My place is currently cluttered with camping and climbing gear. Coiled ropes, tents, sleeping bags, camp stove. A full backpack's worth of dirty clothes takes up most of the floor in my bathroom. This is the aftermath of a five-day camping trip in the Jotenheim region of Norway, about 5 hours north of Oslo. We rolled back into town on Sunday evening, and I was too exhausted to do much about it right away. Funny how the mess doesn't clean itself up. Funnier how I always wish it would.

I spent the morning organizing things, but only seemed to displace the chaos. To give myself a break, I decided to walk downtown and grab lunch. Just a date with me. The girl who stopped counting her most recent mosquito bites at fifteen; the girl with the massive blister on the back of her heel after hiking across a glacier to the top of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's highest mountain. Not pretty or fun or flirty... but in desperate need of a slow walk in the sunshine, you know, to begin the healing.

It worked. Summer may have gotten off to a slow start in Oslo this year (so much rain!), but as we close out the last week of August, I have to say, we're getting some pretty perfect weather. Oslo is beautiful city anyway, but in the sunshine it takes my breath away. 

I ate lunch (Max Burger) on a bench near the statue of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Akershus Fortress. Aker Brygge, the main harbor, bustled below me. Cruise ships came and went. People stood in line for tickets. The number 12 tram clattered around the corner, packed with tourists. An accordionist collected coins in an upturned cap on the cobbled stone. I used all my napkins to wipe the burger's special sauce off my chin. Slowly, but very slowly, my city-girl-ness returned to me. 

Partly it was listening to the myriad languages spoken around me as I walked back toward National Theater to catch my tram home. Partly it was the way the sunlight warmed the crown of my head and spread down to my shoulders, forcing me to pull up my long sleeves and expose my pale wrists to the sky. Partly it was the bird calls and the ship horns. But mostly it was the music.

In the summertime, the changing of the palace guard in Oslo includes a march from Akershus, down Karl Johans gate, and all the way up the hill to the palace grounds. Three policemen on horseback lead the mini-parade; then comes the band. I love the way the red stripes on their pant legs catch the sunlight as they stride out from the cover of shadows.

A while later, the band took their places in the small pavilion near the National Theater and played a short concert. I reluctantly ran for my tram as they finished a brassy rendition of Hello, Dolly! So, bridge that gap, fellas. Find me an empty lap, fellas!

Home again, I surveyed the gear and laundry and dishes with rejuvenated eyes.

Somewhere a hurricane is thrashing the levees of a gun-shy city. Somewhere delegates loyal to Ron Paul are calling out the so-called tyranny of the Republican party. Somewhere my nephew is playing a game with the man who will likely become his stepfather. Somewhere a woman of God is losing her religion. Somewhere a book is burning. Somewhere a hiker with a broken leg waits trembling in the blue-white crevasse of a glacier. And here at home there is a Kindle with a half-read Ann Patchett novel to be finished, and a tall, icy can of apple cider to be drunk. And music is playing behind it all.

It's tough to put my fingers back on this keyboard. One week away from technology has made the plastic, clicking keys foreign to me. I'll get over it. But for the moment, my mind and heart are still back on a sandy, pebbly beach in the Grecian archipelago. 

Jonathan and I traveled to the little island of Kalymnos for a week of off-the-grid relaxation, some rock climbing, and a chance to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary in a new country. The vacation was successful on all counts. We came back with sunburns, a few natural sponges (a Kalymnian specialty), and easy hearts. I plan to blog more about the trip itself soon. But for now, I wanted to share something I read while lying on one of those shallow, sunny beaches next to the man I love. 

Earlier this summer, a friend recommended Terry Tempest Williams's memoir When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice. I downloaded a copy to my Kindle just before we boarded the plane, knowing very little about the subject matter. As it turns out, When Women Were Birds is a very unique kind of memoir. In reading it, I felt like an oceanographer, learning and cataloging the layers of the sea on a deep, deep dive... surprises at each new fathom. It deals in relationships, certainly, but many of these relationships are unconventional, long-ignored, and controversial: parishioner to Church (big C, the author is a Mormon), human to nature (the author has been an environmentalist since the early days when such a term was truly unpopular), a poet to truth, an activist to her cause

But as Jonathan and I celebrated our own anniversary, it was what Williams wrote about marriage, her own having lasted more than forty years at the time of the book's publication, that struck me as most relevant and authentic:

A marriage is among the most private of landscapes. It is also the most demanding if both partners are to maintain their individuality and equipoise. How do you contain within a domestic arrangement a howling respect for the wild in each other?

Rilke provided us with a map: "Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other." I need my solitude. Brooke needs his freedom. When we come together, we meet whole.

But sometimes the distances become to great, and words don't help in the articulation of our souls when we want to share where we've been and who we have become.

I have never been as lonely as I have been in my marriage. I have also never been more seen or more protected. Love has little to do with it. Marriage is more sandstone than granite, similar to the terrain of southern Utah: the geography of mountains, canyons, and plateaus. The weathering creates the redrock windows and bridges. Beauty is transformed over time, and not without destruction.

Landscape is dynamic. So is marriage. Brooke and I have changed, and changed each other. What has been washed and eroded away is as important as what remains.

What remains for Brooke and me is conversation, our shared love of ideas. We have never stopped loving all things wild and unruly including each other. We raised each other, grew up together. And as a couple, we have given birth to each other, both as lovers and refugees in a culture foreign to our true nature. The feral fury of our twenties is such a different fire in our fifties. Deeper, fuller, the fire fanned now is just as intense and surprising because of the spaces we honor between us that hold a history. Brooke remains a mystery.

Yes, our landscape is constantly changing. We've no idea what it will look like in 40 years; it is merely faith that makes us believe we'll still be standing together in those distant days. Meanwhile, we can only learn from the shallow, snaking grooves in the ground around us now, the ones that have appeared in the last 8 years based on our moves and moods. For instance:

  • 8 years
  • 50,759 digital photos
  • 2 cats
  • 2,922 nights (First on a beat-up, blue futon, then on the softest European Sleepworks' mattress in the world.) 
  • 2 rental houses and 1 rooftop flat
  • 17 countries on 3 continents
  • 1 enormous, black, leather couch
  • 10 weeks of Norwegian language lessons
  • 1 nephew
  • 7 full bookcases
  • 398 blog posts
  • 3 cars, then 0 cars
  • 4 climbing harnesses
  • countless kisses
  • countless fights
  • countless boxes of Kraft mac-n-cheese
  • 1 (full) storage unit in Livermore, California

I wonder which will become the fins, the arches, the pillars, the rockfalls, the plateaus, the canyons. But I don't wonder how beautiful the culmination will ultimately be.

It's not really a secret. As an aspiring writer, the desire for success (just a smidge of it... just a single acceptance letter at a time...) is immense, but the odds of it happening are so very small. However, earlier this summer I received that smidge from a publication called Forge magazine. 

My essay Between Stone and Air, the story of my second ascent of Hermaphrodite Flake in Yosemite National Park, was published in issue 6.1. The digital version of my essay has been available since July, and now the paperback hard copy of the magazine is available for purchase ($12.99). The issue includes short stories, essays, and quite a few terrific poems. And in case you need any further enticement to pick up a copy, check out the great mission statement forged by Forge (including a pretty fantastic classic film reference, if you ask me):

We imagine each issue as a bus traveling between destinations, with our contributors adding to the experience of the journey. Think of the bus trip in the movie It Happened One Night, with characters and landscapes flying by like cinema. We aim to publish interesting, quality works, and every issue has a unique flavour.

Climb On: By way of reminder, I do post climbing trip reports on a separate page of this blog. So far there are three, but I've got many more in the works, including a post on Happy Girlfriend, a 5c+ route in the big cave (Grande Grotta) on the island of Kalymnos in Greece, which Jonathan and I climbed just this week. More on that whole trip soon!
California girls don't understand seasons. Even if we've long said inane things like, Oh, Autumn is my favorite time of year! Even if we've once or twice strapped a snowboard to our feet and slid down a mountain on the backside of our rented coveralls. Even if we know all the words to the current summer pop hit. California is a special place, a magical place, a place where temperatures just don't vary much. Especially in the south, but even in my own beloved East Bay. I spent the first 28 years of my life spoiled rotten by mild winters, early springs, hot, clear summers, and autumns that didn't require me to put a jacket on over my Halloween costumes.

So you can imagine what an adjustment it's been to move to Norway. Land of four seasons. Winter. Rainy spring. Raaaaaainy summer. And a dark, chilly autumn. I'm kidding. It's not that bad. And actually, I've enjoyed the seasons so far. Seasons are pretty. Who knew?

This is best demonstrated by looking at the changing seasons in Oslo's Frognerparken.

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