My mother raised me under the belief that monotony was a worse state than death and she lived her life accordingly. She taught me to do the same. About five years ago, my mother died. Her death steered my course from any sort of seated, settled life and into a spiral of new experiences.
For months after she left, I skulked about each day feeling slumped and cynical and finding everything and everyone coated in the sickly metallic taste of loss. I noticed that without her I had allowed myself to settle into a routine of mourning. I pitied myself, knowing what she would have thought. Life was already so different without her there and I couldn’t continue with life as if nothing had happened, so I jumped from my stagnancy in attempts to forget my mother’s name and to destroy the mundane just like she had taught me to. I had to learn how to live again, and I wanted to find something that would always be there if she wouldn’t. I had a purpose. I tried to start anew and drown myself in change by throwing all that I knew to the wind and leaving my life behind.
I was running away from the fact that she had died for a long time. When I first picked up and left, I befriended the ocean and for many months I soaked my sorrows in salt water and *****, hoping to forget. I repressed my thoughts. Mom’s Gone would paint the inside of my mind and I would cover it up with parties and Polynesian women.
I was the sand on the shores of Tahiti, living on the waves of my own freedom. A freedom I had borrowed from nature. A gift that had been given to me by my birth, by my mother. I tried to lose myself in those waves and they treated me with limited respect. More often than not, they kicked me up against their black walls of water. They were made of such immense freedom that many times made me scream and **** my pants in fear, but they shoved loads that fear into my arms and forced me to eventually overcome the burden.
As time slipped by unnoticed, I created routine around the unpredictability of the tides and the cycle of developing alcoholism. One night after a full day of making love to the Tahitian waters, my buddies and I celebrated the big waves by filling our aching bodies with a good bit of Bourbon. By morning time, a good bit of Bourbon had become a fog of drink after drink of not-so-good *****? Gin maybe? I awoke to the sight of the godly sunrise glinting off of the wet beach around me, pitying my trouser-less hungover self. With sand in every orifice, I took a swim to wash me of the night before. I floated on my back in silence while the birds taunted me. I felt the ocean fill every nook and cranny of my body, each pulse of my heartbeat sending ripples through it. My heart was the moon that pressed the waves of my freedom onward and it was sore for different waters. The ache for elsewhere was coming back, and the hole she left in my gut that was once filled with Tahiti was now almost gaping. It had been a beautiful ride in Tahiti but I had not found solace, only distraction. The currents were shifting towards something new.
She had always said that the mountains brought her a solace that she never felt in church. They were her place to pray and they were the gods that fulfilled her. She told me this under the sheets at bedtime as if it were her biggest secret. I had delusional hope that she might be somewhere, she might not be gone. I thought if I would find her anywhere it would be there, up in the clouds on the highest peaks.
The next day, I was on the plane back to the States where I would gather gear. The mountains had called and left a needy voicemail, so I told them I was on my way.
In Bozeman, the home I had run from when I left, every street and friend was a reminder of my childhood and of her. I was only there to trade out my dive mask for my goggles. I had sold most of my stuff and had no house, apartment, or any place of residence to return to except for a small public storage unit where I’d stashed the rest of my goods. Almost everything I owned was kept in a roomy 25 square foot space, the rest was in my duffel. I’d left my pick-up in the hands of my good man, Max, and he returned her to me *****, gleaming, and with the tank full. I took her down to the storage yard and opened my unit to see that everything remained untouched. Beautifully, gracefully, precariously piled just as it was when I left. I transitioned what I carried in my duffel from surf to snow. I made my trades: flip flops for boots, bare chest for base layers, board shorts for snow pants, and of course, board for skis. Ah, my skis… sweet and tender pieces of soulful engineering, how I missed them. They still suffered core-shots and scratches from last season. I embraced them like the old friends they were.
I loaded up the pick-up with all the necessities and hit the road before anyone could give me condolences for a loss I didn’t want to believe. I could not stray from my path to forget her or find her or figure out how to live again. I did not know exactly what I wanted but I could not let myself hear my mother’s name. She was not a constant; that was now true.
My truck made it half way there and across the Canadian border before I had to set her free. She had been my stallion for some time, but her miles got the best of her. It was only another loss, another betrayal of constancy. I walked with everything on my back until I eventually thumbed my way to the edge of the wild forest beneath the mountains that I had dreamt of. They were looming ahead but I swore I caught a whiff of hope in their cool breeze.
With skis and skins strapped to my feet, I took off into the wilderness. My eyes were peeled looking for something more than myself, and I found some things. There were icy streams and a few fattened birds and hidden rocks and tracks from wolves and barks of their pups off in the distance. But what I found within all of these things was just the constant reminder of my own loneliness.
I spent the days pushing on towards some unknown relief from the pain. On good days there fresh snow to carry me and on most days storms came and pounded me further into my seclusion. The trees bowed heavy to me as I inched forward on my skis, my only loyal companions; I only hoped they would not betray me on this journey. I could not afford to lose any more, I was alone enough. My mother was no where to be found. The snow seemed to miss her too and sometimes I think it sympathized with me.
I spent the nights warmed with a whimpy fire lying on my back in wait hoping that from out of the darkness she would speak to me, give me some guidance or explanation on how I could live happily and wildly without her. Where was this solace she had spoken of? Where was she? She was not with me, yet everything told me about her. The sun sparkled with her laughter, the air was as crisp as her wit, the cold carried her scent. I could feel her embrace around me in her hand-me-downs that I wore. They were family heirlooms that had been passed to her through generations, and then to me. The lives that had been lived in these jackets and sweaters were lived on through me. Though the stories hidden in the seams of these Greats had long been forgotten, died off with their original masters, I could feel the warmth of their memories cradle me whenever I wore them. I cringed to think about what was lost from their lives that did not live on. I was the only one left of my family to tell the world of the things they had done. I was all that was left of my mother. She had left her mark on the world, that was clear. It was a mark that stained my existence.
These forested mountain hills held a tragic beauty that I wish I could have appreciated more, but I felt heavy with heartache. Nature was not always sweet to me. For days storms surged without end and I coughed up crystals, feeling the snowflake’s dendrites tickle at my throat. I had gotten a cold. Snot oozed from my nostrils, my eyes itched, my schnoz glowed pink, my voice was hoarse, and I wanted nothing but to go home to a home that no longer existed. But I chose to go it alone on this quest and I knew the dangers in the freedom of going solo. The winds were strong and the snow was sharp. New ice glazed once powdery fields and the storms of yesterday came again and there was nothing I could do except cower at the magnificence of Nature’s sword: a thing so grand and powerful that it has slayed armies of men with merely a windy slash. I was nature’s *****. I felt no promise in pressing on, but I did so only to keep the snow from burying me alive in my tent.
And I am so glad that I did, because when the great storm finally passed I looked up to see the sky so hopeful and blue bordering the mountains I knew to be the ones I was searching for. I recognized them from the bedtime stories. She had said that when she saw them for the first time that she felt a sudden understanding that all the many hundred miles she’d ever walked were supposed to take her here. She said that the mere sight of them gave her purpose. These were those mountains. I knew because the purpose I had lost sight of came bubbling back out of my aching heart, just as it had for her.
These peaks as barren as plucked pelicans and peacocks, but as beautiful as the feathers taken from them, were beacons in the night for those in search of a world of dreams in which to create a new reality. From them I heard laughter jiggle and echo, hefty and deep in the stomachs of the only people truly living it seemed. When I was scouring the vastness of this wilderness for a sign or a purpose, I followed the scent of their delicious living and I guess my nose led me well.
A glide and a hop further on my skis, there the trees parted and powder deepened and sun shone just a bit brighter. Behind the blinding glare of the snow, faces gleamed from tents and huts and igloos and hammocks. Shrieks of children swinging from branches tickled my ears, which had grown accustomed to the silence of winter. As I approached this camp, I saw they were not kids but grown men and women. It seemed I had stumbled down a rabbit hole while following the tracks of a white jackalope. I had found my world of dreams. I had found them. I had found a home.
I was escaping my lonely, wintery existence into a shared haven perfectly placed beneath the peaks that had plagued my dreams. A place where the only directions that existed were up and down the slopes and forwards to the future. Never Eat Soggy Waffles did not matter anymore. By the end of my time there, I had even forgotten my lefts and rights. The camp had been assembled with the leftovers of the modern world and looked like a puzzle with mismatched pieces from fifty different pictures. At first glance, it could have been a snow covered trash heap, but there was a sentimental glow on each broken appliance that told me otherwise. Everything had a use, though it was not usually what was intended. The homes of these families and friends were made of tarp or blankets or animal hides and had smelly socks or utensils or boots or bones hanging from their openings. There were homemade hot springs made of bathtubs placed above fires with water bubbling. Unplugged ovens buried in snow and ice kept the beer cooled. Trees doubled as diving boards for jumping into the deep pits of powder around them. The masterminds behind this camp were geniuses of invention and creation. Their most impressive creation was their lifestyle; it was one that had been deemed impossible by society. This place promised the solace I had been searching for.
A hefty mass of man and dogs galumphed its way through the snow. Rosy cheeks and big hands came to greet me. This was Angus. His face grew a beard that scratched the skies; it was a doppelganger to the mossy branches above us. But his smile shone through the hairs like the moon. There are people in this world whose presence alone is magic, an anomaly among existence. Angus was one of them. Not an ounce of his being made sense. The gut that hung from his broad-shouldered bodice was its own entity and it swung with rhythms unknown to any man; it was known only to the laughter that shook it. Gently perched atop this, was his shaggy white head that flew backwards and into the clouds each time he laughed, which was often. Angus fathered and fed the folks who’d found their way to this wintery oasis, none of which were of the ordinary. There was a lady with snakes tattooed to her temples, parents who’d birthed their babies here beneath the full moon, couples who went bankrupt and eloped to Canada, men and women who felt the itch just as me and my mother had. The itch for something beyond the mundane that left us unsatisfied with life out in the real world. All of them came out of their lives’ hardships with hilarious belligerence and wit, each with their own story to tell. The common thread sewn between all these dangerous minds was an undeniable lust for life.
The man who represented this lust more than any other was Wiley and wily he was. He’d seen near-death countless times and every time he saw the light at the end of the tunnel, he would run like a fool in the other direction. He lived on borrowed time. You could see that restlessness driving him in each step he took. Each step was a leap from the edges of what you thought possible. Wiley was a man of serious grit, skill, and intelligence and never did he let his mortality shake him from living like the animal he was. He’d surely forgotten where and whence he came from and, until finding his way here, had made homes out of any place that offered him beer and some good eatin’. Within moments of shaking hands, he and I created instant brotherhood.
The next few days turned into months and I eventually lost track of time all together. I could have stayed there forever and no day would have been the same. I played with these people in the mountains and pretended it was childhood again. We lived with the wind and the wildness the way my mother had once shown me how to live. I had forgotten how to live this way without her and I was learning it all over again. We awoke when we pleased and trekked about when weather permitted, and sometimes when it didn’t. Each day the sun rose ripe with opportunities for new lines to ski and new peaks to explore. The backcountry was ours and only ours to explore. We were its residents just like the moose and the wolves. My body grew stinky and hairy with joy and pushed limits. Hair that stank of musk and days of labor was washed only with painful whitewashes courtesy of Wiley. Generally after a nice run, we’d exchange them, shoving each other’s faces deep into the icy layers of snow, which would be followed with some hardy wrestling. By the end of each day, if we didn’t have blood coming out of at least two holes in our faces then it wasn’t a good day.
I never could wait to get my life’s adventures in and here I was having them, recalling the unsatisfied ache I had before I left. Life was lost to me before. I had forgotten how to live it after she had died. Modern monotony had taken control until my life became starved of genuine purity and all that was left then was mimicry. But the hair grown long on these men and smiles grown large on these woman showed no remembrance of such an earth I had come from. They had long ago cast themselves away from such a society to relish in all they knew to be right, all their guts told them to pursue: the truth that nature supplies. Still I worried I would not remember these people and these moments, knowing how they would be ****** into the abyss of loss and time like all the others. But we lived too loud and the sounds of my worries were often drowned in fun.
We spent the nights beside the fire and listened to Wiley softly plucking strings, that was when I always liked to look at Yona. Her curls endlessly waterfalled down her chest and the fire made her hair shimmer gold in its glow. She was the spark among us, and if we weren’t careful she could light up the whole forest. She was a drum, beating fast and strong. Never did she lose track of herself in the clashing rhythms of the world. She had ripped herself from the hands of the education system at a young age and had learned from the ways of the changing seasons f