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.