After a month of not writing, I feel the need to explain my absence—somehow summarize the struggles of these past weeks so that you will understand what I am going through, what I am feeling, yet the magnitude of that task has only fed my hesitation to write, so instead of explaining, I will not.
In Boulder, Colorado, I write a piece that no one else will ever read and entitle it “Storm.” Then I seek refuge in the mountains. I leave my car at a trailhead at 9,000 feet and follow an unmarked trail up, up, up. I hike through an aspen forest and trace the contour of a river, climbing up the steep muddy slopes along the rocky riverbed. The earth is damp and the creek is swollen, and thunderous waterfalls send mist rising into the forest. The path disappears into a streambed and then reappears. Elk prints are pressed into the mud. When the trees clear I’m surprised at how high I’ve climbed already; I do not deserve these mountain vistas just yet. Suddenly I find a pile of dirty snow. I have reached the snow line. I looked up at the snowy peaks from far below and now I am above the snow. I move onwards through clearings, alpine meadows strewn with snowdrifts. I am ready to set up camp, but the trail refuses to let me. My feet carry me onwards and upwards and I am now at the whim of the trail, biologically compelled to follow, unable to not seek what lies around the next bend. I feel a pang each time an unknown path departs the trail and climbs deeper into the mountain.
In my haste to climb, I ignore the graying of the sky, the growing urgency of the wind. A rumble of thunder rolls through the mountains as the first drops of rain land on my skin. I’m not carrying rain gear. I’m at 10,500 feet and the cold is real. The rains come, and I throw off my pack and dig furiously to pull out my tent. There is no clearing, no flat space. I lay the tent out on the side of a rocky hill, fumbling to slip the poles into place. Across a valley, the river roars down a five hundred foot slope. The gray totally obscures the sunlight that was catching the peaks. The tent goes up wet. I strip off my wet clothing and huddle inside naked and shivering, searching through my soaked pack for anything dry. The food I am carrying needs to be cooked. Rocks poke up beneath me.
When the Storm eases, I pull my wet jeans back on and emerge. The sky is still gray and mist rises from everything. On a rock, beneath the dripping branches of a pine tree, I manage to get a fire going with mostly dry bark I strip from the trunk. I lay larger wet branches beside the fire until they dry out enough to burn, and steam billows upwards. The rains return and threaten to extinguish the flames, but I crouch beneath the needles and keep the fire going long enough to boil water and cook my couscous. I retreat to the tent to eat as the downpour continues.
Finally, the rains pass. I emerge from my tent into a raging mountain sunset, clouds on fire and color pooling in the valleys between peaks. I rekindle the fire and stand beside flames sending up billowing smoke and steam. The wood sizzles and pops. Across the valley, the river thunders down, carving a path through the mountain. The snowdrifts near me are catching pink light. Scent of burning pine: rains come and I cannot stop them. My face caked with ash, I am a speck nestled into the side of a great mountain. I can feel the rhythms of the earth returning to me.