For most of last month, I was in the Mt. Shasta area and the Marble Mountain Wilderness, helping to teach classes at the Headwaters Outdoor School. Both places are impressively beautiful, deep green woods and crashing creeks, craggy ridge lines and diving valleys. I saw many animals and their sign: bears, deer, elk, osprey, hawks, woodpeckers, a fisher, the ubiquitous squirrels. In the Marbles in particular there are giant old growth trees who have never faced the saw and stand monolithic, almost too large to grasp.
Near the end of my time there I got the chance to climb Mt. Shasta with some of the apprentices and instructors from the school. Somewhere during the climb I began to draw parallels to the transam - how this great mass of stone, clothed in glaciers and ice rime and snow, rising as it does from the undulant forest, seems insurmountable from its flanks; and yet step by step we climb, kick our crampons into the steep snowfields and raise ourselves until we meet the spired summit. Even now, having done it, the four thousand miles of the transam seem daunting, but it was accomplished, by one pedal stroke, then another.
After I came back from the climb and the school, something seemed to haunt me as I went about my duties at work, repairing rigging and waxing boat hulls. In part it was that the outdoor school operates, at least during the summer, much as I want to live, in a tight-knit community where my connection with nature readily deepens - I was sad to have left that. Still, there was something else, and as I thought about it I realized it was the year anniversary of the beginning of our bike trip.
In many ways a year seems as monumental as a mountain, an old growth tree, a continent to be traversed. It tends to mark the outer limit of our vision for the future - beyond its bounds everything goes into soft focus, the shapes of possible events and even ourselves become vague.
The trip was so vivid, so intense, so impactful, often in ways I couldn't describe. It has been with me all through the time since I returned on the train from the East, and it will be with me while I live. I already know that it is one of those experiences which marks one indelibly. It still seems fresh, undeniably real, not the misted half-recalled moments that a year's passage often makes out of memories.
So it was startling - could a year, that wide swath of time, really have gone by since the advent of the trip, since we dipped our rear wheels in the Pacific and looked East and started peddling?
There have been other moments that stand out along the year's course; I would never call it wasted. Yet compared with the condensed intensity of those transam months, the time since might almost seem vapid. My time in the woods with the outdoor school is in a similar vein as the bike trip - I feel the intensity of connection between myself and the landscapes I inhabit. I have tried to live simply in what I've begun to think of as the interstitial times - that is its own kind of goal - and write. But it comes to a year on now and it seems as if I ought to be setting out again.
In any event, here I am. And if I have learned anything from the transam it is to appreciate small things, a warm place out of the weather, a cup of hot weak coffee, someone looking out for you as you start down the steep slope of a pass. These are part and parcel to me of living by paying attention, of digging into life and sucking out everything one can.
I went back and read through all our blogging during the trip and that is what I came away with: the impression of intensity, and relish. Through all the difficult times, the frozen fingers and damp clothes, the burning legs, the sweltering sun without cease, the brick-hard winds, and through all the good feelings of drinking tea with friends in a warm trailer, the hard deep sleep after a long day of sun and workout, the satisfaction of an avocado-bologna-jackcheese-tapatio wrap - there was a deep underlying feeling of relishing it all. I didn't relish the death of the dog on the canyon road in West Virginia, but there was something so intense about being a part of that, seeing and hearing it die - it is the experience I relish and would not give up. Many of my posts seemed melancholy in tone on the surface, a sense we tend to associate with loss. There was a kind of loss there, but a healthy one - a stripping away of the muffling shroud we so often place between ourselves and sensation, exposing the burning nerve of experience.
Therefore, on the anniversary of the start of the trip, I try to think on relishing being alive - whatever perturbations of work and such arise, relish them too, as I can. A year ago I could not have foreseen what intense impressions would pierce me in the coming months - what will next year bring?
PS As always, thanks to Dave, for being the best brother, an inspiration.
|Dave and I got matching tattoos of this design, a gothic labyrinth reproduced in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.|