16. The First Winter – Life Out Here
Well, I can’t blame my tardiness on an Indian Summer.
Did summer even happen? It’s a valid question after months of cold rain turned to mere hours of autumn gold which turned to snow, making our pre-Halloween world look a lot like Christmas.
Did fall even happen? I ask this because as fireweed turned red – and I was supposed to be writing for Season Two of the Life Out Here Podcast – we were visiting family in the Pacific Northwest, and then in San Antonio where a balmy eighty degrees constitutes fall weather.
I tried, though. At the Great Wolf Lodge in Grapevine, Texas on the eve of the scheduled release of Season Two, I sat in the bathroom and recorded Episode 16. I was going to follow through. Despite the tin-can sound and the fact that I was in a bathroom at a Great Wolf Lodge.
But there’s no need to rush these things, and if you’ve been waiting, thank you. Here’s Season Two which begins with the story collection called, “When Summer Was A Bluebird Day.”
The First Winter
I was in Prattville, Alabama dreaming of my friend Helen’s stained-glass creations, of rainbow-colored fiber and Eagle River art shops I had yet to see with my own eyes, and then, I was lost in an unknown valley filled with brambles. Shadowed by sentinel peaks, yellowed and bare.
Valley of brambles.
Bleak, desolate valley of brambles.
I awoke, unsettled.
“I think I found the house,” came Zach’s voice.
It was the darkest hour of night, and suffering a strange restlessness myself, I obliged him. Bleary-eyed, I looked through online photos of a house for rent in Eagle River. The house was blue. Cafe lights reflected on exotic countertops. We’d have to care for the houseplants. A dream house perched in a valley hemmed in on all sides by sentinel peaks, yellowed and bare.
Our new landlord led us down the slope of his backyard to the place where a month before a brown sow and three cubs had passed through.
“I’ve never come across one out here, but don’t be embarrassed to yell out every few minutes,” he said.
An arch of alder canopied a clear stream and led to an intersection of animal trails. “Hike up to the timberline and you’ll find the trail,” he said. He explained that it connected this trail and that route and I noticed the brush was tall and dense enough to conceal one hundred berry-picking bears. Maybe a few alder-munching moose. There, at the crossroads, directions to the secret blueberry patches were disclosed, and the tour of our new rental was complete. There, all the light of my innocent joy went dark. I had bear on the brain and no voice of wisdom could shake it.
Mountains are masters of illusion. An angle or slope or trail observed from the pavement is not the same angle or slope or trail observed from the mountainside. The miraculous alpine slopes are, in fact, the unforgiving and perpetual battleground of creatures fighting to live another day.
Alone with our boxes and furniture askew, we compared our preconceived notions to reality. In our house of windows, the Chugach mountains were more grandiose than pictured. Dizzying. Overwhelming.
Really, you must see for yourself to understand the ways of a mountain.
Further sequestered by a pandemic and the inevitable isolation that comes with mountain living, and with summer dying before my eyes, I did what had to be done. I rolled-up my sleeves and set to work making a home out of a stranger’s house. Daylight slipped further south. The shadows of sunset came sooner on ridges sentinel and yellowing.
yellowed and bare over
a valley of brambles.
a bleak, desolate
valley of brambles.
At last, I made the connection.
I was in the valley of my dream.
Then came the first winter and blues I couldn’t shake.
in Three Acts
the sky gives snow
to high country tundra
and fireweed gone
to the crystalline
a cold veil drawn
the white world
teems with life
and frosted-breath trailing
through a forest
iced and skeletal
it’s the illusion
of celestial elusivity
keeps us pursuing
what’s already imbuing
the mountains give back
what was given
by way of surrender,
a posture as life-giving
as it is beautiful
now silt stream
now river full-grown in pursuit of the Gulf ofAlaska
down to the bedrock
of God’s Earth
melding and shuffling
gives unhurried birth
to mountains anew
accepts tokens of the season
a tundra gone emerald
and fireweed in bloom
May what is given
be returned tenfold
over and over again.
I love a new transition until the new wears off. Then, the first year or so is a battle for contentment. How do you manage transition? Do you embrace it? Do you struggle? Muse over this privately, or spark conversation on the Instagram page @katouhere, the Life Out Here Facebook Group, or right under this blog post.