(This reflection was originally aired on MTPR’s Reflections West in 2015.)
When I was in grade school I used to walk home backward so I could keep my eyes fixed on my section of the Rockies called the Rattlesnake. I don’t know what it was I thought I wouldn’t see if I turned away, but I knew I wanted the shape of the ridgelines in my eyes, though looking and seeing were never enough. I wanted more than looking could give me and to be a part of what I saw.
When I was older, I’d hike alone in the woods and stay until I was driven home by darkness or thirst—Nalgenes weren’t a thing back then, and my parents didn’t have a canteen—but these journeys almost always fell short of my desire for unity with the wild places surrounding my town, and my longing for connection was never quite satisfied. Maybe if I’d picked a spot under a tree and just stayed put, sharing in the exhalation of the earth and the sky and the high-spun wind that moved through the branches, I would have achieved the melding I wanted. But time was always too short, I always had to get home, and I always got hungry for dinner.
I think growing up where built places feel temporary and frail, where driving snow and summer drought strip paint from buildings barely a few decades old and make splinters out of those that have stood a little longer, has this effect on a lot of us. We want to be a part of the land into which our towns disintegrate, to shed our walls and windows and, when we travel to bigger places with buildings made of the same stuff as our mountains, to know our absence has left a scar. We want the land to miss us when we’re gone but eventually realize that the pain of separation goes unmatched by the places we love. We’re the ones who are lonely.