I'm adventuring just now. Be back soon!
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don’t much care where--" said Alice.
"Then it doesn’t matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
"I can't do it." That's what I told Kenny on the first hike we took last year. "I'm hot and I'm tired and I just... I just can't."
We're used to hiking in the 60s... maybe the low 70s. We've hiked in the rain and in hailstorms. We've hiked through thunderstorms with lightning striking all around. We've even hiked through snow. But this day was hot. Eighty degrees hot at 8-9,000 feet above sea level. That's rare and I wasn't used to it. I couldn't get in to the groove, and we were on an easier hike - only going a little over 3 miles round trip. Which means I'd hit a wall somewhere around Mile 1.
He stopped and took a drink with me. "I'm having a hard time, too."
"Really?" I asked. "You?"
He's climbed Flattop, Meeker, Otis and Taylor among others. He's climbed Long's Peak - 15 miles round trip, up to 14,000 feet.
"It's never easy," he said. "It's up. It's always hard."
I'd forgotten. I forget every year. We started on slowly and slowly I remembered what I know. The things that I have to learn over and over again, year after year. The things that only hiking can teach me.
I started listening to my feet.
The trails are fine gravel and the treads on hiking boots make a beautiful crunching sound. I'd forgotten that I have to listen to it and let it do all the work. Crunch crunch crunch. I find a rhythm that I like and I hike to it. It counts out the hours the minutes the seconds. A drumbeat. A heartbeat.
And I quit looking up. If you ask me at the base of any mountain if I can hike it, I'd tell you no. I just take step after step. Head down, eyes on my own work. I never focus on the whole trail. I only go to the top. "Just get up," I tell myself. "Just get up." It's my mantra. Only to the top. I give it everything I have. I know that if I get myself to the top, it's only natural that I'll get back down somehow. But I don't hike 8 miles at once. I hike 4 up. The 4 back will take care of itself when it takes care of itself. I don't listen to the voice that tells me I can't. It's not evil. It's just afraid. I tell it it can take one more step. Then one more. For hours I talk to myself, and I listen to my feet answering.
And then I remember what the top is like. The views are spectacular, but the wind blows cold against you. It's rocky and bare and everything you love is small and far away. It's great to reach the top, but we only spend an hour there. So on a longer hike, that might mean 7 hours in the trees and in the meadows and in the valleys. So I remember that I'd better love the trees. I'd better love the trail.
I'm not in the greatest of shape. I'm not the thinnest person. I don't go to the gym. I like to take walks but walking in Kansas is nothing like hiking in Colorado. Really, there's no reason that I should be able to hike the way I do except that I want to. And for me that's enough. I get out on the trail and I put one foot down and then the other. Lather, rinse, repeat.
And here's the funny thing. I like it when the mountain asks for more than I have to give. I love the tired relaxed feeling of having done it. Nothing else brings me greater peace.
That's the biggest thing I forget when I come back down.
Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes the thing I want to write feels impossible. Sometimes I can't see well enough to take pictures. Sometimes I need a mountain to remind me:
To listen to my own rhythm.
To go slowly.
That if I only walk long enough, I will get SOMEWHERE.
And that the best part isn't just at the top.
The best part - as hard as it is sometimes - is right here.
I wanted a box of words as my souvenir. I know that sounds crazy. Words are free, you don't have to buy them. But these words, I wanted.
It was the end of summer and our last day in Colorado. The clouds dipped down over the mountains, blotting them out. It was drizzly and gray and it was our last chance to buy souvenirs.
I'm not big into shopping. Not grocery stores, not clothes, not flea markets, antique malls, thrift stores not anything where I walk into a store and plunk down money and take away yet one more item that I have to find room for at home. Sometimes I get frustrated. Isn't there anything to do besides shop? I'd rather feel the sun on my face or go on an adventure.
Except. This store.
Every year when we go to Colorado, I have to go into this store. And usually I leave with a big bag of stuff that I have to find room for at home.
They sell notecards and stationery and expensive glass dip pens and scented colored ink. They sell blank books and postcards and tubes of paint and markers and books on journaling and watercolor papers and fancy composition books and hot coffee and slices of pie.
And while other tourists are buying mugs and sweatshirts with "Colorado" and "Estes Park" and "Rocky Mountain High" written in swirly cursive letters over them, I am loading up a bag with notebooks and pens and tubes of paint.
In the last 10 years, it's changed owners 3 times and still somehow stayed the same... though it's never been quite as good as it was with the original owners. Two years ago, it went up for sale again, and if I would've told my husband that I wanted to buy it, he would've quit his job immediately and moved there. We even picked up information on it.
Sometimes I wish we would have.
But it's fun to visit every year, to pick out vintage photos of Estes Park or old fashioned-style composition books and dream of being out on the trail with a little set of paints and a pen and the blank page.
This year, it was a box of words that caught my eye and I couldn't stop thinking about it.
It's a Magnetic Poetry kit. And here's the kicker: I already have the same kit at home - well, the same words. I bought one a long time ago and loved the little phrases that poured out of me. I'm no poet. But I love moving words - it's like taking a building and moving the bricks around. It's like taking something solid and turning into water. And I always feel like I write a little better after playing around with it.
But the difference with the new kit is that it comes with a metal box. You just open the lid and use it to build tiny crazy poems. You can carry it in your hands and lift the lid and secretly write about the world. I love that. That you can carry words in your hands.
With raindrops still stuck in my eyelashes, I stood in the store and picked up the kit and set it back down after I told myself it was more practical to get a kid's set and use it with Bud. Then I dropped it in the silent store and felt all eyes on me, so I picked it up and carried it around - a little box of words that could magically turn into phrases like: sucking the moon's honey or I cry for the day that isn't gone.
It was the book Poemcrazy that made me want to buy a magnetic poetry kit in the first place and make up little spells, little magic phrases, break open language and let it pour through my fingers.
I read it again two summers when I'd just discvered my phone's camera and an app called Vignette. I sat at the pool while my kids swam and sometimes I had to close the book because it made my chest feel like it was swelling open. I knew that even though the book was about words, about poetry, it was also about those little pictures I was making on my phone. Little tiny camera poems - a shadow cast on a sidewalk, a dead sign splintering next to a country road, the sparkles jumping off the water. They were poems even though they weren't written in words.
And here I was standing in the store holding a box of a thousand unwritten poems. I didn't want to let it go.
So I bought it. And even though I walked across the parking lot with raindrops still in my eyelashes feeling guilty, I was so happy carrying my little box of words. I didn't need it. I mean since I have the same words at home, the only thing I paid for was a metal box - which is really quite silly when you think about it. But is it sillier than milk? Or coffee? I could just as easily tell myself to be happy drinking only water.
Carrying that little box through the drizzle almost brought up a story in me. Almost. It's still gray like looking down into the murk of a Magic 8-Ball and not yet seeing the white of an answer. But I'm still moving words around. Waiting.
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