Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Modern Romance, part three

My ongoing conversation with Thunder Mountain ...
Modern Romance, part one
Modern Romance, part two

Wake up to a new day, the fifth straight of sun. I roll out of bed in the same slumping way I have for days, bracing for painful impact on my tender body. Despite four hard and physical days, my legs spring back with surprising elasticity. My back straightens and my shoulders relax. I rub my eyes; the tear salt burns in dozens of tiny cuts in my hands. The stinging sensation jolts me fully awake, with eyes open to the bright new day, and I realize that not only do I feel healthy again — I feel strong. I wasn't expecting to feel this way on the fifth straight day of sun. Bodies, like lives, can be amazingly adaptable. And, like lives, only through struggle can they really grow.

I take my newly formed muscle fibers and return to Thunder Mountain. I've been wanting to go back here, and I knew the fifth day of clear weather may well be the last. A climb on Thunder Mountain is a true climb, up something only faintly resembling a route thinly notched into the steep mountainside. Hands must be applied before most steps, with fingers grasping roots and stumps to leverage a bottom-heavy body better adapted to turning pedals than swinging from trees. I press my hands into cold earth, wincing as tiny slivers of ice pierce my cuts. But through my fingers I feel a comforting softness — pillows of moss, tender leaves and spongy, decaying wood. I hoist my body up another step; the soft earth holds me like a bridge over a precipice.

Winter hasn't been kind to Thunder Mountain, and the mountain is littered in landslides and deadfalls. I hoist myself over the toppled trunks and wade through a morass of branches and needles. All of this decay — none of it was here four months ago. Avalanche debris is nowhere to be seen; this is simply a matter of the mountain slowly falling apart. It's a subtle reminder that one day Thunder Mountain won't be a mountain. It will be a desert, or a prairie, or the bottom of the sea. This is universal truth — entropy. Nothing stays the same. I feel this way about my life. I feel this way about my body. My molecules, my atoms, water and carbon, someday it will dissolve and it won't be me anymore. It will be a rock, or a fish, or a branch of a blueberry bush on Thunder Mountain.

But for now, I am me, and the blueberry bushes are prematurely reaching for new life. It is Feb. 22 and fresh green growth is everywhere. Days on end of sun preceded by weeks on end of temperatures that hardly drop below freezing will do that. But this time, it's at least two months early. I fear for the blueberry bushes, that winter's deep freeze will return and kill them all. Or maybe it won't. Maybe, in this ever-changing world, spring sometimes comes to Juneau, Alaska, in February.

I claw up another thousand feet of slush until I reach the sun-scoured summit of Thunder Mountain. Large patches of tundra have emerged from the snow and the mountain has already put on its springtime face, which, more than any other time of year, looks like old age and decay. I am not tired and sore anymore, but neither am I elated to be here, smug and prideful at having "bagged" another mountain. I am, simply, where I am supposed to be, where I need to be, at 11:45 a.m. Feb. 22. I am forever trying to explain why I do what I do, to myself as much as anyone, to try to gain a grasp on the reasons for this unconventional lifestyle, this frivolous hobby, this roadblock to the "real" life that my culture tells me I should be living. But I can't explain it. It's just something I feel, feel as strongly as the urge to wake up in the morning or eat dinner in the evening. So you see what I do — I go to the mountains.

I settle down on a rock, lingering for the few moments I have before my conventional work schedule dictates that I start back down. I don't mind this side of life — in fact, I, like anyone, thrive on the perception of structure and purpose. But I do feel that it's all perception. Our work is only as good as we believe it is. I am good at what I do, but I am easily forced into a corner. Dozens of decisions made from a distance, by people who aren't watching, slowly erode away at creativity and purpose, until we become drones, something like machines, and if we taste a little freedom, release ourselves from necessity, we are always going to ask ourselves, "why?"

So you see what I do — I go to the mountains. I am not trying to lift myself above it all, or escape the fog-drenched world below. I know I will always go back. But more than structure and purpose, I am in love with life, and everything life has to offer, even the pain and fatigue, the sunburns and the cuts, the anxiety and the fear. I love life with a voraciousness and hunger that can never be contained, even as I grow older, even as the spark that is me fades from my body, even as my molecules decay and disperse, even as the mountains erode and disappear, even as the sun engulfs the Earth, and the universe becomes something else entirely, this love will continue.

I won't apologize for loving life. I will struggle and I will contribute and I will do the best I can, but I won't apologize. I will hunt life. I will embrace it, and I will cling to it in all of its ever-changing elusiveness, even if it slips away from me forever, even if I know it will slip away from me forever. I love life all the more because it changes. And I will recognize when I need to change, too.

I know the mountains will be here. Long after I am gone, they will be here. But they won't always be here.


  1. Springtime in Ak...beautiful!

    By the way, what's up with all the wonderful weather?

  2. Thank you SO much.

    As my own muscles ache (from the first fantastic powder this year in CO) and my own romances continue to deteriorate, you remind me again why I keep breathing.

  3. The photos of your shadow set low in the great expanse speaks to me of our fleeting existence in the earth's geologic life cycle. Dug around on Thomas Wolfe need to read more but this quote seems fitting IMHO.

    “If a man has a talent and cannot use it, he has failed. If he has a talent and uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he has a talent and learns somehow to use the whole of it, he has gloriously succeeded . . .

  4. Ton amour est précieux comme l'or

  5. Love the post. Love the mountains as well. They are my security blanket.

  6. Love the post. Love the mountains as well. They are my security blanket.

  7. Wow!! Powerful, exhilarating, perceptive writing Jill.

    What a pleasure it is watching you and your writing evolve!

    All the best


    ps I too loved the final shot with your ephemeral shadow/image cast on the mountains, which you pointed out so eloquently are only slightly less ephemeral than we are

  8. Now that is just a lovely bit of writing! I can't wait for your next book! Thank you, Jill, for one of the nicest parts of my day, reading you...
    Bob in Glendora

  9. Jill, this is one of your best writing. Ever. Keep climbing. Keep riding. Keep writing. And keep loving life. :-)

  10. My dear I think you finally get it.

    Congratulations...I'm so happy for you.

  11. I sometimes read your blog but never commented before. This post really struck me though, as it so seem to put in to words what I keep struggling with as well. Thank you for showing that it is possible to get beyond those feelings.


  12. Hey Jill,
    I believe there is nothing wrong with the frivolousness of your life or mine. I am fortunate enough to be able to spend most of my days doing the frivolous things that make me happy. In doing them I stay healthy and in pretty good physical shape. What could be better than doing what you want to do most of the time? In doing so we get to enjoy and appreciate the most glorious scenery God has created. You and I live a lifestyle everyone else only dreams of, while they sit in their cubicals daydreaming and reading your posts. I hear you telling us that your life is not as full as you would like it to be, but grab what you can while you can. It will change, as life never stays the same. Be ready for the next chapter. It's coming. In the mean time, keep writing. We love it.

  13. I don't usually post, but I had to comment. Your writing here is exceptionally good. And a little bit different than most of your other posts. I don't know what it is. But it struck me and I had to tell you.

  14. Dear Anonymous commenter who I deleted:

    First of all, I don't know what you really expect from a blog subtitled "Jill's Subarctic Journal." If this blog were called "All About Sarah Palin," wouldn't you expect the content to be about Sarah Palin?

    Anyway, I used to get a good chuckle and eye-roll out of your comments, but lately you've taken to kicking a person when they're down, which I find really mean-spirited. It was funny in May 2008, but lately it's just been tiresome. So I've done something I hate doing, which in enable comment moderating in hopes that if you lose your platform, you'll finally lose interest and go away once and for all.

    Sorry to everyone else.

  15. Came in late on this one. Too busy enjoying the (once again) unexpected nice weather!!! Just want to say good move on the comment editing. No one should ever have to take unwanted abuse, even in a public blog. Don't apologize for protecting your self and the rest of us who read and enjoy your photos and stories. We don't like to read that stuff either.

  16. Well, I would like to express my admiration; this Nature is really the wonder of wonders as I live in UAE which is situated in the heart of a desert made of sand, when I compare UAE with Alaska which is covered with snow, no way of similarity. Its really amazing!!! Praise to God.


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