So many paths

the_mapYesterday I climbed rocks, farther and farther up the path, then scrambled for a view down into the Taylor River canyon. I’d say it was a bird’s eye view, but above me, a hawk floated ever higher, never once flapping its wings as it rode the wind beyond the mountain’s peak.

Today, I’m sitting at my kitchen table with a few bills – the only thing worth saving after I separated the wheat from the chaff of ten days of mail. The tea kettle is on high – something wrong with the starter keeps clicking and won’t let me turn it down, so that will be one more call to add to the list I started at the airport that includes the dentist and the hair cutter, the high school and the fence guy. I’m going to sit here and nurse my tea as long as I can because the next thing will be to deal with the cat poo I found last night in my 2 AM stupor and couldn’t be bothered to pick up. Now, I’ll need to be bothered.

Unbothered was the theme of the trip. Unbothered to do much other than rearrange the van in the morning and stare at a map over a cup of lukewarm coffee. Unbothered to do much other than decide where to place my foot next on the trail – which rock looked steadier. Unbothered to make any decision in the evening other than to close my eyes.

Could I be less bothered? By the cat shit. By the wake up call to find the login and password to Powerschool because it’s registration day and we need it now. By the list of things to do at work – people to call, meetings to set up, articles to write. None of which feel to have much significance beyond the doing.

I think of the people I met on the trip and wonder at their paths. The woman I talked to at the diner who owns a pot dispensary with her daughter. After her daughter dropped out of college and tried California but came home broke, she asked her, “What are you passionate about?” “Weed, mom.” So mom used some of her retirement funds and bought a dispensary. They work there together (“It’s great mother-daughter time!”) and are making a go of it.

There was Troy, who I sat next to at the Beanery in Gunnison as we also talked to Lori, who was washing dishes. Lori had owned a brewery; now she helps her best friend out at the Beanery. When I asked how old the coffee shop was, she pointed to the young man working the register and said, “I remember looking at the stick that showed his mom was pregnant with him in the back room right after we opened. So I guess,” she squints her eyes and looks toward the ceiling, “twenty years.” Troy had been a working artist, but he discovered a knack for finding gemstones and now he’s a “miner,” traveling through southwestern Colorado and down into New Mexico and California looking for aquamarine and other stones. If he digs up a half dozen or so good samples a year, it’s enough to squeak by on. He has Medicare and has used it three times – times when he really needed it – but he figures that will go away soon with all of the BS happening in Washington, and “I’m not getting any younger!” He’d helped to hang the paintings of an old friend on the coffee shop wall – they were mountains done in thick paint with a hallucinogenic quality. I spied one that was only $90 and bought it on a whim. “That money will really help Joe; he’s been hurting.”

There was the guy hosting our last camp site. He’d come out from New Jersey – promised a job by a friend after he’d been evicted from his apartment. He seemed to have only a bike and a tent, despite being a solid half hour by car from anything remotely civilization-ish. There were others – snapshots – the woman who’d driven down from Boulder to sit in the Cottonwood Hot Springs for hours on end, positioning herself so the water dripped on the crown of her head. The woman smoking outside of the laundromat in Buena Vista who got locked out of her car and called who I thought was a locksmith but ended up to be her grandfather. The guy in Steamboat who struck up a conversation only to discover he’d graduated from the University of Iowa ten years ago and said it was the only place other than Colorado he’d ever want to live. The cashier at the Safeway who said she had 4 jobs and hadn’t had a day off in 43 days. “But I choose to live here,” she says before I can register ire at her situation. “It could be easier, but it wouldn’t be here.”

So many stories. So many paths. None of them unbothered entirely, but some less bothered. Some chosen with a conscious compromise:  benefits – no so much; adventure and beauty – full on. “Normalcy” – not so much; time with a family member – yes! And sometimes these choices backfired. Other times, walking the spine of the dragon led to peace.

I could do that. That’s what my friend Mary has said for the past few years as she’s considered retirement. Greeter at Walmart. Pourer at a winery in California. Apple store employee. Volunteer at daycare. To each, a recognition that indeed, “I could do that.”

It’s reassuring to see the myriad of other paths, and to consider them as real options – opening a restaurant, starting a moving space, getting trained in trauma. None a cinch. Each one would entail watching my feet carefully, choosing the right rock, testing my weight. Each could include a bad fall with sprains and bruises – or worse. And each would include unspeakable beauty.

My tea is almost gone, so that means I need to go clean up the mess, start my day, finish the summer, and move into fall. But I linger over the trip, feeling it move inside of me. Stars fill my head, rivers gush through veins, craggy ledges in bones, paths appear under one foot and then the next. Take a step.




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