A Love Measured In Miles
It was late June, the Trinity Alps. Our first backpacking date took place just weeks after we'd met. We covered the seven miles to our campsite under a hot sun. The next day, clouds gathered. By late afternoon we were dodging lightning bolts, and by evening the snow had started to fall, wet and heavy. We gulped down dinner and retreated to our tent, which later collapsed under the weight of two feet of snow. The following morning a white world winked at us beneath a blue sky. Our cooking gear, hiking poles, and trail had vanished. It was as if we were the only people on Earth.
There are many ways to tell a love story. But it seems to me that Bruce's and mine is inextricably linked with the land––with the thousands of miles and hundreds of trails we have covered in the last nineteen years.
Together, we've confronted grizzlies and mountain lions, stood in awe of bristlecone pines and bobcat, gazed into the amber eyes of coyote, and devoured thick sandwiches to the hum of bees in meadows of wildflowers. We have skinny-dipped in the skin-biting cold of glacial lakes, snowshoed moonlit mountains and skied through forests of giant sequoias. We have felt the ecstasy of lying on our backs watching the northern lights swirl green and purple above our heads, the heat from the day still warming the earth, our hands touching.
The inability to trust had always kept me from loving deeply. But after this tall, kind man held my hand over makeshift bridges of fallen trees, guided me patiently across narrow mountain trails where my vertigo threatened to get the best of me, or simply held me in his arms while I cried out my exhaustion and hatred of mosquitoes––in Hurricane Pass in the Grand Tetons––it didn't seem like such an issue any more.
There is also something wonderful about walking and talking outdoors. Our conversations have meandered in many directions and over a wide variety of terrain. Nature provides the space and sense of possibility that fuels intimacy. Undistracted by computers and iPhones, we seem always to have more to say to each other, learn about each other.
Turning our full-bodied attention to the natural world, we have become more skilled at reading body language. If, to attract a mate, a male Anna Hummingbird rises in the air and dive-bombs at up to 60 feet a second, its rippling feathers creating a signature song, so be it. I have learned to read my husband's signals too! Weather, seasons, all teach that we have different moods and rhythms, that things change, moment to moment. Blisters and blizzards of bugs develop humor and a bit of grit, which always helps.
Early in our relationship, I didn't know if I could love in the long run. I am a restless spirit by nature. But walking has taught me that no moment is ever the same. If I remain curious, open to beauty, if I breathe and allow my body to respond to the aliveness of nature in all her moods, then I find there is always more to learn and to love. My husband of nearly two decades is a country still waiting to be discovered.
Once, when I was married to another man, a wise woman asked me, "Can you imagine growing older with him?" I couldn't.
Now, as I walk through the forest above our house with Bruce, I notice how old trees support new life. I am excited to grow old with this precious and beautiful being. We may not be able to backpack quite the way we used to, or hike the number of miles we once took in stride, but we will, if we are fortunate, continue to walk and talk and learn about the world and each other for many years to come.
And this I know: Over the the bumpy and scary places, Bruce's hand will always reach for mine, and mine for his.