A five-minute hike out and up from my mom’s house there’s one of those cut-outs along the side of the mountain where the power lines stretch down through the valley and up over the other mountain at the far side of the lake. Underneath the lines, you can actually hear electricity buzzing, which is how quiet it is. Only when you hike up the cut-out and reach the top do you get an open, 360-degree vantage and an airy hush of long-haul trucks on Highway 3 or, farther off, I-90.
It’s my third or fourth day up at Black Lake, late morning, and I’m hiking alone, checking out some of the paths my mom hadn’t yet gotten around to exploring, or the ones she didn’t want to do alone. The area is remote and thickly wooded, and as far as animals you should probably worry about go, I’ve heard there are moose, wildcats, black bears. I don’t know enough about these animals’ behaviors to be assured of my safety, so I walk ten or twenty yards and pause, look around, listen. I hear turkeys and follow their gobbling until I see a wrinkled blue head bobbing into the underbrush.
I make my way around to the mossy rock outcroppings up top and there’s suddenly this wide view of Black Lake and the mountains beyond, big ones that still have snow. The view—or more probably just the hike up to it—does kind of take your breath away. You feel lucky to have come upon it but rushed to take it all in, to get something out of it, whatever the heck that is. When you’re not around this sort of beauty all the time, I think you expect the natural world to do something for you, as if it weren’t always like this—or a variation of it—whether you’re there to witness it or not. I take a snapshot with my camera, but that doesn’t get it.
My vacation was much needed and ten days long, two of which were spent in planes and terminals, skipping across the surface of the western US. Not that I was hoping to make friends, but I was disappointed to find myself always crammed next to jet-setting businessmen-types full of hot air. One guy was in my window seat when I boarded. “Oh, did you actually want this seat?” I said yes. “That’s fine,” he said with a sigh. “I just thought you’d be magnanimous and let me have it.” I slid over to the window and told him that didn’t mean I wasn’t magnanimous. You can’t be inconsiderate and haughty and call it magnanimity when people let you act that way, which I did not say to him. My vacation, excluding travel time, was eight days, and because I’ve found myself frustrated and at something like a crossroads—limbo, junction, quarter-life crisis, whatever—I needed to inhabit every one of them.
My mom and Lance moved to northern Idaho at the end of last summer. Their adventures and pleasures have been well documented on this blog, and it’s no secret that the two of them have chiseled out a simple and wholesome happiness on Black Lake. They chop lumber for their wood-burning stove. They save tea bags, coffee grounds, and banana peels for their compost barrel. They sprout seeds. Neighbor-dog Brewski stops by when he’s bored. Lance is mounting solar panels to the roof of their pole barn. Mom is reading Laura Ingalls Wilder. She walks two miles to check the mail and can identify moose scat. The last name of one of their neighbors is Walden. Another neighbor they call Mountain Mike, who has no front teeth but has a beer cooler strapped to his ATV.
Upon my mom’s request, I brought her a copy of Thoreau’s writings. There’s a section in Walden: “I love a broad margin to my life…[The seasons] were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance…Instead of singing, like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.” This is a good thing: to witness your mother experiencing her own incessant good fortune. Sure, she’s hunting for a job, which will occasionally take her from her little house on the mountain, but that’ll be something I’m sure she’ll have no trouble fitting within her broad margin.
From their porch on Catbird Drive, you can look out at the mountain on the opposite side of the lake. There’s a sort of clearing along the upper ridge, where you could probably spot a wandering moose if you were lucky. Something about a long and wide vista makes the tensed up junk in you relax and unfold. Not that that’s what it’s all there for. We just sometimes happen to need that sort of unfolding, and need nothing else.
One evening after dinner, my mom and I hiked down the mountain to the trails nearer the lake. There are around a hundred residences in the Black Lake Shores district, but only a dozen or so families, my mom and Lance included, live there year round. I found the vacated area comforting, as though being able to experience a thing without lots of others also experiencing it made the thing more your own. When my mom and I saw several burnt circles along the trails, remains of summer visitors’ campfires, I was disappointed. It’s selfish, but then again I like to think there’s enough room for each person’s version. Later, I thought of a line from The Tree by John Fowles: “We still have this to learn: the inalienable otherness of each, human and non-human, which may seem the prison of each, but is at heart, in the deepest of those countless million metaphorical trees for which we cannot see the wood, both the justification and the redemption.”
As we made our way back that evening we came upon a moose. It stood stock still up ahead on the trail, long-limbed and in shadow and facing us. I wanted to move in closer, but my mom stopped me. We instead scrabbled down the hill back to the lake road. From the bottom I could see the moose had turned to keep watch on us.
The evening of my last full day on Black Lake, my mom asks me to take her up along the power lines to the top of the mountain. When we get to the upper ridge that banks the cut-out I lead her over to the outcropping with the view. She has her camera and takes a few pictures but comments on how they can’t do it justice, a reality she’s already come to terms with up here.
It’s warm out, but you can tell evening will be much cooler. We can just barely hear Lance and some of the neighbors laughing at the house halfway down the mountain. Other than that, it’s peaceful and I’m happy to be up here and seeing these things with my mom, though I don’t say so because it’s the right kind of quiet. It seems to me almost like this long, slow inhale of breath—there’s a sense of expectancy. Not of the natural world waiting for me, nothing so naïve as that. More like me just waiting on me.
We hike back a different way, around gates with NO TRESPASSING signs, past a few abandoned properties with eclectic collections in their yards: rusted pick-up trucks twice my age and a teepee that looks authentic aside from being wrapped with a gray vinyl tarp.
Finally back on a familiar trail, my mom says she’s glad we did that. I agree.