(The following was drafted a month ago as we were considering how life was turning in such a way as to send us back to Colorado) *
Am I odd to define myself by where I find myself?
Here, now. It is soft, mild, easier. Words I don’t want to use to describe me. I sound too old.
I would rather use strong, wild, passionate, stormy, intense, maybe a little bit gritty.
But those words don’t fit here. And I see now, neither do I.
Here is “nice.” It’s comfortable. I’m used to extremes. Isn’t that why we chose the mountains? High, harsh and frigid. Obviously not. That’s why more people live here. Comfortably.
What is it about those extreme elements of the San Juan Mountains that draw me?
Here, nearly seven thousand feet lower than where I was and about as far north as you can get in the Lower 48.
Here, where the thermometer regularly read a full twenty degrees higher than I was used to all winter as I headed out bundled like a swaddled babe to brave my morning chores.
Here, where the wind sort of puffs. People don’t store spare tires on their shed roofs, hold their breath each time they drive through a snow drift hoping they’ll make it to the other side, and discuss afternoons in terms of how bad and damage done.
It snows, but one could hardly call it a storm. More like a flat white sky slowly merging with boughs on these tall trees and then descending to the monotone curves of the ground which rise a little higher every few days. It’s gradual. I’m missing drama.
Here excitement is noted by current road conditions and the futile battle to conquer the slow, steady stream of the elements. My neighbors exude a passion for plowing. No conversation is complete without discussing the finer points of snow removal techniques. Standards are based upon V-plows on pick-ups, push blades on ATVs, snow blowers, berms, banks, and the underlying assumption of a shovel standing sentinel at every front door and lurking beneath the hatchback of every Subaru. The evolved philosophy of chains, studded tires and four wheel drive.
Snow accumulates, a few inches at a time, then is worked religiously, pushed to the side in monstrous banks traced with lines of mud and spots of gravel. In the eternal freeze/thaw hell the road turns first to slush and then to a sheen of ice smooth enough to qualify as a skating rink, though not quite as fun due to the steep slope. And then as soon as one finishes sanding, a fresh layer of snow just sort of appears and consumes the sand and you start all over again. How many layers of this sand/slush/ice lasagna will reveal themselves in spring?
Even shadows are pallid and mild mannered. The sun only semi-shines. I swear. It too is soft, sweet, demure and polite. What’s with that? Give me some gusto! Burn me! Let me feel you sting my chilly cheeks and smell you on the small bits of exposed flesh when out there in the wide and wild opens mid day you heat my garments enough to peel me down to pale skin. (Forgive me for this confession, for I know it is hardly wise considering the known facts of the sun’s damaging effects on skin, and the ruthless wrinkles I’m revealing already at forty five are testament to the damage already done.)
I’m lusting for biting winds and burning sun and temperatures so low they freeze your breath before it leaves your nose. For views that continue beyond where I can see until the mountains fade into a fiery sky and if I climb of any one of those peaks tempting and teasing me to make it to the top, I can let loose my hair, lay back my head, and howl like the feral beast lying dormant within me and know no one can hear me and wonder what the heck this crazy woman is up to now and I take great comfort in that.
I want to feel alive!
And so what would you do if you were me? That’s silly to ask, for if someone asked me what I would do if I were she, chances are, the answer would be to play it safe and stay. Grow up and give up. And you’re not going to hear that from me.
* A disclaimer to all my Washington friends: I allow myself artistic liberty when it comes to writing, but the last thing I mean to do is put down your beautiful state and my awesome neighbors (trust me on this: I’d trade a few of those from Colorado for the crew I got to live near here in Washington). However, sometimes I write because it sounds good, or feels good, or I like the way the story works. Besides, writing about the better parts of winter, like skis/snowshoes with Tricia, Lynne’s Three Rivers dog training and our agility crew, open minded intelligent and stimulating conversations on one hand or Hobbit House destruction progress on the other with the best bosses we’ve had in years (the only, I confess too, as we’ve been self employed for years until now), and the best bitter ale from the Old School House Brew Pub… those things probably wouldn’t sell stories. (Or maybe, just maybe, they would…). So yes, my love for Washington, at least the Methow Valley and these people, I hope you know is sincere! Only… different…