaps I am not the only one who set to trail today chasing my escape. Did any of us wanderers find her in their travels, or are they, like me, stumbling home with boots muddied and hopes downtrodden? My eyes look to the trail who has failed to bring my escape today, but has nonetheless led me through another journey, its rising and its fall. My pride shines in the realization of this feat, light that nearly dissolves the shadow of her absence. And then, tugging from a deeper, less visible space, temptation whispers she will be so much sweeter, my escape, next time. Spinning silk persuasions that lure me in, a fly to a web. I will find my escape. I am tethered to her, after all.

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Grid Lock

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Ever since our little cabin was introduced to the grid, I’ve been struggling with what to write. It’s as if gaining a functional bathroom and kitchen cost me my credibility (in addition to our savings). I no longer read by candlelight, carry in drinking water, nor depend upon a gravity fed hose for a shower. I’ve considered writing about living in a tiny house, but it turns out the cabin doesn’t qualify! According to Wikipedia, the information superhighway’s most reputable source, our 550 square foot home is too big to be a member of the tiny house club. With an area of less than 1,000 square feet, it is considered a “small house,” but really who wants to read about someone who lives in a small house? It just sounds noncommittal to me.

While I’m in love with our new home, I miss writing about our off the grid adventures. Would I trade it all in if I had the chance? Dismantle the electric lines and channel the well water back into the earth? Jim likely would, but I’m not so sure. I love being able to cook again, and grow veggies in the garden that is, as I type, being sprinkled with water from our well.

So, while I ultimately have no desire to turn back time, I do question what I could possibly bring to the table now that I’ve surrendered my off the grid status.

The response came to me this past Sunday en route to the summit of one of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers. It was a particularly steep section of trail; the kind that reduces me to a series of footfalls and labored breaths. For a moment the obsessively goal-oriented cogs in my brain ceased their spinning in a sort of forced meditation. I was a left, then a right. An in, then an out. I was heat. And salt. And wet.

And I was awake. I was again the woman in a small, off the grid cabin. The introduction of convenience had not erased her. But it had made it harder to listen.

Here she was, not at the trailhead nor the summit of the mountain, but somewhere along the meandering trail that bridges the two. Here, in the quiet space between departure and arrival where I am nothing but a set of feet rising from and falling to the earth.

And she reminded me on Sunday that we are all wanderers along the trail. We build ourselves up with sturdy boots and reassuring maps, but at our center we are a teetering balance between lost and found. As I crept up the side of that mountain, this acknowledgment of my own precariousness filled me with certainty. It was the familiar wave of abundance and gratitude that swept over me in the cabin as I read by the light of candles or showered from a hose. It is the space of being without. The emptiness, that if we resist or exhaust the impulse to fill, will move us closer to ourselves and connect us more intimately with each other.

She is what I hope to share with you. The voice that I hear in these still places. Perhaps from the side of a trail, in the dip of a paddle, or from the turning of a ski as it floats down through a mountain of white. Maybe on occasion we’ll hear from her in the cabin, on evenings when the lights are switched off and the candles lit.

Those who enjoy being with her as much as I do may continue to tune in to this journey, though I give no guarantee or endorsement of where it will lead. For others more interested in the technical side of outdoor adventuring, I’ve begun writing gear reviews for a website called Trailspace. I may occasionally post those reviews here in an effort to balance my cerebral and philosophical minds (you can see examples of past reviews by clicking this link to my Trailspace Profile).

Here’s to making space for listening. And for holding hands through yet another leap of faith.