Monday, October 24, 2011

Off the Trail

Written by Carrie

After many days of seemingly unending rain, it finally stopped. Always eager to get outside on a crisp fall day, my family went foraging for mushrooms.
A successful mushroom hunt is equal parts acceptance that you may come home empty handed and excitement about the thrill of the pursuit.

We'd only taken 6 year old Abby once before when she was still tiny enough to ride in a backpack. You see, mushroom hunting is best done off beaten paths, following veins of golden fungus up through mucky, rough terrain.

“All paths are possible, many will work, Being blocked is its own kind of pleasure, Getting through is a joy “
Now that Abby is a more experienced hiker and able to manage herself, we felt she was ready to try off-trail travel.

My husband and I have been crossing paths for 25 years, but have only been together for eleven of those years. Our “way” has always been slightly different from the mainstream. We think and plan before we leap, but we are willing to leap, to tread together off the trail.

After getting engaged in 2001, we finished our contracted jobs, I sold my car to buy a kayak, and we loaded our boats on top of Tom's wagon and drove south along the west coast of the United States. We crossed the Mexican border on September 30th, 2001. Our friends and family were worried for us to travel outside of the U.S. just weeks after the September 11th plane hijackings. We saw it as a chance to gain some perspective.

A chance to extend some kindness and step outside of our comfort zone.
When we got married the following year, we read Gary Snyder's beautiful poem, “Off the Trail.” Swapping lines, we hoped it would extend a bit of explanation to our community about what sort of path or non-path we saw in front of us. One of meandering, leaning on each other and then not. We have always been open to seeing“where the wild will take us.”

We jumped at a chance to follow the promise of meaningful (low-paying) employment and found a home-base in a small community on the North Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Long before this area was known for fictional werewolves and vampires, it called to us. We moved in on the way home from our honeymoon.

We've lived in this small town for the totality of our marriage. No one here was at our wedding or knew us before the kid and the house and the station wagon.
We live a quiet life here.
Tom made his way up the rungs of the non-profit ladder and found himself running the whole organization.
We had a kid.
We built community.
We invested ourselves and the people of this place gave back.

When we discovered a huge tumor tucked away inside of Tom's brain in 2007, this town came to our aid in ways that I will always be awed by. Aside from that “excitement,” we've lived a seemingly “normal,” path-following life here.
So, when Tom left his job at the end of June this year, people here were a bit shocked. A few even insisted that we must have come “into some money.” I mean, why else would we decide to leap from the security of his employment into the unknown? Especially in this economy.
I've heard that last sentence from folks more times than I'd like to remember.

“Especially in this economy.”

The simple answer to their question is that it was time to move on. As his job changed, he was away from us on business travel more and more and after nine years, it was time to pass on the reins and find our next adventure.

We've built our relationship on a whole lot of faith. The faith that our way will appear when we need it. Faith that fear will only bring darkness for our family. If we spent our energy worrying about what might come next, we'd be stuck. Mired in non-action, discontent, unhappiness.

“No path will get you there, we’re off the trail, 
You and I, and we chose it!”

We're nearly four months into this experiment of unemployment. We've both been seeking employment that will work for our family. We know this in-between-ness won't last forever, so we're attempting to take full advantage of Tom being home all the time.
It was in this spirit that we set off to show Abby the way of the non-way. We took her into the damp, spongy understory of our wilderness.

She picked her way across a clear-cut, over fallen logs, through deep mossy bogs, down steep hills and back up equally steep inclines. She made decisions about which way was safe, which way was risky and walked a fine line between the two. She found plenty to notice. Multitudes of fungus. A banana slug. More trash than I'd like to admit.
We spent an hour and a half out there. Being off-trail though, it was like the work of climbing a small mountain. She found her way, stopping to rest, looking for a clear path, and sometimes, choosing the steepest section, just to see if she could climb it.
The fruits of our labor? Well, in actual edible mushrooms, we found four. 
The true fruit in all of this lays deeper, of course.

“This is wild!
We laugh, wild for sure, Because no place is more than another, All places total“ 

(Poem excerpts from Gary Snyder's Off The Trail.)

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