I remember sitting in Bollos cafe in Blacksburg, Virginia back in 2009 with my sister, Natalie. Or was she just on the phone with me? In my memory she was sitting beside me but now I really can't recall. I had just gotten an internship in Vermont on a maple sugaring farm after graduating college. Agriculture was my calling then. But I'd already taken a job as a ski bum in Utah for the winter. I was a week or two from taking off and I had gotten cold feet. All the way out to Utah just to come back to the east coast for an internship in 2 months? This seemed silly and misdirected, and I was more than a little terrified. I didn't even really know how to ski. Natalie answered without too much consideration of my dilemma, "Laura GO." Ok, fine. Fine. Older sisters' advice always seems to trump my own inclinations (I'm still "the baby" in many ways, embarrassingly enough). So I went.
And then things started evolving, as they always do. Two months living up in Little Cottonwood canyon was enough to make me want to shirk off my internship for another couple of months. A little timid to make the request but firm in my decision to stay, I called the Vermont folks and explained my reasons for wanting to remain in Utah a little longer. The farm decided they could use me as an agricultural intern over the summer and were forgiving of my flightiness. They were to become my mentors of the summer and some of my truest friends, but I didn't know it at the time. I wanted to live and breath in the high mountains out west. It was the most peace I'd ever felt just to step off the ski lift and traverse across a wide open cirque and stare down the faces of mountains, snow-covered, and carved out by glaciers so long ago. And the breeze that whips in from the desert. It felt like a good promise of something to come.
It wasn't original by any means, this feeling. Many people were in Alta for this reason, it was obvious. The mountains present a freedom so accessible its almost comical. And all I had gathered about life in my 22 years before Utah was that it was tight, filled with anxieties, and that my path was straight and narrow.
It is from a position of privilege that I can claim that it doesn't have to be this way. That I was born into this world so incredibly lucky that I could make the mountains my life and that my options were nothing but wide open at 22. I woke up many mornings early, filled up my coffee mug and sat on the deck with like-minded friends in the sunlight feeling lucky and blessed and slightly confused as to how it could be that I could be this happy and free.
Do I sound like a hippie? Yes? Fair enough.
It was interesting to realize then that the mountains helped me to feel truly content for a sustained period of time for the first time in my life. I took many deep breaths, I spent so many hours of my day in the sun, it felt like how I imagined heaven might. Really the reasons were simple. My life was outside, I had very few sources of stress, everyone around me was kind of odd in a charming way, and there was very little judgement. Not many people there were career-driven, not giving a whole lot of time to worrying about the future, and everyone was enjoying each day as it came. A new storm would blow in and it was another good day. The sun would come out and it was yet another good day.
Day by day happiness was the culture. And the mountains were by and large the biggest source of that happiness. And it was incredible.
Since moving down to the valley I've changed a bit. I'm in school again, I'm future-focused, (Matt often accuses me of "future scheming," and that's a pejorative coming from him), and I'm highly anxious most days. I am dating a man who, at his core, represents the very happiness I discovered 5 years ago, and I find myself pushing him away a lot because of these reasons. As if that happiness didn't belong in my career-focused life now. As if there is no room at all for deep breathing, and smiling, and living day by day and loving it.
This weekend we stole off to southern Utah. It was delightful as usual and I cut my hands once again thoroughly climbing at Indian Creek. It was nice, but I was only on a break from my usual anxieties, and I always have the awareness of "returning to the real world" at the end of the weekend with me on trips like these.
On our last morning we woke up cramped in the back of Matt's car in Moab, way down a canyon road next to the Colorado River. I was already sad about leaving. The car was drenched in light which had just poked over the towering red walls above us. I stepped out, stiff, groggy. The wind was whipping.
I jostled around for a bit putting on pants over my long underwear, putting on my shoes, bare feet in the red desert sand. And then I stopped. That breeze was so familiar.
"Let's get out of this hell hole!" Matt yelled and laughed, sand pelting us in the face. But I was loving the wind.
This is why I'm here, I remembered. That wind and these canyons and this wild is why I've made my own life out here. This is my happiness, and I can't just let it go.
Spring in the desert.
Camp fire at Indian Creek.
Matt's greasy desert hair and ripped pants.
View from Way Rambo wall, Indian Creek, Utah.
Benjamin, the dog. Recently nicknamed "frijol."