Life's Ebb and Flow

It was December 2013 when I moved to Washington state. I drove for a week through snow, ice and powerful Wyoming winds that swept semi trucks clear off the highway. It was so cold, my travel snacks froze in my car on the evenings I was too tired to bring them inside my motel room. When I arrived in Washington, a week later, it was just as cold and twice as damp. It was raining when I entered my new home, which I now realize is the quintessential Northwest welcoming. Rain washed the highway grime from my windshield. My tired car squeaked upon its final stop at my new apartment complex, a similarly damp space that wreaked of weed and bleach. In my first weeks in Washington, I couldn’t afford much to brighten the space. I slept on an air mattress, first placed in the middle of my living room and, later, in my bedroom — the only space I could afford to heat. But I was happy. Moving with only $800— and no real plan b — gave me a nervous sense of excitement. It’s the same feeling I now get when I spontaneously jet off to a foreign country alone. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, but a welcomed one.

A few weeks after I moved to Washington, I celebrated Christmas with my then boyfriend. Early in the day, we bought fixings for a modest Christmas dinner — canned vegetables, boxed potatoes, cheap wine. He bought me a small, fake Christmas tree and decorated it with several ornaments that rained glitter on my apartment’s dated shag carpet. Then we headed to Mount St. Helens, an active volcano perhaps best known for its devastating eruption in 1980. We drove an hour to the volcano, talking about things that have long faded from my memory. What I do remember is that upon arriving, we realized most of the roads to viewing points were closed. We hadn’t checked the hours and, given that it was Christmas, few things were open. Instead of going on a hike as we had planned, we parked at the only available overlook and sat on a rock wall facing the volcano. We sat at its edge and dangled our feet.

People always think I’m joking when I tell them that the first time I saw a snow-covered mountain was after I moved west. I grew up in Southern Ohio, went to school in Southeast Ohio and lived, briefly, in both LA and New York City. The mountains in the Pacific Northwest were strangers to me. Beautifully grand strangers.

I write this five years removed from that day. I’ve now climbed to the summit of Mount St. Helens a handful of times. I’ve climbed other mountains, too, and visited peaks in other countries. But Mount St. Helens holds a special place in my heart. That first Christmas in the Northwest was a particularly lonely one for me. I was far from family and friends. I was in a new city. I had moved into a cramped, cold apartment with very little money to furnish it. I wrestled, often, with the idea that I had made a mistake. That I had replaced comfort with the wrong kind of adventure. But as corny as it sounds (and it’s going to sound really corny) visiting Mount St. Helens that Christmas reminded me that there was so much I had to see and that I had to be uncomfortable in order to see it. The volcano’s enormity humbled my ego. It made me feel like I belonged in the Northwest, that I needed to be there. 

Life ebbs and flows, and I’ve experienced many uncomfortable moments since that Christmas in 2013. I have had months of my life that are filled with the “good” kinds of adventure — solo trips to tropical foreign countries, passionate romances with interesting people, career milestones. But I’ve also weathered some dips. There have been months I’ve felt totally lost. Or worse, stagnant. It’s during those times when I think of paying a visit to Mount St. Helens because there I’m reminded of my 23-year-old self. I remember my young feelings of doubt, worry, fear and indecision. I then remember the many adventures that followed soon after, like the summit climbs and career breakthroughs. I remind myself that uncomfortable feelings are normal. That they usually surface just before some grander adventure is about to unfold. I tell myself to trust them and to hold on tight.