Cold comfort

English: Waszyngton Av, autumn, Krakow, Poland...

Waszyngton Av, autumn: Aleja Waszyngtona, jesień, Kraków (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today I walk through the old town, go to the hostel to get my bag, and go. Autumn has passed through, is passing through the countryside. The landscape is hazy, with smoke or vapour. The haze softens the valleys, the trees turned orange and brown, the apples still caught up on the bare branches of apple trees.

Yesterday was Sunday, the same haziness and stillness. A wan day. I bought ten vintage postcards at a flea market, all written on, 1960s to 80s: vistas of Poland, wildernesses, coast, people running into snow. The man who sold them had shoeboxes full. At one of the galleries in Vienna, an artist, Klimt perhaps, had postcards to his lover on display. Most were just short, scrawled linesI’ve arrived, an impression. Once that was how you told somebody that you were fine.

Later, I walked through a woodland park, drank tea in a cafe, and finally, walked back to the hostel. The paleness and stillness does something to time: time seems either less or more than what it is, like past and present overlapping in the immediacy of the day. Defeated, flooded, silent.

A few weeks ago Gretchen’s Happiness Project emailed a quote about walking: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it (Kierkegaard, letter, 1847). Which isn’t quite how I want it to be in my memory.

In mode of a scrapbook, I finished the novel The Life of Pi a few weeks ago. The final idea haunted me for a while; the story of the boy and the animals in the lifeboat, or, the story of the boy and the mother and the crew and a cannibal in the lifeboat: which one do you prefer. I had an idea, but it’s in my notebook, which is in my locker. I think it was something like, the world is the world whether God exists or not, but it’s enriching to believe that He does (according to the narrator).

Once in a gift shop I read a quote ‘there are no mistakes’. Pema says The path is the goal. And somewhere, Be yourself.

One of the museums was a house set up as a traditional family home, all cluttered with furniture and objects. The card read horror vacui (fear of the void), typical accumulation of works of art, brick-a-brac, and artistic artifacts, which can still be seen in contemporary K— houses (paraphrased).

A common mode for windows is a spacious windowsill, on which sits one or more pot plant, and a lace curtain falls flat and opaque to conceal the room.

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Mountain time

alta powder snow

powder snow (Photo credit: limaoscarjuliet)

A night on the train. I stayed up reading in the lounge car while the train was barreling unstoppably fast and blaring its horn somewhere up ahead. My eyes were sore but I had to read my book to the end. Then I went to my seat and rested my cheek so when I opened my eyes I could see out the window without moving my head. On the horizon inaudible lightening flashed orange and white.

I thought I’d write: California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska. Place names in quiet-town America sound romantic to me: Grand Junction, Great Falls, Spokane, an American texture. I found a poetry journal in a second hand book shop in S—, which described the American landscape as ‘fierce and sublime’. I think these place names speak to that idea of grit and wonder.

My checked bag did not make it to S— with me, however. We took a taxi at 4am to a hostel with ‘24 hr reception’ but the door was locked, and only when a resident woke to go to work and let us in, could we read the sign on the office door that said to call to be let in.

After one day, we found the Goodwill and bought warm clothes, and took a shuttle into the mountains. Because my bag still hadn’t turned up, I put plastic bags over my expensive sandals so I could walk in the snow. A little way up the hill skiers whizzed gleefully along, some little kid skiers didn’t have poles. A middle-aged man from the bus nodded to us as he skied past. We had a cup of tea in the restaurant. On the bus back the man sat with us and explained that the snow hadn’t been so good today for him, the surface had gone a little crusty with ice. Yesterday, it was more powdery, which makes going a little slower, but feels like you are floating on the snow. East coasters are used to the crusty ice, but the powder is the best.

We went back for bags and food, and got on the train around 3.30am. We went through the remainder of the night and through the day to D—. The distance was not great, but we were going through the mountains, and now ran almost constantly alongside snow, slowly winding around the curves, until it did snow outside the M— Tunnel. The train gets like home.

Another hostel. Some more reading. I was reading ‘Children of the book’ by Geraldine Brooks, and was impatient to finish. We went out for sliders at a bar around the corner.

The next day we took a bus to B—. We looked in a mystical bookshop, and I found books by the Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. Flicking through, there was a sentence that said something like, Sleeping, making a cup of tea, going to the toilet, talking to people, this is what life is.

We walked along the creek path, past the town and into a canyon. The evergreens there and everywhere were leafless although technically it is spring. The landscape then is drab-brown, pale and woody. but my life is smaller than the world, and those trees were there, intricate and fallow, and lovely in their way. Up in the canyon patches of snow lingered by the trail and in patches on the slope. Mountain bikers and joggers passed us, and down in the creek fishermen pulled lines through pools.

We lay down and read and went back to the slider bar. A man with smooth skin and a dark beard sat down at our table and announced that someone wanted to beat him up. When they called last drinks he asked if we’d like to come back to his apartment and see the skyline. My sister said, Do you have any alcohol? and he looked put out for a moment, and said No… but I do have video games. But I remembered the lecture of the Australian girl in Chiapas, and didn’t feel bad about saying no.

The next day my sister and I read across the booth in a Thai restaurant. Is this a book club?, the waiter asked. No, we’ve just been spending every hour together recently, I said. There’s nothing left to say, my sister said, and we went back to reading.

The book I finished in the middle of Nebraska last night was Wild by Cheryl Strayed about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. What impresses me is Strayed sets out not to find out who she is, but who she used to be. She finds that on the trail, she can only be herself. She ends by saying:

Thank you, I thought over and over again. Thank you. Not just for the long walk, but for everything I could feel finally gathered up inside of me; for everything the trail had taught me and everything I couldn’t yet know, though I felt it somehow already contained within me. How I’d never see the man in the BMW again, but how in four years I’d cross the Bridge of the Gods with another man and marry him in a spot almost visible from where I sat now. How in nine years that man and I would have a son named Carver, and a year and a half after that, a daughter named Bobbi. How in fifteen years I’d bring my family to this same white bench and the four of us would eat ice-cram cones…

It was all unknown to me then… Everything except the fact that I didn’t have to know. That it was enough to trust that what I’d done was true. To understand it’s meaning without yet being able to say precisely what it was.. To believe that I didn’t need to reach with my bare hands anymore. To know that seeing the fish beneath the surface of the water was enough. That it was everything. It was my life… so very close, so very present , so very belonging to me. How wild it was to let it be.

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