At the summer’s beginning, I was incredibly excited to blog about living ‘off the grid’ in the North Cascades. I hoped to document a simple existence in the woods, but quickly found out that such an existence made blogging– surprise!– quite difficult. After my first couple of weeks working at the North Cascades Lodge, the satellite internet connection that had limped dutifully along slowed to a crawl, then slipped into a coma. I found that absolutely any state of the weather had the potential to put us offline. Between four and six p.m. the sun would shine through the office windows and overheat the outdated equipment– boom, we’re offline. Rain would refract the satellite signals; offline. Heat, clouds, wind; offline. No cellphones, no internet. Even the pay-phone quit.
It was a good thing. In lieu of thinking about how to write what I experienced, I experienced it. I was a lotus-eater. Every week slipped serenely into the next, each day filled with wonderful strange things I quickly forgot. A month felt all at once like a year and a blink of an eye.
In a community with less inhabitants than my immediate neighborhood I grew up in, there’s a capacity for strange and beautiful stories to unfold that would be impossible elsewhere. I went to an 80th birthday blowout for a cat named Mackie– half the town of Stehekin was in attendance. My boyfriend played in the town band that included the postmaster. There were salsa nights and unbelievable hikes and high-stakes games of spoons.
I hiked out of Stehekin last week– this tiny, remote town in the North Cascades, with one dead-end road, my home for the last four months. I spent less than five days away from that place over the course of the entire four months.
We tend to think of life as a journey up– up a proverbial mountain, maybe– higher up and away from chaos and confusion and suffering, towards clarity and equanimity. Growing up, I definitely expected this would hold true for myself. I figured as time went on I’d get a clearer picture of what I wanted. I thought getting older would mean, you know, feeling wiser. In some ways I do, but in most ways I am ever more confused. I hoped traveling might help give me a feeling of transcendence. I have since given up on this idea.
Now I think that life could be a journey down, descending closer and closer down into the core of meaning in everything. Getting into the messy heart of it. Discovering, as e. e. cummings put it, “the root of the root and the bud of the bud”. Finding something visceral, complex, and true. In the last year I’ve found myself feeling most alive in moments that are just overwhelmingly human. Biking down the Stehekin road in the pouring rain, covered in mud, hiking through dazzling wilderness wrestling with feelings of guilt and shame, and cleaning up blood and meconium off a carpet at 4am at a home birth.
This isn’t transcendence, it’s deliverance.
So now I’m back home in Maryland/DC. It’s good to be with family and just take stock. Figure out my next step. Revel in gratitude for the amazing experiences I’ve had. I’ll be writing, writing, writing, and trying to hold on to these feelings of beauty and awe and gratitude. Thank you, thank you, thank you.