Like all proper geeks, Matthew and I think a good Saturday is spent in front of screens–together, in separate corners, with breaks to cook for each other and talk through the small missed moments of our weeks.
But growing up, I spent many Saturdays on a train. From Palo Alto to Mountain View to explore their superior multi-story library. From San Jose to San Francisco to see my grandparents. From Palo Alto to Menlo Park, again for their library, this one a single story but with a fanciful stained glass mural with a unicorn over the entrance.
In college, it was the same way. I would get on a train every other weekend to go and see Matthew. Those trips–whether 26 minutes or 8 hours–were a special recharging time for me. I felt like they were my chance to get outside of myself, to get past swimming through the week’s lapping waves and onto a spit of beach, to see further and more broadly into my life.
In DC, I had to use planes to see Matthew, which have never provided me the same freedom as cars. That was probably because each plane trip starts with an invasion of privacy from the Transportation Security Administration and includes such layers of dehumanizing bureaucracy that nearly all joy has left flight, making it hard to recharge once I emerged from the tunnel of security theater. I seeing the world from up-high, but the emotional price to get there is too much today when I could climb a mountain instead.
To enable me to have my new job in Olympia, Matthew and I bought a car last month. She’s a bright yellow Honda Fit named Éowyn. I’ve put 1500 miles on her since we bought her. Some of those are my weekly commute, some are travel as part of my membership in a weekend leadership institute for progressive politicos, the Institute for a Democratic Future.
But several hundred of those miles are from what we’re calling our Monthly Adventures. The last weekend of every month, we go somewhere new. They’re to keep me from hopping a train on the weekends to somewhere far of, turning that urge to travel into another way we can explore our current state together. We’ve driven far to the north twice, once a month ago and once this weekend.
The last two Monthly Adventures we were trying to make it to the Boulder Falls trail, one of the more popular day-hikes if the line of cars told the truth when we saw when we arrived yesterday after bumping down 2 miles of gravel road. On last month’s adventure, we didn’t quite make it to the trail, instead enjoying the northern town of Arlington, particularly the bar-cum-club-cum-restaurant Mirkwood and Shire. The same building houses the Mordor Tattoo Parlor on its second story. Last month we were late out the door, so we enjoyed driving through the more rural areas, and getting a feeling for what Washington state is without Seattle in the background, and some hobbit-themed decor.
This month we got a early enough start we were able to hike the trail. It was beautiful:
About a mile along the trail, we saw the river:
It was a weird, milky-blue. My guess is the snow melt is bringing a rush of grey-silt down from higher up on the mountain. It was not any less milky close-up:
I had scrambled down some boulders along a side-path to get to touch the water. I am not unfamiliar with the power of mountain rivers after more than 2 decades of summers spent in the high Sierras. But there were funny new formations here I haven’t seen in my home-mountains:
It looks crinkled like aluminum foil, but it was soft like a dolphin’s skin. I’m not sure if that trip down to touch the water was part of the park-sanctioned path. Here’s what the return trip up the hillside looked like:
But that lack of permission made it even more special, more real to experience. Somewhere sliding down boulders and batting whippy spring shoots away from our faces, I unhinged my tightly-managed emotional box from my week and started filling out the space around me. There’s more space to be big under the great trees.
We didn’t make it to the end of the trail, leaving that journey for another weekend. But we did see a tree that would be welcome in Fangorn:
With branches that looked like this:
We did find a small waterfall:
And a larger one:
It was the kind of hike to inspire poetry, particularly when we came upon a stand of birches, the kind Robert Frost might have rode:
It is also a walk for John Muir quotes, like the one referenced in the title. It took me a many years of walking on dirt-and-rock paths with clean air in my lungs to get what he was going for when he said:
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” ― John Muir
But I think it was the same thing I find when I am on a train: travel gives me a clearer vantage point for my introversion. Walking down a wooded path, I find myself able to see many more of my internal justifications and systems, and to reengineer them to fit inside myself more easily.
Matthew and I didn’t find any big decisions in the woods, but that quiet and space meant something bigger. It was a place to water our roots, to unfurl our leaves, and to just breathe freely.
Next month I think we’re going to visit one of the islands in the Sound, to see what it feels like to be surrounded by water and still on land. I’ll report back.
“So was I once myself a swinger of birches;
And so I dream of going back to be.
It’s when I’m weary of considerations,
And life is too much like a pathless wood
Where your face burns and tickles with the cobwebs
Broken across it, and one eye is weeping
From a twig’s having lashed across it open.
I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.” — Robert Frost