Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Home

What does home mean to you? Is it a place, a person, or where you grew up?

The sense of home has always been problematic to me. I was a seasonal nomad for many years, living in 15 different states, moving the same stuff around the country. I had boxes that remained unpacked, because what was the point, if I was leaving again in six months?

There are a lot of places I could live. I like looking out of car or plane windows and seeing the lights of houses or dirt roads leading up to remote cabins, wondering what it would be like to live there. In all the places I called home, even if it was just for a few months, there were good things, even in the midst of months of darkness and cold (Alaska) and "rock fever"(living on one of the Hawaiian islands). When people say, "I couldn't live there" about a place this bothers me. Obviously they physically could. They might even find something great about it.

But even if you could physically live anyplace, would it feel like home?

I've lived in my current town for 10 years, longer than I've lived anywhere since I left my parents' house. I know the best routes to get places. People ask me about hiking trails. I have a small but mighty support system. I could still decide to pick up and leave, but even though I'm retired, I have no plans currently to do so.

Is it home? I think so, but a lot of places could be, too. I've lived in bunkhouses, a tiny trailer surrounded by wild bunnies, and a cabin without water, heat, or a bathroom. For a brief time they were all home to me. I've lived by the ocean, in the desert, and in the mountains. For the most part, I loved them all. More than a place, I carried home with me. It wasn't a particular town or house. It was in my heart instead.



Tuesday, May 11, 2021

i'm a guidebook

 The four young men approached hesitantly as I unloaded my bike from the truck. They looked a little out of place in a national park, dressed in skinny jeans and with tiny fashion backpacks. One sported a leather jacket that would look fitting on the streets of New York. 

"Excuse me," one said hopefully. "Where is the Valley of the Sun road?"

I resisted saying that they were standing 50 feet from the Going to the Sun road, a road they had just been driving on for the past 10 miles. Instead, I informed them that the road was right over there, and no, they couldn't drive on it any farther (they must have seen the gate, as it would have forced them to stop), but they could hike or bike on it. They moseyed uncertainly off, unsure of their plans.

This isn't unusual. It happens all the time. I have tried to perfect an unapproachable air, in order to maintain a bubble at backcountry campsites, airport gates, and to discourage serial killers, but it must not be working too well, because people still come up and ask me questions. They even do it in foreign countries. While standing in an immense immigration line in Chile, a person once bypassed all the locals to ask me something in Spanish. 

Maybe it's the years of being a park ranger, where I had to keep a straight face while providing answers to questions like, "how many native American ruins haven't been discovered yet?" and "what time of year do the deer turn into elk?" Or perhaps it's from being a supervisor and having to herd cats, I mean seasonal employees.  Or maybe I seem non-threatening, not the serial killer type. Even acquaintances regularly ask me about trail conditions, or where they should hike, often without inviting me along (this is annoying).

I returned from our bike and hike and started loading my bike back into the truck. A man approached. "Sunset?" he asked. I might as well not fight it. I pointed toward the lodge and told him to go sit there. He hurried off happily to get some photos. I hope they were good.




Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Bike-n-hike

I valiantly pedaled my cruiser bike up a hill. Behind me, some little kids on bikes were threatening to catch up. I'm not really a biker, I realized, as I got off to walk my bike through an icy section. The kids elected to stay on board. This proved to be a poor decision for one of them, as he slipped and eventually fell. Being a kid, he was unhurt and gamely got back on his bike. But the delay allowed me to pull ahead.

The road through the national park doesn't open to cars till late June at the earliest because of the massive snowdrifts that must be cleared. When it does open, the lake I wanted to hike to is an easy 5 mile round trip from the trailhead, and overrun with tourists. Now, biking or hiking 12 miles round trip is the only way to get to where the trail starts. Hence, the bike.

Hardier cyclists than I hurried by, bound for higher elevations. But I turned into the campground and left my bike there, slipping on microspikes and starting up the trail. Nowhere in sight were the summer hordes, sporting questionable footwear and carrying portable speakers. A few people sat quietly at the lake, drinking in the view: I knew how many there would be, by the bikes left at the gate.

After awhile I turned to go, and headed back down the trail to my trusty bike. I pedaled the six miles back to the parking area, feeling pleasantly tired and happy to do something different (and to at least stay ahead of some little kids).