Four weeks today, Judah and I arrived in the states.
Four weeks today, we began our process of transition.
It hasn't been terrible, but it for sure has not been smooth. For any of us. Our kids want to know where they will be going to school and when they'll see their friends again. I want to know where I'll be working and if I will see China again. Josey wants to stop living out of suitcases and random boxes and wonders when life will ever have routine again.
We all want a little bit of clarity but seem to be getting none. Each answer only muddles the future; each day adds more questions, more doubts.
So, we went camping. And, as expected, the getting out helped.
One morning, while sipping coffee and listening to the kids play, I asked Josey what she was thinking. "About the mountains," she said.
"What about them?" I asked.
"I don't know exactly," she looked around, at the kids, the trees, and the snow-covered peaks, "They just have a way about them." She thought for a moment more, "A way of clarifying, ya know?"
I did, and I didn't. So I grabbed my journal, because I didn't want to forget her words. "The mountains have a way," I wrote, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since.
The mountains have a way . . .
A simple fire, the smell of pine, and the birds' morning songs. The sky roles from black to deep blue, to sky, and the fire cracks and pops and spits. Coffee brews.
Kids knuckle sleep from their eyes, the tent-flaps skip and dance to the morning breeze, and slowly, the day begins. More coffee is brewed.
There is little care for the rest of the day, just play, in the land where fallen trees become giant dragons. Where knotted sticks turn to swords or guns or simple things that only a wooded magical dragon could need. Because, in the maze of trees and grass and twigs and dirt, opportunity of imagination is endless.
So scrape your knees and get dirty and yes of course you can climb that tree or turn that patch of dirt into a Nature Town because that's why we're here, to simplify. To rid ourselves of the things that bind us, that hinder us, and that distract us from what matters.
Because the mountains have a way.
Of Stripping Away:
For the past four weeks, we've been reuniting with family, applying for jobs, waiting to be called by hopeful employers, rearranging boxes and suitcases, and trying to move forward but unable to do so because we don't know where we're going to live, because I have not been able to land a job.
But in the mountains, with my family, these concerns slip away - if only for a short while - because instead of checking the inbox or checking missed calls, we're on a hike, sliding down glaciers and watching fish feed on the bugs of the mountain lakes. We read in hammocks and write in journals. I teach my son how to swing an ax and smile when he cuts his first log all the way through - something he never had the chance to do in urban China. The girls laugh and play and cry and talk because the land of dragons is big and dangerous but Mom and Dad are just there, sitting by the fire, so what is there to be afraid of?
We eat simple dinners and sit around the fire, talking, and watch for shooting stars.
Josey and I, for the first time in months, talk about our move from China, because it's quiet, and there is little else that needs to happen. Because the mountains have a way of doing that.
I wear a vest that is not my own. It's an old JC Penny vest that is too small, even though the tag says, "XL" - being washed and dried for almost twenty years will probably do that to any vest. I also have two massive green Coleman sleeping bags that have mallard duck print on the inside. They're 100% cotton and each weigh around fifteen pounds. They're terrible for hiking, but perfect for camping. Especially family camping, and they have been for as long as I can remember, because they were my dads.
On one of our many fishing trips, I remember telling my dad that he was different there than at home because he was "more fun. More relaxed." And he was. Some of my favorite memories of my dad came with camping or fishing or splitting wood or racking leaves, and in most all of those memories, he's wearing this vest.
This past weekend, it held my son's pocket knife and carried Zion' rocks.
I haven't camped or fished with my dad in over twelve years, and I miss those times, almost daily. Sometimes, the memories attached to this vest are more than I can bear, because they're some of the best a boy could have.
Which is why I wear the vest and carry the sleeping bags, because even though they are fully imperfect, they're perfect for camping and chopping wood, for cold nights and searching for constellations (which I can never find, minus the Big Dipper).
This vest and these sleeping bags are made for mountains, for camping and making memories, and for family. Because that's what my Dad used them for, so it's what I'm going to use them for. Because the memories they carry are more than I can bear. And I hope, someday, my kids will struggle beneath its beautiful weight.
Five weeks ago, Judah and I hiked and slept on the Great Wall of China, and the lessons we learned were foundational. This short trip reminded and encouraged us of a few of those lessons. Judah dealt once more with fear, this time of bears, and I wrestled again with feeling expendable. The bears never came, but I needed the voice of my wife and son to get over my pride. Both of them, on separate occasions, considered how we as a family might bless someone outside ourselves. Both of them mentioned our camping neighbors. The day before, they had wondered into our camp. He was from Colorado and she was from Montana and they, along with their little three year-old daughter, Ellie, were planning on staying for several more nights.
"Can we leave a pile of firewood for them?" Judah asked. I looked to Josey and smiled because she had mentioned the same thing a few minutes earlier.
"Of course," I said, "that's a great idea!" So while Josey and I packed up the van, Judah and the girls piled a large stack of wood next to the neighbors fire pit - Eden making sure it was stacked with care and purpose.
Because after a few nights in the beauty of the mountains, the perfect "thank you" blesses others, not ourselves. A lesson I'd have forgotten, if not for the mountains.
My wife was right, the mountains do have a way about them . . . a way larger than any word I can write. Which is probably why we go back. Because, like Whitman wrote about the stars, " . . . When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them . . . How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick, Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, In the mystical moist night-air, and . . . Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars."
The mountains have a way. And all I can do is stand and look up at them, in perfect silence.
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