Wilderness, Real and Metaphor

Sleeping In The Forest

I thought the earth remembered me, she 
took me back so tenderly, arranging 
her dark skirts, her pockets 
full of lichens and seeds. I slept 
as never before, a stone 
on the riverbed, nothing 
between me and the white fire of the stars 
but my thoughts, and they floated 
light as moths among the branches 
of the perfect trees. All night 
I heard the small kingdoms breathing 
around me, the insects, and the birds
who do their work in the darkness. All night 
I rose and fell, as if in water, grappling 
with a luminous doom. By morning 
I had vanished at least a dozen times 
into something better. ~Mary Oliver

Amy says: Harriman State Park is the place we landed after our mad dash across the United States. We arrived on Thursday for the start of Maya’s residency as part of the River Writing Retreat. The park is located on the 11,000-acre Harriman Wildlife Refuge in eastern Idaho. It’s situated in Henry’s Fork Caldera, which was formed 1.3 million years ago by an eruption of the Yellowstone hotspot. It is nested inside of the Island Park Caldera and the calderas share a rim on the western side. It’s 18 miles long and 23 miles wide and its curved rim is plainly visible. Those are the facts.


What the facts don’t tell you are how beautiful the mist is rising over Henry’s Fork in the early morning as the sun touches the rim, how bats sound as they squeeze themselves close together for warmth in the walls of a small wood cabin, how the Tetons glow gold and purple in the distance, how the path around the lake smells like pine and sage and marsh, how a pair of trumpeter swans greets you when they slice the sky above your head, how a log on the fire will still be smoking slightly in the morning carrying the sound of raucous laughter from the night before as it drifts into the air, how a stubborn horse on the path will bring you copious amounts of delight. How all of this will remind you of your own wildness. How your crayfish hunting, fort building, milkweed growing, forest bathing, vine swinging girlhood self will be reawakened around a circle of storytellers. How your inner child will yodel when she hears the bugle of an elk. How you will recognize the wilderness of your soul in your wife’s giddy gaze.

Maya says:

It’s hard to believe it’s only been 8 days since we left New Jersey. It feels like 8 weeks, 8 months, 8 years. There are moments when I think of this experience as “our time in the wilderness,” but “wilderness” feels like a misnomer. In certain ways, New Jersey felt like a wilderness to me - it took me a long time to adjust to the reality of my surroundings, the reality of my reality. Often, I pushed against it, resisted it, wondered what I was doing there. There were so many unfamiliarities that I was easily overwhelmed and off-kilter. I would often return, in my mind’s eye, to my aerie of 171 Duncan Street, the last place in San Francisco I lived before heading east. Amid the noisy rumblings and tumblings of teenage boys, I craved the sweet silence of my little junior 1-bedroom apartment, the soft carpet under my feet, the little deck overlooking a quiet backyard, the orange chair I wrote in, the privacy and remove. Life in New Jersey was about presence, about being right here, right now, about what is instead of what was. It took me several years to neutralize my longing, to turn my gaze to more local real estate, and then to learn how to welcome and appreciate and savor where my life was finding itself. And yet, the constancy, the comfort, the compass, was always Amy. Where she was was home. Where we were was home.

And so perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me that where we are now, and what we are doing, feels less like wilderness and more like groundedness. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me how easy it feels to travel this road together - we’ve had a few practice runs, after all, with our traveling projects over the years. Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise me how clear and open my mind is, contemplating this next uncertain chapter ahead of us. Perhaps I am simply rediscovering what I’ve known for years, and there’s a relief and delight in that reunion. Yesterday, watching the sun rise over the Caldera in Idaho, it felt like I was seeing the color orange for the first time. Next to me, Amy was looking out the same window, adrift in her own thoughts. The light shone on our both our faces, equally.