Not just another drop in the ocean


Sunrise over Sammamish, Rock Meadow

I took the trail to Shy Bear Pass, the same one in the Issaquah Alps I walked with Ginger last spring, before we moved to Germany. I looked down at my legs, the zip-off trekking pants and poles Eberhard had in the Austrian Alps last summer, and gave to me before we returned home last month. And on the switchbacks without a map I let myself spool out to decide which way to go.

I picked Lily up in a rental car when she returned from 5th grade camp; the Pilot had a safety recall for airbag problems on the driver’s side, sometimes discharging pieces of metal through the lungs, causing fatalities.

We went to Fred Meyer to buy school supplies, thought we could cut corners since school is almost over, but still spent a hundred dollars, and rationalized it thinking they’re probably getting a better education than they got in Germany, though it’s hard to say.

Lily feels isolated from her old friends because they talk about things she’s not interested in (namely, other people) and the iPhone 6. She seems unsure where to slot in, now that she’s changed more than they seem to have, because who wouldn’t, after all we saw and did. I had a similar hard time communicating with a woman at the AT&T about my phone and what I wanted to do with it, like I’d swallowed a potion pretending to be someone else and the potion was starting to wear off.

And I went through our debit transactions one by one for about a year, before we left the States, which was like scrolling through scenes in our past, footsteps on an enchanted map. It still seems we spend so much more than you’d think possible, and we calculate how much we need to earn to keep living here, how to save for college and our retirement, to still have time to enjoy it.

It was in the Alps last August this trend of Eberhard always being right started, on the second day when the weather was really bad and he and his 70-year-old friends got out their plastic ponchos, with cone-shaped heads that made them look like druids with their trekking poles, and I resisted even though he offered me one, thinking my gear from the Northwest was better, but it wasn’t, and after a time he implored, please put it on — and once I did I was glad (it fit over my backpack too, and made us all look blocky and foreign in our movements, like none of us belonged there).

And on the A6 driving to Frankfurt he pointed to a stand of trees on the side and said, don’t those remind you of being home in the States — they had the same red bark, tall, leaning and awkward-looking but ganged together, locking arms against the wind. It was like a stretch on the Olympic Peninsula off the 101, when you finally get to the Pacific but can’t see it yet because it’s hidden from a line of tall, leaning trees and on the other side it’s just hundreds of miles of open space and ocean, with nothing to get in its way.

I decided I had to give myself a daily schedule so I could get things done and focus, as a stay-at-home dad living with my mother-in-law for two months, while Dawn works about 60 hours a week and we finish out the school year, and the lease on our house about three miles away, which our friends rented so we could move abroad.

Our house is so close to Beth’s we can walk there in about an hour, through a country setting with horse ranches and meadows, people advertising fresh eggs for sale, some with goats in the yard.

I leave room in the schedule to get back on the trail, which I’ve done many times in a week, thinking if I keep climbing I’ll at least lose some weight, even if I don’t figure out what to do next with my life, to trust that I know.

In our bedroom at my mother-in-law Beth’s, I hung a cast-iron salamander on the wall we bought in Germany, a symbol for the nearby winery called Felsengarten, which means rock garden, home to the gray- and brown-colored lizards Ginger used to chase on our walks up the Himmelsleiter, as they’d appear and disappear in the cracks between the stone steps. At night from my bed, the lizard tail is squiggly like the string on a balloon that someone’s let go of, that’s disappearing in the sky — or maybe it’s just me who sees it that way, and I’m the one who needs to let it go.

Driving home after one of the first serious mountains I climbed here, when I thought I might die, we looked back in the mirror at the mountain getting smaller and I imagined Brad and myself on it, how small we seemed in comparison, two fleas on the back of some big, white beast hoping to hang on unnoticed. It’s hard to remember and good sometimes too, how little most people care about what we do and who we are, why instead we must, so at least someone knows we’ve been here.

Post title from the Echo & the Bunnymen song, “The Cutter,” 1983.


Categories: travel, writing

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 replies

  1. As the cat once said, no matter which way you go, you’re going somewhere.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. just keep on keeping on and your children will be your footsteps, what you leave behind

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So, so good. Favorite parts include feeling like a potion’s wearing off (though this made me think of drinking and that terrible feeling of losing a buzz) and fleas hiding on the back of a giant white beast. These days I find it mostly liberating to realize no one pays me much mind.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Kristen — thanks for sharing your favorite parts. I try to experiment with different things and it’s nice to hear what resonates most, especially with people who read my posts often like you, so thanks….there is something to letting go of the fact you’re not the center of the universe, but it’s also boring too, and to think that no one is the center of the universe, well…I’ll stop. Maybe we’re asteroids. You know the band XTC probably? They wrote a nice song on these themes, but more about marriage, on the epic summer-anthem album “Skylarking,” this song called “Another Satellite” (how we revolve around one another). Enjoy your day and the spring weather. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • I have a distinct memory of buying that album on cassette in summer and lying on the floor of our family room, listening to it over earphones. I don’t think earbuds had even been invented. There were layers I hadn’t considered, some until now. To be clear, my favorite thing about your posts is the mix, the variety. The comments are great too.


      • That’s a nice memory, thanks for sharing it. They are a band I love in small doses (maybe like vinegar). The songwriting and the layers, like you say, are really rich. We had some fun with that album when I started college in the late 80s. Glad you like the mix and the variety, thanks for saying that. I’m hoping we can find interesting things to write and reflect on without having to go to Europe for nine months.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You did before and you will again. That potion will not wear off.

        Liked by 1 person

      • That’s cool, thanks Kristen. Here’s to the “life buzz.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • I second that. This. It is seconded.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Cheers, so much to say but hard talking through conch shells. Come visit.


      • The one-two opening punch of “Summer’s Cauldron” and “Grass” is one of the greatest, drunkest album openers ever. Punch drunk.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Bingo! Like a bug in brandy……..


  4. My favorite part, too, was the bit about the potion wearing off. I would say something about that but I feel like I’d be repeating myself and I get tired of myself doing that so it would make sense that others would too. When I was abroad I would get emails from folks back home, and I was always a little disappointed when they seemed less interested in what was going on outside the American Island than what was going on inside. They didn’t seem too interested in hearing what I had to say about life in the town I was in, except maybe to ask why in the world I chose it and when I was coming back, but they would always tell me the latest bad move the Cowboys were making like that was the really important thing. Now if you will excuse me, I’m going to go record an album. I think I will call it ‘Don’t let go of the lizard balloon.’

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Poor Lily. I feel for her. Hope get gets her groove back soon. And 60 hour weeks are rough. Is there any relief for that or is that her permanent state?

    I can’t believe the whole thing is over already.


    • Hey, thanks Mark — Lily will be just fine. You know how these things go. 60 hours bites, but there is relief in sight. My wife is a saint, works much harder than I do (though I am a decent cook, if I have to say so myself). Part of the whole thing is over, but now comes the kind of reckoning of what happened and what’s next, and that I am looking forward to. Nine months is terribly, terribly long for a vacation. It gets to be too long, for however good it sounds.


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