This morning I watched Liz pack up her food for a 3-4 day solo backpacking trip. It is likely her last packing trip of the year, and it's one she's been talking about since Spring. The week after we got engaged two years ago Liz headed into the Bob Marshall wilderness for a five-day solo trip (no doubt to ponder if she made the right decision in agreeing to marry me). If I had to guess, since I'm realizing just now I never asked her (husband of the year award!), she's heading back into the Bob Marshall wilderness to have some alone time and process the incredibly busy summer we just had, and to reconnect with the wilderness in a deep way that only a solo trip can satisfy.
As I sat I watched as she assembled a new home, one that will fit on her back. It'll travel with her for the next four days, every night becoming a temporary structure with a shifting background.
Backpacking and the wilderness changes people, especially when they are alone. There is more room for the wilderness to enter in, invade and conquer, and to inspire and uplift. Emotions are amplified in the wilderness, without the trappings of busyness and society to contain them. I wonder what emotions and thoughts will be amplified for her. Who will she be upon her return. The same woman that left no doubt, yet somehow altered, shifted, if even by only several days. I will meet her briefly as a stranger, searching for that newness in her, looking to make my acquaintance with it.
While I have a small fear of this change, I have a larger fear of the dangers of the unknown. In civilization we've made efforts to improve our safety. We have sidewalks, seat belts, fences, laws, and a common hope that aspire to protect us.
In the wilderness you taste of something ancient, a time before we sterilized our surroundings and imposed our will and desires upon them. In the wilderness the common hope is gone, and each species is trying to ensure its own survival. There is an individual from our species, Liz is her name, and I have a particularly strong interest in her survival.
I don't fear for what she will do, as I know she is an extremely competent backpacker, as well as a very safe one. Yet there is everything that could be caused by nothing she will do, or not do. The events attributed to chaos, to the butterfly's wings flapping on the other side of the globe that causes the wild animal to pass too closely to her, or that tree to fall, or that trail to become obscured underneath some brush.
This is what I fear, not in a keeps-me-up-at-night way (although we'll see how I sleep tonight), but something that has haunted me the last few days. Would this be the last time I'd see Liz? It was a thought that once it burrowed its way in, I couldn't shake. What if? What if that was the last smile we shared, the last laugh, the last kiss?
What is amazing is this is the same crisis we face every day if we have loved ones, not just if they are going into place that has the potential for danger.
The reality is that we lose them every day. Every day that they walk out of the house we lose them. They enter into risk and uncertainty. Into a world outside of our view and control. What other events in the universe are conspiring even now, plotting something horrible that is beyond our reach? Letting our loved ones leave is like a gift we make to the world, a gift we hope will be given back to us. They are an ingredient in the world we secretly hope will never be used up.
So here I am with 3-4 days of me-time, which Liz knows I love. I've already planned a few dinners that I'm going to cook, and shows I'm going to watch on YouTube (my new thing is to re-watch clips of the West Wing).
I'll be cooking and watching with my new roommate.
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