My parents were born in the middle of Columbus, Ohio, and lived there until they were married. As soon as they could save up enough to make it feasible, my folks bought 9 acres out in the country, and moved to very rural Ohio. The joke was that you could take a nap in the middle of the road in front of their house, because cars were so few and far between. Some of the neighbor women warned my mom against walking around the property by herself, lest she be attacked by wild animals. Considering that the megafauna of the midwest is nothing more than deer, my mom proceeded to amble the rolling hills around her with impunity.
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I spent the better part of my childhood outside, playing in those same hills. Our house had a huge dinner bell outside, which you could hear for miles. My mom would ring it about 30 minutes before she wanted me, and I would know it was time to come in for dinner. I was definitely a free range child, allowed to spend all the time I wanted outside (I mean, once chores were done). And thanks to the huge apple farm that surrounded us, I had access to hundreds of acres of streams and fields that made for very fine playing. There’s really nothing better on a hot summer day than mucking about in the mud of a shallow creek bed, and no better platform to view stars than the embrace of a little burrow in the snow, bundled in a snowsuit.
I feel much the same about our summer job in the Sierras at Rock Creek, except the scale is so much bigger. I can step out our door and start walking, and potentially walk right across the backbones of the mountains, 40 miles west to the central California valley. Just in our valley, I can hike for days without recrossing my steps. And yes, there are bears, but provided you make a bit of noise as you move, they will be long gone before you ever get to where they were. I see that landscape as completely free and safe, one where I don’t really need to worry much about my safety, as long as I tell someone which trail I’m taking, and when I intend to be back.
In stark contrast, we’re now spending several months in the city, while we work for a few months in Tucson, and I’m having a hard time of it. Yes, there is a bike path right behind us, but my options are only to head left or right once I’m on it. And I hate the feeling I get on it when I see someone coming, and I’m trying to determine their status. Is that just a older man, struggling with arthritis, or is it a drunk homeless guy? Should I turn around here, or continue on, looking confident? That dog running ahead–is the owner with it? Is it friendly? Instead of just being in my own head, I find myself assessing the situation, externally focused. My walks provide exercise, but my brain doesn’t seem to get much rest. Overall, my feelings in the city are mostly bad, feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated and unsafe.
Because JJ needs the car to get to work in the late afternoons and evenings, I can only go somewhere when he’s off. (The park we’re in is just fine, but I’m not willing to pass through the surrounding areas on foot or by bike by myself.) With our current schedules, we have only one day off together. I can’t describe how much I need to get out of the city on those days. I suppose most folks feel it’s crazy to be comfy high in the mountains, with no cell or internet, and nothing manmade for miles, but it seems like home to me. The mountains around Tucson are the best I can get right now, and provide at least a bit of that mental relief that I crave.
So for now, I plan a hike every Sunday, and take the bike path to the wetlands as much as I can. I’m trying to keep in mind that this too shall pass, and I’ll be back in my beloved mountains for the summer. And I remind myself that the point of this whole exercise was to create a life where I could spend multiple months in the quiet world. I just have to earn some money first to make it happen this spring. Practicing patience and perseverance.