Huddled between boulders just north of Cutthroat Pass, I look across to the jagged peaks of the North Cascades in Washington. The Pasayten Wilderness in late September: gold-turning larch, red scrub maples, gauzy purple light lying softly on the glaciated rock walls. Steep zigzagging switchbacks lead down to a valley of firs, pines and spruce. I breathe in the pure, cold air and scrunch down beside my backpack, slumping against a rock to escape the howling wind. I am not the same person who stepped onto the trail five months before. Initially beset by chaotic memories and fears of the future, I’m now immersed in present moments. The path beside me, the Pacific Crest Trail, winds 2,600 miles southward from this point to Mexico. In less than sixty miles, I will reach the Canadian border.
Now that I’ve been there, this is where I live. The landscape of my life may change, but that hike transformed me. Now I live in a state of possibility. A grouse may drift across the trail, a bear may sniff the air and watch my progress, a deer may look over her shoulder as she skitters ahead, coaxing her fawns to safety. The trees may shelter me, the rivers might sweep me away. Anything can happen. In a place where my senses were fully engaged, I paid attention to all that surrounded me. And brought it home, so I could live that way every day.
I live in a body that inhaled cedar and sage, felt the brush of lupine as I walked through wildflowers up to my armpits, and heard both the roar of water polishing river stones and the trickle of fresh snowmelt. Burnt trunks and ashen soil, the leavings of fire, sear my memory. Snowy volcanoes remind me that power seethes beneath the thin crust of earth. Granite and lava crunch under my feet. I hear my own breath and the tick-tick of hiking poles. I’ve absorbed the Pacific Crest Trail into my cells. I’ve brought all inside. Now wherever I live, I am there.