I spent the autumn running — running to meet obligations, running to get ahead, so that I might carve out a space someday to hear the sound of my own voice and maybe even write it down. I ran to the middle of December and then ran harder to prepare for Christmas, all of the time making decisions that really required quiet and reflection amid the sound of my feet pounding constantly on the pavement. Then when Christmas was over I ran to meet end-of-year obligations and then I got into a car and I drove it, fast, across the country to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I woke up yesterday at 7,000 feet. I felt as though I’d been careening on an endless and violently twisting slide for weeks and it dumped me out yesterday, up here in the highlands at the close of the year, rubbing my head and feeling disoriented.
I have a complicated relationship with altitude; the mountains are my chosen habitat, but I’ve lived as a flatlander for many years now. I never used to have a problem with altitude when I lived out west; but when I live for long periods in Indiana and then go up high again, it’s like meeting an old lover who had the temerity to change during your separation, and therefore feels different, pricklier, than before. Except it was just as much me who changed, my blood thickened by life at sea level.
I’m glad, though, because I needed to be halted, slowed down, and tenderized. When I run so far and so long, laboring at a profession in which vulnerability of any kind is anathema, I change. The mask goes on, and I forget things. But then I go back to the mountains and I run right into myself. There is no better way to connect to what is real in yourself than when your brain is demanding more oxygen. Yesterday I felt sluggish, as though I needed a nap all day long, touchy, emotional, and tender. I dreamed that I was on a dive and had purposely ascended rapidly to the surface, getting bent in the process — another fight with the forces of dwindling pressure. This time isn’t as bad as a couple of years ago, high up in the Rockies, when I found myself sobbing because I couldn’t physically force myself up a slope that ordinarily would be easy for me. I spent the night even higher, dozing through paranoid dreams about trees falling on me in the wind.
I’ve learned that I’m attracted to places and experiences and people who crack me open, who unfailingly dump me right in the middle of myself. I wonder what would happen if instead, I lived there full-time. That, I think, is my goal for the new year, and every year, more than any specific task. It always has been. I get closer every year.