Here we are, our last precious day of summer has come and gone. I gotta say, I felt the very distinct energy of Autumn roll in two Saturdays ago. The colors seemed to change instantly, and the air felt and smelled so much different. Her arrival brought in thick, beautiful and fast moving clouds into Scenic. Watching them frolic through the trees and mountains just outside my window is unreal. Seasonal change is more abrupt and intense in the mountains. It’s quite beautiful here and I feel very lucky to be a part of it. I’m trying to cherish every moment, because I know that this, like everything else, won’t last forever. There is no place else I’d rather be, and life is good.
There is a fresh coating of snow covering a portion of the earth just a few miles east of me, while wildfires still burn. There are hurricanes and tornadoes. If this summer hasn’t been a clear opportunity for us human-folk to hear Mother Nature utter a giant “Fuck you,” then I don’t know what more it’ll take. I think we ought to give her a listen, no?
This summer has been one hell of a giant ride. I bet you could feel it, too. Somehow (somehow), I was able to cram a whole new life into it. It dawned on me, that I have probably created some of the most memorable experiences of my life in this year alone. I feel so raw to all of these new things, and I don’t feel like the same person anymore. To try and sum it up into words is impossible. The best I can do is to share a few of my experiences thus far, and how their lessons have changed the way that I live.
I moved up here less than a week after coming back from my long Montana and Wyoming trip. It took me a while to get somewhat comfortable with being here. It’s funny how we anticipate and dream of things to happen a certain way, but really, they hardly ever turn out the way we expect.
I’m sitting here writing this next to a fire in my living room, and I finally feel like I’ve settled into a rhythm. I was laying on my couch a few days ago, looking up through the window at the massive trees outside, it was at that moment where I felt the distinct realization of truly being at home for the first time here.
However, when I first got here, I was flustered, scared and pretty lonely. My dog kept looking at me weird, and the cabin was a mess. I certainly had more than a handful of “what the hell have I gotten myself into” moments. I felt like I was in a giant land-locked boat, and I was worried that I’d do something really dumb to either set the place on fire or blow it up. I couldn’t figure out how to charge my devices and keep myself connected to the rest of the world. I took cold showers for the first couple of days, because I was afraid to fire up my water heater. I eventually mustered up the courage (the courage to turn on a water heater?!) I went under the house (and made my dog keep me company, of course). I pulled my hoodie over my head and kneeled as far away as I could from the tank, while still being able to reach my fingers to the pilot. After a few minutes, I got it to fire, turned the knob to the “on” position, and off we went. It’s that easy?! It’s that easy! Taking a warm shower felt pretty damn good afterwards.
And the lessons just kept coming.
If there is one big thing that being here has taught me, it’s how to live without complacency. I have to be more deliberate here. I can’t live my life the way that I did before. Living more freely comes with a price, but one that I’m quite willing to pay because it allows me to live in nature and to experience my life much more vividly.
We always seem to tell each other how quickly time goes by, and I believe it’s often because we become (at least somewhat) complacent. We become comfortable for too long, and experience too much of the same thing over and over again without much challenge or growth. Happenings seem to blend together to create the kind of time that accumulates and rushes us through our experience here.
I didn’t realize just how addicted I was to my cell phone until I got here. There is one spot in this house that my phone gets reception, and its a very tiny pocket right in my living room window. I’m very lucky to even have reception, because most people in my community don’t have that privilege. My phone sits in this window at all times, and I have to choose to use it. No more falling asleep with my phone in my hands, or wasting time mindlessly sifting through social media posts. Just this one thing has opened me up to the countless moving parts all around me.
I’ve also become much more aware of my experience with food. Cooking and eating it is such a primal activity, and I didn’t even realize how much I was depriving myself of that experience until I got here. I no longer have the option of frequent PCC luxury trips to save time and spend money on tasty, prepared meals. The nearest grocery store is about a half hour drive away, and it’s certainly no PCC. I have to be good about planning my grocery shopping, which typically happens when I’m in the city for a couple days each week. The result? I don’t spend nearly as much money on food anymore. I eat healthy. And, I have to cook again. The ritual of this is so very important. It’s such a simple but important task to cook our own meals. We have become so over-civilized and fast-moving that we often times forget about the most simple habits that make us human. I hiked 12 miles yesterday, was starving when I came home, and had to spend TIME preparing my meal, instead of buying and inhaling it.
I have to conserve energy, so I try to use my generator as little as possible. This means I have to choose when to have the lights on and for how long. It’s gotten quite a bit colder up here over the past week. I’m grateful that the smoke from the wildfires has cleared, it means I can build a fire instead of use propane to heat the house. The wood stove is so much more efficient, and let’s face it, feels much better anyway. I love waking up in the morning, starting a fire, playing outside with my dog, then coming back inside to warm up and drink my coffee.
“Impatience is Bad”
I’m quoting my neighbor Eric, here, whose response this was to me after I explained to him how I fell off my back deck. “Geez, be careful! ” he said, “There’s no one out there to pick your ass up.” I think what he said nicely sums up what I learned from an accident that could’ve ended up a lot worse.
There are always quirks and things to learn about living in a new place, and the cabin is by no means an exception to this rule. I was cleaning up my deck a few weeks ago. My heart sank to pit of my belly when the door shut and I realized I had accidentally locked myself out. I remember the instant panic that set in as I tried to twist the doorknob with no success. My cell phone was inside, along with my animals and a couple of burning candles.
My panic jumped instantly to finding a quick solution to my problem. I remembered that there was a spare set of keys in the woodshed, so of course, I had to retrieve them. My hands were shaking and I was moving quickly. I scurried to the south side of the deck, where it was closest to the ground. I climbed over the railing and proceeded to lower myself down to the ground. I got my feet to about 4 feet above the ground getting ready to jump down, as a rotten piece of wood came apart under the grip of my right hand. It was a piece of wood that kept the door to the bottom of the house shut, and as it crumbled under my hand, the door swung open, throwing me to the ground and violently slashing my inner forearm over old, rotten wood. The cabin kicked my ass.
I sat there on the ground for a moment, realizing that the impact of the actual fall didn’t hurt me. The injury on my arm didn’t hurt very bad at that moment either, but then I looked down and realized what I had done. 5 very deep, bloody gashes from where the wood had penetrated my flesh and traced future scars. I was seeing fatty tissue on my own body for the first time like that. I realized that the reason it didn’t hurt too bad was because I was in shock. I quickly stood up and composed myself, knowing that I had to get back in the house. I knew that I needed medical attention, but I couldn’t get myself anywhere without my car keys, which were inside the house. I ran into the woodshed and grabbed the keys, came back to the house, went through the giant swung-open door and pulled out a large, heavy ladder. Funny how adrenaline works. I couldn’t get into the front door, because I had awesomely locked the inner sliding lock while I was still inside the house. I had to get back on the deck and let myself in the same route that I had locked myself out. So, I took my time as I positioned the ladder to a stable place against the deck. I knew I didn’t need to fall a second time.
Once I climbed back up, I tried all the keys on the ring to let myself in. Finally, one of them worked, and I was back in the house. The relief I felt was like an insane amount of weight instantly falling off of my body.
I turned off the generator, blew out the candles, rushed into the bathroom and proceeded to clean my arm with soap and water. I squeezed about half a tube of Neosporin on it, and wrapped my arm in gauze to contain the bleeding. I paced around the house for a few minutes while my eyes filled with tears.
My friend Jenn was on her way up from Portland to spend the weekend with me, so I sent her a text message telling her sloppily what had happened along with a picture of my arm. I was starting to replay the scenario in my head, instantly beating myself up and trying to come up with other ways I could’ve handled the situation. Had I stopped and taken a few breaths instead of allowing my impatience to lead my decision making, it all might have played out differently. I was so angry at myself for thinking and acting so quickly, and I desperately wanted someone to tell me that I wasn’t stupid.
Well, mistakes and accidents are always going to happen. I’m not stupid, but I certainly have a giant scar on my arm to remind myself to take a few minutes and some big breaths before making important decisions. I can now think of several other ways that I could’ve executed my actions in a safer, calmer way. These things happen to us so that we can learn from them. Part of me thinks I needed that fall to happen, so that I’m intimately aware of the fact I am self sufficient out here.
I drove myself to the urgent care clinic in Monroe. I cried in my car as I realized that I really am out here alone. Most of the people who own cabins here do not live here, and those who do, live here in the winter. I learned that I need to carry my cell phone on me at all times when I walk outside the house, in case I get myself into an emergency and do indeed need someone to pick my ass up. And, get some more spare keys made. And, allow myself to take 5 and think before I act.
I really hope that I can explain this one well, because there is a lot to it. So far, it has been my favorite thing about living here. I am alone here, but somehow at the same time, I’m not.
Being quite a few miles away from the nearest store and not having a neighbor next to me at all times felt jarring and lonely at first. I felt pretty isolated, and was anticipating going back to Seattle.
I will never forget my first trip to Safeway in Monroe, 4 days after moving here. Before living here, I used to HATE going to the grocery store. I would dread having to go there and battle crowds on my way home from work, after sitting in traffic for at least an hour. I’d get in the store, quickly get what I needed to eat, and rush home.
My, how those roles have reversed! That first trip to Safeway was quite different. I spoke to people and made eye contact with them. I noticed that when I created genuine conversation, it made me feel good, and I could tell that the people I was interacting with felt good talking to me, too. When you don’t have people surrounding you all the time, you learn how to appreciate them quite a bit more.
I find that this is now always the case when I spend a couple of days in the city, visiting my friends, taking care of my errands and teaching my classes. My experience with the people I interact with during those activities have much different qualities. I enjoy teaching and talking with my students even more than I did before. I realized that my teaching qualities make their days better, too. I feel more spoiled being able to see my friends now. And this whole experience has helped me to see the people who value having me in their lives more clearly. It’s humbling and quite moving for me to feel it.
Isn’t it funny how the exchange of energy works? I really feel like I pulled a full 180 here.
My community here is SO much different than it was in Edmonds. I live around MUCH less people. However, I am so much closer to the people that I do have in my community here. I am floored by how much the people in Scenic care about me and want me to do well here. I was so worried that I would feel judged as being single, female or naive.
Damn, was I wrong. It took me a little while to reach out to people around me and ask questions. But the moment that I opened up to them, their generosity and willingness to connect came back to me ten-fold. Everyone is curious about me, and so respectful and kind. We have many commonalities. I now feel very safe up here, actually quite a bit safer and wanted than I felt in the city. Life feels so much more meaningful here. I am happy.
I started doing some volunteer work at The Mountaineers lodge just a few miles away at Stevens Pass. They opened their big, beautiful old cabin to PCT thru hikers this summer. I instantly made community there. I can’t say enough about the joy of giving back to communities that are close to your heart, it is so incredibly nourishing for the soul. I made friends with folks who are like-minded and very kind, and got to meet some amazing people off the trail that to my surprise have turned into friendships as well. I’m so excited to be a part of that community as time goes on.
I’ve also started to embrace the fact that I’m awkward. I’ve met so many other awkward people up here. We’re all a little awkward, and it’s kinda the best sometimes.
The grand sum of my experiences here thus far all boil down to one thing that I want you to know and trust: If there is something, ANYTHING you dream of but are afraid to entertain it, please, please please please, take the leap. I promise that you will land, and your courage won’t lead you astray. Life is short, and your heart is calling you to do certain things for good reasons. By nourishing your dreams, you’re gracefully paving the way to attract exactly what you need. This is natural law, there’s no way around it. It may not pan out exactly how you imagine it to, but that’s ok. The universe really does have your back, you know. All you have to do is take the leap, and the rest will come.