I went along to "help", but I was really just a pig-tailed tag-along in overalls–with bare feet. He slowed the tractor to a crawl and the growl of the engine lessened enough so that his voice was audible. "Now, don't tell mama this cause she knows you get upset about these things, but when we die this is all yours." My dad gestured to the forested acres and toward the house, barely visible in the distance. Tears welled up in my eyes at the thought of my parents dying and the world became a blurred mass of tree shapes and golden light. But I didn't cry. I nodded resolutely and said "Ok" with all the solemnity I could muster. I knew, even at such a young age, that I was being entrusted with something important. My hero was confiding in me and I never told my mom about the most meaningful moment that has ever passed between my dad and I. Not even to this day.
Needless to say I was crushed when last year, in light of my now ex-husbands adamant statements that we'd probably donate the land to the state or put it in a trust when I inherited it, my mom said they were planning to change their wills and give the majority to my sister. Again, I said "Ok" and didn't cry–until I was alone. My forever home was no longer mine. In its stead were 14 acres of wild mid-west forest. A few weeks ago I wandered through that land–slowly–traveling trails I'd covered hundreds of times. I absorbed it, etching it upon my mind. I will always cherish that land in my heart.
When you dip below the clouds over Michigan you are greeted by an even patchwork of forest and field. The cities are perfect grids of lights and pavement. Every time the plane begins it's descent and I glimpse Lake Michigan and the familiar flat land I feel happy, safe, home. When you sink beneath the clouds over the west something completely different awaits. The world below is brown and crumpled–wrapping paper 5 minutes after Christmas frenzy. White cloaks the highest peaks, jewels of water glimmer from impossible perches. A feeling of adventure overwhelms me.
I finished my book an hour into my westbound flight. Skymall is only interesting for about 45 minutes. Luckily for me the sky was clear as we cruised the plains and I had a window seat. Soon the rumpled foothills began to give way to something more beautiful.
On my recent visit home, my mom had told me her thoughts after seeing me off on my southbound CDT thru-hike.
"When we flew out of Kalispell I looked out the window and saw those mountains in every direction. And I thought to myself, 'My BABY is going to walk over those.'"
I looked down at the Montana Rockies sprawling over the landscape and recalled her words. Mountains–snow laden and jagged–formed a veritable fortress against passage in any direction. Except I knew better. For a few minutes I traced a route from Glacier far in the distance southward and thought of my mom. I could see her, face pressed to the tiny window, staring at the labyrinth of topography below. Tears in her eyes, she prayed softly. Then as they faded to the distance she would sigh and lean back against the seat–still praying.
My eyes filled with tears at those thoughts, but also with the thoughts of what I saw. Where my mom saw hardship and danger I saw beauty, challenge, and freedom. Happiness. The best moments of my life. My heart ached to be there in the midst of those peaks.
The Rockies gave way to thick forests and flatter land. I watched the Columbia meander its way through Washington. Its enormous, sinuous being called out to me. I've seen its headwaters. I've walked across it near its merger with the sea. I've driven along it. My electricity is probably partially generated by its strength.
Then the Cascades swelled up from the land. I analyzed the topography of the volcano we were heading straight for. Its impossibly deep valleys and pure white crown told me it was Glacier Peak. I mentally traced my many routes in its shadow. Northward I smiled at the sight of Mt. Baker crowning the chain. I spotted the valley where Lake Chelan lay, even without seeing the water. My eyes read the mountains of, home(?), like a topo map. The plane banked and I glimpsed Rainier. We circled. Descending.
I had been practically sobbing over the Rockies. Again my eyes were overflowing. The mountains. My heart is in those mountains. These ones I've walked through. I've run through. Perhaps losing the home I'd been entrusted with wasn't the way to see it. Instead, knowing that I would always have a place gave me the fearlessness to embark and possibly fail. Like training wheels my Michigan home guided me to go and find myself. To fall in love with a foreign place. Home is where the Heart is. The tires touched tarmac.
The time was right for the training wheels to come off.