I walked down to the waterfall-ish spot yesterday, meaning, the place where water travels down through the higher peaks and runs jagged through the rocky wash. The actual waterfall trail I avoided because: people. (I’m always teetering between feeling madly in love with the world or else heartbroken that the world feels so mad. I think you know what I mean.)
In any case, I fought my urge to snarl at everyone I passed and put my little feet, one in front of the other, up the hill to the wildish yonder near my house. To my delight, the CHP was forcing everyone to turn awkwardly around (I saw a few five-pointed turns) at the end of the small road that leads out to what is usually the trailhead parking for the waterfalls. Turns out it wasn’t plowed after the recent storms left five or so feet of snow, which meant it was snow underfoot most of the way down to the water.
Every time I go down to that big wide wonderful gap in the woods, I don’t know why I resist it. Actually, I do: it’s mostly because of people. I want to commune with Nature without hearing Jack Stick and his buddies hooting and hollering at the miracle of running water; I swear, give the wrong people a little bit of wildness, and it’s so foreign and novel to them that the only way they know how to celebrate it is to ruin in.
I digress. The hike out to the water was so lovely and fresh and the crunch and squeak of the snow underfoot was such an alive sound. Since no one could park at the trailhead (or even near it), I saw not another soul while I traversed the icy creek and stood dumb-struck and in awe of all that water that fell from the sky at just the right temperature, became solid, and then decided to stick around for a while.
There’ve been times living in the mountains has felt so isolating this last year — sometimes I have to fight to stay here, reminding myself of how natural it is to be this close to nature. But standing there gawking out at the wonder of white, I felt really glad I live here — that I can walk out my door and stand in that thick blanket of winter, shimmering and sparkling from every angle; that I can know the confusing exhilaration of the sun shining on the white-hot snow, so aware of both fire and ice at the same time, and the way the human body can respond with familiarity to both.
I get asked a lot if I’m afraid being alone like this, whether it’s living up here, building a fire on some pine slope or in various other solo-ventures over the years. My answer falls short of my constant awareness of how not alone I am, and still how lonely it can feel to be not alone in a world like ours feels sometimes: stark in its seeming lack of solidarity.
The thing I mostly feel, actually, is held. I feel more alone doing the dishes at my kitchen sink than I do out in the world, even when the world has felt really harsh. There’s something cathartic, even, about loneliness as a result of the choice to go and be and do and see. I’ve had nights hunkered down in a tent, just me and my dog, wracked with grief and full-blown ugly cry because LIFE — and still known the gentle hush of comforting silence. Because deciding to learn what alone feels like through living is so very different than the true aloneness of barely breathing and calling it a life.