January in Riverdale. The world of our street feels crisp, white, new.
It’s hard work getting the baby outside, snowsuit and stroller and all, but most days we do it anyway, aiming to enjoy the natural world in all seasons, in all its crevices. There’s color out there against the snow: winter berries, sumac drupes, the early-setting sun. January has always been tough for me, that cliff after a month of constant celebration. Thank God for those berries.
Although we do go outside, the truth of winter for me is a hunkering down, a dive internal. I don’t mind the early nights, made cozier for their length. It is a welcome season for writing, for taking stock, for making intentions clear.
My post this week is a list: a wanderlusty list of the places I lived and love, the bigger wildernesses where I hope to return, and the experiences I wish to share there, in due time, with our daughter.
As soon as she’ll remember it, we’ll take her to Glacier National Park: to see the nominal remains, to drink from walls that weep, to wonder how a mountain goat finds purchase. To feel the encompassing roundness of a mountain cirque. To watch snow fall to road-blocking heights in July. To freeze toes in glacial water, witness mountain wildflowers, and honor the kitsch of those sprawling, neo-Alpine lodges.
Of course we will carry her to Yellowstone, the park where her parents met: to boil in the mixing pot where the Gardner meets the Boiling; to search for badgers, bear cubs, moose and moonbows up Slough Creek; to geyser-gaze at front-country thermals, then to put in the legwork merited by backcountry gems like the Fairylands. To linger, zigging and zagging and minding the view along the length of Mt. Everts. To hold an elk shed to her head, and gumweed to her chin in imitation of an eastern buttercup. To pray to, float down, bathe in, and listen to the river that gives the park, and the greatest ecosystem, its name.
Capistrano Beach: Here we will dip her in the ocean, let the fist-sized rocks pummel our ankles as they chorus with the sea. The waves will scream to us how West we are; we will feel how arbitrary a fact this is, next to the actuality of ocean. We’ll tell her: this is where we ended our coast-to-coast drive near the end of our honeymoon, where we poured out a bottle of the Atlantic and scooped up Pacific before driving home to Salt Lake City.
I’ll take her to my southernmost sacred place: Middle Georgia’s Moody Forest, to kneel down with the tupelo and cypress on the banks of the Altamaha, to walk fire lines old and new through old-growth pines with grizzled tops and red-cockaded woodpecker holes, as we watch for gopher tortoises.
We’ll spend time exploring New York’s Southern Tier, where our family once owned a farm on Dutch Hill. It isn’t ours anymore, but we can still drive and walk those roads of dairy country, listening to grandpa’s and great uncle’s stories about growing up wild, scanning skies and forest’s edge for bald eagles and black bear. We’ll taste the fruits of the region during sugaring season at Cartwright’s Maple Tree Inn and make pilgrimages to the Genesee River gorge at Letchworth State Park.
We’ll camp on northern Utah’s Antelope Island, where the land rises from primordial waters stinky with shrimp and brine. I’ll have her slide some sagebrush into a notebook she will open later, much later, when the smell will remind her of these rocky pools, these matchless sunsets, this uncanny inland sea.
Liguria: We’ll bring her here, along Italy’s stretch of the Mediterranean, for another holy baptism: the sea will mark and claim her, as it did her father and all those who grew up within reach of the waves. We’ll tell her: this sea will call you back. Let it. Watch its waves thunder the promenade; stand in the face of the setting sun as it paints colorful seaside palazzi. Fill yourself with Ligurian basil, pesto, frutti di mare. Visit Genoese palaces and villas, and live for their wilder parts: scenographic gardens, fountains, giochi di acqua.
These are just a few of our precious places. With the intention and clarity that a new year brings, I mark my intention to take her to each of them. And in addition to these special wild places, I will urge and contrive and connive for her the following wild experiences:
To work physical, restorative, outdoor labor on a crew. There is nothing like bodily teamwork: relying on other humans for safety, endurance, and good spirits while taking care of and learning from land and water.
Respect the ecology of your body. It took me until adulthood to recognize the body as an ecosystem, a permaculture farm, over which I hold some sway and guardianship, but whose wholeness and mystery warrants mostly awe and respect.
Live, and eat, for every season. I’ll will her to fight climate-control and engage with the changing climate: to get outside, to get dirty, in every sort of weather, in every season. Her cells, I will demonstrate to her, will be strengthened by knowing bitter cold, stinging rain, and searing, sweaty hot.
Here’s to the “new year,” to marking intention for self and loved ones, at this particular moment on our ceaseless celestial journey.