It’s 2,083 miles home. Driver’s license renewed and COVID re-opening at the juncture where I can leave California, I made it back home for Marcia’s birthday, via rental car. First time I saw her in a year and a half. 2,083 miles divided by 28 hours of driving time equals 74 mph average speed. Two hours of fitful car “sleep” somewhere in Wyoming. Or was it Nebraska? Hard to say.
Josh Ritter’s Where The Night Goes is playing and it’s watery eyes while smiling and singing along. Stopped by redlights on 53rd and Utica Ridge and why doesn’t this town have more roundabouts and I DO NOT speed in the neighborhood. Can’t get the garage door code to work, so the doorbell at the front door which opens and there she is. My goodness, how beautiful. We melt into each other’s arms and she fits perfectly, as she always has but she’s lost some weight and I’m worried but can’t say anything or let it show.
It’s been a hard year for all and a hellish year for many and where we fit on the continuum doesn’t matter. We made it. She’s alive. I’m alive. We’re together.
Five days and six nights.
Heading back west is hard and I distract myself with national parks to distract myself. Badlands and Great Basin, both middle of nowhere landscapes to contemplate erosion and resilience. Make the hike up Mount Wheeler, crossing snow fields with not the best and safest gear for the task, to get to the bristlecone pine groves. They live, in exceptionally inhospitable conditions, for 2,000 to 3,000 years. How many lifetimes have they stood sentinel for? It’s rough going in spots and an ice ax and crampons would make this much safer, but I haven’t gotten this far to turn back without seeing the pines.
The pines live at the edge of the treeline. They live at the edge of where nothing – nothing substantial – can live. Where nothing – nothing substantial – can grow. I can see the edge and will not stop until I get there. It would be better if I had better gear but I don’t. Why didn’t I toss the Lowas, crampons and an ice-ax in the trunk? Slipping, feet cold. Transfixed on reaching the edge of where nothing can survive. The snow even ends at the treeline due to lack of shade. 4,000? miles in and I’m slipping away heading west and I’m going to see the pines, and get out of this snow.
In summer, there’s a trail most anyone can hike to get there. There’s vestiges of the trail that are passable, and I try to stick close to it. Energy bar and lemonade and a bit more slipping and snow down my boots and … what’s the word … determination / stupidity … and I finally make it.
I suppose this is the weird part, but it happened. I find a tree in the grove near the trail and touch it. It’s thousands of years old. Been there long before my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather. Will be there long after my grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren. Sentinel to it all, this bristlecone grove is as sacred a place as any chapel that’s ever been built. I say, out loud, in the wind, “Say hi to the Sweetpea for me”.
Me and the pine, we have a deal. I’ll be resolute, and she’ll say hi to Amanda when she wanders this way on her quest to visit each national park. Then maybe her child, and the children who will follow.
Take in the view, swap out my socks, find the peace that comes with nature. Have a cookie and head down. Do the hundreds of miles on US 50, billed as the nation’s loneliest highway for good reason. Exhausted, sleep somewhere in northern California before returning to Seaside. 4,902 miles, and back at the One-Ga-Low. Alone, with all the gear that would have made the pine climb easier.
It’s 147 steps from my parking space to the front door of City Hall. I park in the farthest spot from City Hall because that’s basic leadership. Well past five years of walking the 147 steps, always arriving ready to move the city forward. The deal with the pine near the trail is still the deal, but I don’t have 2,000 to 3,000 years.
I need to get home.