Words by Carly Wynn
Banner image by Katie Hake
Fading light inches across the forest to the mountains, creeping up to their snowy peaks before vanishing into periwinkle dusk, and my eyes brim with tears reluctant to fall.
Leif and Ezra sit inside by the stove, waiting for me to come in for dinner. The skis Ezra and I arrived on lean against the railing beside me. We skied three miles today to reach the home Leif built decades ago. Ezra’s family has known Lief for years, and we are visiting for just one evening; a stop on our travels. Leif loves this wilderness and feels deeply at home in it. But Ezra and I—we’re both in states of transition.
We left Oregon last week and are wandering for a few months before each landing in different towns in Montana. This movement is not new to me. Wandering has been a near-constant state in my life for years, born of uncertainty and sustained by uncertainty. I say that I wander because I’m in love with nowhere and no one. And I wander to keep it that way.
The door opens behind me and I pinch the tears out of my eyes and into my shirtsleeve. Ezra puts his arm around my waist. He may not know what I’m thinking about, but he knows better than to rush me in for dinner. He’s happy to be here too, I know, but for different reasons. Like Leif, Ezra feels at home here, in the Tetons where he grew up, whereas I’m just relieved to be gone from Oregon.
I failed to connect with both landscape and people in my year and a half in Oregon. I explored the volcanoes that divide the state, trying to find their mystery, only to eventually admit that those mountains don’t speak to me. I felt too exposed in the high desert, where the powerful Deschutes River seemed both inaccessible and ineffectual, offering no respite despite its raging current. I should have left Oregon a year and a half ago when Beau told me we needed to just be friends. I should have left when he promised we would be friends. He never meant it, I think now, as Ezra tightens his arm around my waist. I should never have stayed.
But I hadn’t wanted to leave. I had wanted to hear the voice of the Cascade volcanoes, the way I had heard other mountain ranges speak in years past. I had wanted to be close to Beau in any way. I would have done anything to make that happen. If Beau hadn’t ended things, I would have stayed in Oregon as long as he did.
Wandering has been a near-constant state in my life for years, born of uncertainty and sustained by uncertainty. I say that I wander because I’m in love with nowhere and no one. And I wander to keep it that way.
I look at Ezra, whose embrace I came to rely on in the wake of heartbreak, in the depths of my nomad loneliness. I want to ask him, “Will Montana be any better?” But I remain silent. We both know why we’re going there. I had already decided Bozeman would be my next landing place, drawn by whatever pursuit it is that guides those of us with a nomadic nature. He was recently offered a job with the Forest Service in Red Lodge, three hours away. I’ll have new mountains to explore, and a chance to start again with new people. We’ll be close enough to see each other sometimes, but not too close.
If I don’t love Bozeman, that’s just as well. I’ll leave again soon anyway. I’ve lived in a half dozen states in the last three years, moving continually since leaving New Hampshire, and the only place that has ever truly been “home.”
Ezra closes the door carefully as we step back inside Leif’s house. The log walls are familiar to me, even though this is my first visit. Ezra walks into the kitchen, but I examine the walls for a moment. I want to ask Leif about the notched corners.
My own home was once a log cabin situated on the eastern flank of Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, known simply as “the Lodge.” Seventy-five years after its construction, my meandering path led me to its doors. I may be a wanderer, but even a wanderer knows when she is home. I lived and worked at the Lodge for many seasons over a four year period, providing the Lodge’s famous “Rustic Mountain Hospitality” to guests who loved the mountain.
There I learned to sit in quiet for hours to watch the sun’s changing light bring the red out of the log walls. I learned to be alone on the mountain at night without fear. I moved slowly, often walking barefoot, and my feet became strong and callused. I fell in love with the Lodge and Mt. Moosilauke before I knew to be afraid of the speed of change.
Ezra, Leif and I fill our plates for dinner, and as we sit down my eyes are drawn once again to the wilderness between Leif’s home and the mountains.
The problem, I was told by the committee, is that the Lodge isn’t up to code. It couldn’t withstand the increased visitation. The steep and rocky path to its heavy spruce doors was “intimidating,” as was the prospect of no central air to control the climate within its walls. And speaking of the walls, they said, what kind of walls leak? You can feel the breeze from the dining room! And the floor slopes down at the edges of the room toward the corner posts.
The architects and administrators making the decisions didn’t know why the Lodge had been built with corner posts instead of notched corners, where logs are milled to overlap and fit together, like at Leif’s house. I could have told them, could have explained how the design fit into the bigger story of the Lodge’s history, but it was plain that the Lodge’s origins could not have mattered less to the voices making the decisions about its fate.
Leif’s wood stove crackles behind us as we eat. I learned to split wood and build fires at the Lodge, but it was decided that thermostats could get that job done more easily. I laugh to myself now as I imagine suggesting to Leif that he install a furnace. Ezra looks at me questioningly as the chuckle escapes my lips, unrelated to anything they might be talking about.
I’m learning that there are some holes that can never be filled, wounds that will never fully heal, love that can never be replaced.
The Lodge was torn down and the building was replaced three years ago. The path is graded and gentle, and a larger building accommodates more people. Two years passed after its completion before I finally visited the new building. It’s beautiful and airtight and clean, and if I had not loved the old logs so deeply I might have learned to love this building too.
I’m learning that there are some holes that can never be filled, wounds that will never fully heal, love that can never be replaced. With this hole came the uncertainty; for four years my life had been guided by my love of the Lodge. So when the old Lodge was torn down I began wandering again. My wandering eventually led me to Oregon, where I fell in love with Beau, but couldn’t fall in love with the landscape. Love is a form of certainty.
When we finished eating I let Ezra carry on the conversation with Leif. I head for the door, and Ezra asks where I’m going. Leif asks no questions.
Outside, the breeze has picked up since the sunset. It carries the truth on it, which slips in through the gap between my jacket and my hat. I’m scared to love again.
Ezra moves around a lot too, and for now we are exploring together. When we leave Leif’s home we will meander south for a few weeks to play in the Utah Desert. In June we’ll both put our temporary roots in the Montana soil and wait for the winds of change to blow.
The sky is darkening enough to see the first stars. Leif’s home is far enough from any major sources of light pollution that I know the sky will soon be brimming with the scattered light of constellations. At the Lodge I had learned to recognize some, but the sky there was also so full of stars that I quickly lost myself in its vastness.
Ezra visited the Lodge’s replacement with me last year. He had never known the log masterpiece with the corner post style walls that let the wind in like that gap between my hat and jacket. He has never known me in a landscape that I love. He knows the wandering identity I took on three years ago when I lost the Lodge. He knows me in Oregon, heartbroken and lonely.
I think Ezra already knows that his home is in the Tetons, like Leif’s, and this scares me. I won’t commit to loving someone who already loves a landscape. Leif will likely live the rest of his days here, as I once felt I would have done at the Lodge. But the love I lost at Moosilauke was rooted in a naivete that I no longer possess.
The way I loved Beau was likewise a dangerous kind of love, that would have made me stay in Oregon when I knew I could never love the landscape. When he broke my heart, he left me to wander through people as I wander through places, afraid of the preemptive commitment I might make to the wrong thing. And now, even more afraid to find the right thing.
Lately the landscape has been whispering to me, reminding me what it felt like when my heart loved something other than transience.
It’s too cold to stand still outside. I should have grabbed my heavier coat. When I open the cabin door I find Ezra and Leif exactly where I’d left them. Ezra sits by the stove, talking about his upcoming work with the Forest Service in Montana. Leif sits quiet, half in shadow at the table. He’s not afraid to love this place. Or maybe he is, but he knows the risk is worth it.
Lately, the landscape has been whispering to me, reminding me what it felt like when my heart loved something other than transience. I hear it everywhere: the open road leaving eastern Oregon, swooping with the wind off a ridge near Bozeman, and in a sunset in the Tetons.
The conversation trails away, and it feels for a moment that everyone is as preoccupied with their own thoughts as I am. Ezra glances at me, and I nod, acknowledging that it is time to go. I thank Leif, and he inclines his head, already returning to the deep silence of this place he loves.
Ezra and I put on our skis and glide away from the cabin into the night. The tiniest crescent moon sits in a sky now so full of stars it seems some must spill out into the meadow. It would be the perfect night to fall in love, and the perfect landscape to do it in.
When Ezra’s skis stop in front of mine I glide to his side and lean into his shoulder, both of us looking up, but we don’t stay like this for long. Tomorrow we will depart for the Utah desert. Tonight we pass through the meadow, leaving the tethers of love for another day.
Carly is a semi-pro Nordic skier and semi-nomadic adventurer. Find her at CarlyOutside.com, where she shares her creative writing, blogs about outdoors adventure and endurance training, and offers coaching for other athletes and out-of-the-box thinkers. Carly is also on Instagram @CarlyOutside_TheBox.