Monday, May 7, 2012

out of the dark places.

Listening To: Hold On To What You Believe by Mumford & Sons
Line Obsession: "Lives are made of strings of moments, and every once and a while, one of those moments is pivotal and defining. It changes everything, alters you so completely that when you look back, there's a clear before and after."- from Unraveling by Elizabeth Norris

Do you ever get homesick for places you've barely even seen?

(Or places you've never seen at all? :)

I'm feeling that way today.

Last summer, I took a massive roadtrip with my brother/The Rogue Accountant. We flew out to the Pacific Northwest and spent the week adventuring to places we'd only dreamed of seeing (including the honest-to-goodness Goondocks!!). We drove for hours with the windows down, listening to music, sometimes talking, but mostly just staring slack-jawed at the wonderful world around us.

Because it is seriously a wonderful, wonderful world.

We hiked to waterfalls.

We drank coffee at Stumptown.

We watched people paraglide through the Columbia River Gorge.

We ate grilled cheese sandwiches at a pub on Cannon Beach, then walked to the edge of the world and listened to the ocean roar at us.

Mostly though, I felt like I was clicking the camera as the car zoomed by. We wanted to see as much of that world as we possibly could, get lots of miles behind us. We succeeded. If The Rogue Accountant has a superpower besides annoying the daylights out of me, it's driving. He can drive for hours and never get bored. And never need bathroom breaks. His savvy is enviable.

We drove 90% of the time. But as much as we saw, I never stopped feeling amazed over it, or grateful that I got to take it in. There's a line in a David Crowder song where he sings, "My eyes are small but they have seen the glory of enormous things." That's exactly how I felt.

At every bend in the road, we traded glory for glory.

It was all ice and blue sky.
Flowers bloomed out of the rocks
and snow muffled every sound.
The mountains were jagged, black and white,
reaching up through the clouds to scratch the sky.

That place is wild.

And when you're there, staring up at those mountains, you feel wild too. Even if you're the shyest, most timid person in the world, you feel like you've got it in you to roar.

One of our last trips was to see The Hoh Rainforest. That's the trip I'm homesick for today. I'll probably do a bad job of trying to describe it for you, but here goes:

If someone had the power to open up your favorite storybook, cut out the gorgeous illustration of the enchanted woods, and make that page life-size and lived in ... that's what The Hoh Rainforest would look like. Those woods are enchanted. The trees are so tall that there's no way to see the tips of them. You look up and nearly fall backwards over the hugeness. In some places, the canopy is so thick and dense that the woods looked dark, even though we went during the day. Because of all the rain, the forest looks neon-green. Thick moss carpets the forest floor and wraps around tree trunks, brambles, and limbs. Ironically, it was not raining the day we went to the rainforest, but it wasn't totally quiet either. It's almost like you can hear echoes of rain as you walk down the pathways.

Echoes of storms.
Cackling rivers.
Whispers stuck like spider-webs in the tree-tops.

I'm so grateful a place like that exists. That people worked (and work) to protect it. That I got to walk through all that gorgeousness. The Hoh Reforest is creepy, inspiring, and wholly enchanting.

(Not so enchanting? My camera battery. Which, apparently, needs to be regularly charged in order to work. My camera and my phone both powered down when we drove into the forest ... which is kind of creepy-awesome ... and also why I don't have any pictures.)

I'm guessing there are a bunch of entrances and billions of pathways you could explore. On the path we walked, there were lots of signs to acquaint us with the woods. I read a few. Skimmed others.

But the sign that really snagged my attention was wooden, carved with faded white words and a picture of a very regal looking elk. With his strong legs and tangled crown of antlers, the elk looked like the boss of that place. Like he'd just walked out of Narnia.

The sign called elk the "silent guardians" of the woods. They're here, but you probably won't realize it. They're watching you even if you don't see them. 

I swallowed hard. I glanced to the left. And then to the right. 

Because I didn't  particularly like the idea of The Boss Elk watching me.

Reason: A few days before we walked through the rainforest, The Rogue Accountant stopped at a random roadside stand and bought Yak Jerky. 

Yak Jerky. 

He didn't open his jerky until a few days later, when we were waiting to board the ferry leaving Seattle. And I'm convinced he only opened it then as a form of protest. The ferry ride was my idea, because it sounded awesome. Judge me if you must. But I'm a country girl. I never get to ride ferrys and taxis and such.  Apparently, the Seattle ferry is a popular form of transportation (and not just for country bumpkins like myself who get excited about big ol' boats). Also, I picked rush-hour to go ... and, thus, we had to sit in line for hours. The Rogue Accountant hates to wait. He not so subtly communicated his disdain:

But the view from the ferry? SO WORTH THE WAIT.

Anyway! While we were waiting to ride the ferry, Chase ripped open the pack of Yak Jerky. And yak stank ... it is a special kind of stank. He didn't have a napkin, so he wiped his hands on his pants. And then he wiped his hand on MY HOODIE.

Very eloquently, very calmly, I told him that his gesture was unkind. "INGRATE! We're hiking through the woods tomorrow! Wild animals will eat me!"

Chase narrowed his eyes at me, the way villains are wont to do. He smirked. "Exactly." 

So. I stood there in the dark woods, reading a post about the silent guardians who were most likely licking their lips while they watched me trip through the forest. I took no solace in the fact that I smelled like a beastly buffet.

Does The Boss Elk really see me? 

Does The Boss Elk eat Yak?!?!

The sign assured me that the elk weren't aggressive as long as they weren't, like, aggressed (it amazes me that warnings like this have to be issued - that people actually try to cuddle wild animals).

As if to assuage my fears even further, the sign informed me that elk are symbols of luck and good fortune. If you see them you should feel blessed. (Blessed unless they eat yak, obviously.)

I ran after my brother and grabbed the sleeve of his jacket. "The Elk ... they're watching!"

He looked at me like I had two heads.

I clapped my hands together excitedly (more of a flutter than a clap). "That sign says it's good luck if you see them. That something good is going to happen to you. Not everybody sees an elk because not everybody takes the time to look for them ... that's why they're lucky elk!"

Now, admittedly, I don't really believe in luck. But I believe in miracles. I believe in wonder. Mostly, I just thought it'd be so cool to see an elk.  And I thought it would make the sweetest vacation story; if I could say that I'd seen THE elk, the one with the big, beautiful Narnia-antlers. Maybe I'd see him walking out of the woods, and he wouldn't eat me, he'd just stand tall in a little grassy spot. And I'd remember that the world could be so magical sometimes. And I'd take it like a little wink, a reminder that good days are coming. That'd be wonderful, if it happened.

I squealed. "It'd be like a patronas ... but better!!!!"

My brother's response was to walk faster, in a not so subtle effort to leave me behind.

As I tripped along behind him, I occasionally hollered out: "Tell me if you see an elk! I'd love to see one!"

... He didn't see an elk.

Toward the end of the trail, I became more resolute. I stomped my foot down on the path and declared: "I will see an Elk!"

... I didn't see an elk.

"That's okay though," I sighed as I buckled my seatbelt. "It's okay not to see them. You know what? It's better that I didn't see them."

Because sometimes it's good to remember that just because you don't see something wonderful, that doesn't mean something wonderful isn't there, isn't already happening. Right?

So we drove out of the dark woods. The shadows still clung to us even as we drove into the sunlight. Shadows are sticky that way. Light always wins out though. I squinted against the bright sun and rummaged through my purse-o-crap for my sunglasses. The woods had been so dark that I'd forgotten it was still daylight.

"There are some cars pulled over in that clearing up there," Chase said. "Maybe it's your elk!"

"Maybe," I shrugged, pushing my sunglasses up on my nose. "But probably just a deer."

But we slowed down at the clearing, just in case.

... We didn't see an elk.

We saw an entire herd of elk. 

They were huge, sleek, and gorgeous. My camera only coughed up enough battery power to snap a couple of pictures before they meandered back into the woods.

But. Do you see the pretty one with antlers?

He stopped walking and looked back at us, only for a second. Maybe he only looked because he caught a whiff of yak juice. (I rolled up the window and locked the door, just in case.) After a quick glance, he marched silently, elegantly back into his woods.

That one second was long enough for my heart to pound out a reminder.

One second was long enough for me to remember that hope is the wildest thing we have inside us. 

Maybe if you press on through the dark woods, if you keep moving, keep looking, keep believing ... maybe you get to see something more wonderful than you ever imagined.

And maybe you wouldn't even know how wonderful it is if you hadn't caught your first glimpse of it in the dark.

Is there a place you're homesick for today? 


  1. Natalie, this is breathtaking! I completely agree with this: "hope is the wildest thing we have inside us." And your last sentence? I've been learning that very lesson this year.

  2. I loved this post! My favorite line was "One second was long enough for me to remember that hope is the wildest thing we have inside us.
    Maybe if you press on through the dark woods, if you keep moving, keep looking, keep believing ... maybe you get to see something more wonderful than you ever imagined."
    I'm homesick for this tiny little cottage up in the mountains. we go up there every summer as a family, and it's so beautiful and free. I want to go there, and sit by the stream as it runs over my bare toes and daydream.

  3. That's a story that I wish I had in print. Maybe I'll go print this off to keep above my headboard or something. :)

    I'm homesick for somewhere dark and rainy and windy I think. A quiet countryside to sit with a pile of books and a good friend and lots and lots of coffee and treats. But I'm homesick for that quite often. And usually I'll settle for my home Starbucks and my dear friend Sydney or Mama Jean's couch.

  4. This is seriously the most beautiful post. I needed it! Its finals week; I need to read about hope... and the evils of having yak juice on your sweater.

  5. I get homesick for lots of places I haven't actually been to yet; the streets of London, rolling hills of Italy, the Austrian Alps...I cannot wait to visit these places some day and have the dreams in my head get replaced with the memories I will make there! Hope is a powerful thing--and I think it's wildness is what makes it so powerful. Love your thoughts friend!

  6. This is beautiful, Natalie. Hope presses through those dark places and bursts out into glorious light when we least expect it: the wildest thing we have, indeed.

  7. "...hope is the wildest thing we have inside us." Incredible post.

  8. You have the gift of story-telling. I've missed reading your posts, school has been crazy! :( As for being homesick, London. I've only been there twice. Thirteen days. But those were wonderful thirteen days. If I had to pick a place that was my personality in the form of a city, it would be London. I miss it a lot.