Tuesday, April 26, 2005

The Journey

Sunday afternoon I wandered down Shilshole Avenue in the warm sun of a late-April day in Seattle. I hadn't planned to walk all the way to Golden Gardens but I was there more quickly than I expected, so I crossed under the railroad tracks and started up the winding road that carves up the bluffs to 85th St. I'd only taken a few steps when I saw a dirt pathway trod into the ground to my left, straight up away from the road. I clambered up, pretty much on hands and knees to scrabble over the last steep bit below the lip, and found myself outside an off-leash dog park area.

I had cut out a loop in the road, and across it a wide concrete stairway continued the climb to cut out the next huge loop. Sweaty and determined, I hiked up stairs, along a level dirt pathway, and up another hundred or so stairs. It occured to me that this would be a nice place to prepare for a hike with a lot of steep elevation gain; minutes later I crossed paths with a couple with the same idea, wearing full-on backpacks and hiking gear. I climbed and climbed, feeling a bit like Aerin in Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, dizzied by the hypnotic repetition of stairs beneath my feet. And when I reached the top and found myself at 85th, directly across the street stood a little cafe where I could get an icy Italian soda and cool off for a few minutes before strolling down 32nd back to our apartment. For a moment there I felt like I really had been climbing a stairway to heaven.

Anyway, I'd had no idea that staircase was there, and I googled "'golden gardens' stairs to 85th" at home later that evening, curious what I might find out about it. And the very first promising hit, number 4, was Noematic.org/mine-- "ghosts and other things." And if you like that (and unless you're a complete troglodyte, you will), read "the story of the hedge clippers" too. And "stand by me." Or you could just do what I did and start systematically reading through the archives until you realize with a start that your eyes are dry and sore because it's 12:30 in the morning and you've been mesmerized by Joshua Norton II's writing for three swift hours.

Google, I thought, I could kiss you on the mouth for pulling that out of the murky depths of the internet for me.

Then, as if Google hadn't tried hard enough to get in my pants, it lured me even closer when I found this poem today. There's a period of a year or two in the recent past that I'm not ready to write about yet except in vague allusions. Mary Oliver's poem "Journey" ("there was a new voice / which you slowly / recognized as your own") lyrically captures the essence of my sentiments about it, anyway:

The Journey, by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.