Staying Put

Winter.  Look through the cedar-framed windows of the cabin and watch it, the white-edged clouds creeping down the cliffs and ridges of the Cascade Mountains towards you.

Up there—on Driveway Butte, on Last Chance Peak, on Scramble Point—it is snowing.  You know it is.

Imagine the snowflakes in the wind.

Mountain wind.

Listen to it, in the branches of the firs, whistling in the chimney, creaking the frame of the house.  And listen to the rain, too, down here in the valley where it isn’t yet freezing, the steady pat-patting on the rooftop.  And while you listen watch it out the window, water drops cutting through the smoke rising from your chimney, wood fire crackling, heat radiating, and if you can, take a raindrop and follow it, capture it with your eyes, trace it from the white sky to see it land on a tuft of lichen clinging to the bark of the fir tree near your porch, or on the seed of the hanging blade of yellow grass out by the tool shed.

It’s movement, that’s what it is, this coming winter, this autumn leaving.

It’s the twitching ear of the mule deer out beyond the grove of aspen, searching for sounds in the wind as she moves down to the winter ranges lower in the valley; it’s the sleek, wagging tail of the blood-red salmon you saw yesterday hovering near a boulder in the current of the stream you can hear from the house; it’s the Swainson’s hawk you saw last week, when the sky was blue and crisp, who by now is somewhere on his way to Argentina, twelve thousand kilometers south of here.

Yes, everything is moving, everything except you.

You are hunkered down, waiting.

Waiting for the dark.

A deep dark.

It will be beautiful once it comes, the afternoon shadows on drifts of snow, the quiet.  It isn’t too quiet, not for you, because you’re one who’d rather hear your heart beat than the mindless drone of men.  But should you really stay?

It’s five months till spring.

Will your firewood last that long?

And as you ask this you ponder what you’ve heard, what you’ve read, the tinkering of a writer in the dusty pages of the past, who spoke about how important staying put is, that it’s the first step to understanding place, understanding self.  You remember it sounded good when you read it, some years ago on a winter night, when you sat on the gum-stained concrete floor of a poorly heated bus stop in a New Mexico town who’s name you have forgotten, waiting for a ride to you don’t remember where, with all your belongings in the backpack by your side.  Yes, it sounded good then, a home of your own, the end of movement, learning to be constant to a place, yet now when you think of it you realize you don’t quite understand it.  What does it mean, you ask, to become permanent?  Is that what your father meant when he told you to stop your rambling and commit, to make something of your life?

Trees have roots, you think, as you watch them out the window waving in the wind.  Would they move if they could?

You have feet.  Try to remember when you were a toddler and it happened, when you walked for the first time.  How it opened up worlds.  And which fool, you wonder, would cage this, would stop a species born to move, you a descendent of those that learned to walk millions of years ago when humanity was still in its toddler form?

No, you can’t stay, you think as you sit on the three-legged wooden stool by the stove warming your hands.  Hold onto your imaginings, you tell yourself, the curiosity of youth.  Hold on, and resist.

Yes, that’s it, resist.

Get up, you whisper, pack your bag.

Before it comes.

It is coming.

And as you rise from the stool you look out the window and see the rain has turned to snow.  It’s already here.

3 responses to “Staying Put

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