When we crossed those state lines, the cheerful signs telling us to come back soon, welcome to, enjoy the land, I held my breath. Running down the checklist of my body, waiting for small flurries, expecting the shift beneath my feet to signal something deeper than the eye can see.
The first time I visited Seattle was the first time I truly felt it. The magnetic pull that grips something deeper than your organs, deeper than your marrow, down past even the molecular level. It radiated up through my whole being and I realized I have been called to that land. Perhaps our very DNA knows the rhythm and tides of certain places and those places know us more intimately than any lover. Something preverbal that awakens, perhaps remembering that you began work here long ago and now is the time to pick up those old footprints. That first time I landed in the Pacific Northwest, the leaving nearly ripped my heart out. Driving back to the airport under the glacial glory of Mt. Rainier I choked back tears I didn't understand. It was beautiful, it was confusing. It was like playing with magnets for the first time, except that one half of that drawing force was buried deep within my chest.
I feel it every time I pass under the redwood curtain in Northern California. That softly padded red bark and those prehistoric ferns know things about me I have yet to discover for myself. They welcome me back like the prodigal daughter, full well knowing I may leave again. But even still, they set to work healing the fissures in my souls and kniting together the broken links in my cells. I understand Northern California as part of my genetic make-up; my direct bloodline has called that land home for many generations. But it's more than that. It is the way the trees sound that makes sense to me, like I can almost remember how to sing their song.
Yet even with this, I expected to feel that same pull as we crossed into Montana. The truth is, I've been expecting to call Montana home for nearly two decades and a covert piece of the road trip was determining if the next chapter of our lives should take place in those rocky mountains and pine forests. But every time I held out that internal compass, the needle spun West.
Truly there was such a gift in this. The question of the future that was simply put on hold in order to be fully engaged in the present. It was at that point, some nine days into the trip that I loosened my grip on those ulterior motives. It was at that point, that I began hearing the songs of the aspens. To stand so perfectly still, rooting down from the soles of my feet, to audibly observe the wind rolling up mountainsides until it lifted my hair to join the quaking of leaves. To see the sacred geometry of pinecones scattered so purposefully through the woods. To watch with rapt attention the triple strikes of lightning on the land and feel the buzz of electricity in my pulse. To lose myself entirely in books while a summer monsoon shook the tent walls. To outrun the storm. To shiver and shriek and later laugh at leeches in the water. To feel my own glorious smallness in the expanse of sky (that sky!). To drink whiskey at night and coffee in the morning and know that even if nothing else happened in-between, it was still perfect.