Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the fire cannot hear the firefighter.
We electively rose before dawn, eighty fires worth of smoke still poaching our air, sleep still determinedly stuck to our faces. We sat with small waves of nausea as our stomachs realized the time (4am) and the place (no longer asleep). Eggs and tator tots and sausage we ate, merrily but quietly, the three of us thinking about moutains and miles and the day’s adventures quickly approaching.
Mountain seasons are short, harsh, blunt. They don’t do small talk. They won’t take you halfway. They’re big, impressive, grandiouse in scale and, often, especially if you let them, in body brutality. They don’t know how to be anything else.
Mountain miles, in somewhat amusingly stark contrast, are long, sometimes deceptively so. They like to play Coyote, to meander, to keep you guessing. Five miles can easily feel like eight, or ten. Four-and-a-quarter on swithbacks to finish the end of an intense twenty-two, headlamps on and flames eerily bright in a ridgeline above you, like fifteen.
On the reverse, nine can feel like nothing. Can feel like leaping and dancing and unadulterated joy. Can feel like a gift you didn’t know you were being given. That’s how the first nine felt last Saturday. Like I was flying, floating, couldn’t quite believe where I was allowed to be going. 3600 feet to 5400 feet and then up to 8,000* in a mile-and-a-half via a mountain pass meant for climbing with only my legs. No part of it had my feet yet seen, and no part of it wasn’t stunning, much of it breathtakingly so.
As it inevitably does, the landscape is changing.
Two Saturdays ago a much anticipated rainfall accompanied by a dazzling thunderstorm ignited over eighty fires in our area, most of them not measly in scope or size or damage still being done. We sat in a backyard belonging to dear friends as if around an unwelcome campfire, watching flames devour hillsides mere miles away. Neighborhoods continue to be evacuated and crews continue to work tirelessly to ensure homes are safe, but we hadn’t seen rain since mid-July and so now we’ve canyon after canyon after beloved canyon aflame, and countless acres of dry forest for constant kindling.
It’s hard not to feel frustrated, to feel helpless, not to take it all inherently personally: everything ablaze and nothing we can do to stop our sacred mountains from burning, to save our favorite trails from providing fuel to flames firefighters don’t have enough manpower or resources to fight. Nothing we can do to rescue our breathable air and our stars from the blanket of smoke suffocating them both.
This is where we live. Where we play. Where we regularly and happily challenge sinew and synapse to be better, stronger, faster. What we so routinely deem our backyard even while it feels brand new nearly every weekend. We could spend 365 consecutive days playing amidst the myriad mountains that surround our great valley and still not exhaust every trail there is to run, every combination of vista-laden fun.
It’s hard not to take it personally because it’s supposed to be. It’s home. This beautifully imperfect home we’ve found in this verdant valley laden with chosen family and surrounded by peaks we’d climb daily if afforded the ample time.
It’s ours, and now it’s also his**, and even as no transition is seamless and we’ll trip and stumble and conversationally climb our way from a dynamic duo to an even richer trio, even as we’ll wait (im)patiently for access to trails our feet have memorized-to survey the damage and discover what was left untouched-our home has grown, and our resilient trails will endure, and all of it feels full, feels happy, feels overgrown with laughter, with hope, with forward momentum and myriad adventures into the great unknown.
*[Notes for posterity's sake, trivia] The second highest my legs have ever carried me. (The first was Brokeoff Mountain, at 9,235, in June of this year.)
**Which is to say: Welcome, Josh!*** I’m so glad you’re here.
***Matt’s brother, who is super fantastic (it runs in the family; weird, right?) and moved from Minneapolis/Wisconsin to live and run trails and adeptly listen for cell phones falling off the roofs of cars with us for the year upcoming.