I could hear Anna cussing even though I was twenty yards behind. “There are two parties ahead of us.” It was exasperated and whispered, but the words drifted down through the doug fir and engleman spruce as we walked along the winding, tamped down.
“Is it not a big area?” Sydney asked in response.
“Not really” was the reply. As luck would have it, we passed one of the parties as they stopped to rest on some green, lichen cloaked boulders.
“Doggies!” a toddler, exclaimed as Cora and Leroy passed by the resting family. Her hand reached out and Leroy went in for a face lick while I mostly prodded Cora along. We exchanged pleasantries and continued up the hill in the cool, damp shade of the early September morning.
There have been many “lasts” which aren’t really “lasts” but more of “lasts for now” that have happened over the past several days and weeks. “Last” just slips off the tongue easier. Even now, sitting here in the old, dark, broad, square cut rocking chair in my living room, sipping tea and typing away, I think of this as the last time I will have this space, these morning times here. There was the last briefing and then last debrief as I hung up my program supervisor hat after six years in that role and there will be the last paycheck too. In this odd irony, the flurry of things to do has led to rushing and not savoring so many of these lasts, whether they are tacos or happy hours or more importantly time with friends.
So, I sit here, in the southeast corner of the living room, listening to the methodical drip of a spoutless gutter onto corrugated fiberglass and try to be present. From the other side of the house, I hear the Morning Edition theme music as Margo listens to the days events. It is a Thursday morning in September and in front of me on the carpeted floor, a not unfamiliar pile of Stuff to Be Packed grows. While the pile is familiar, the reason, not so much. Expeditions and extended work trips have for so long been the source of the pile, but fascinatingly those too, have likely had their “lasts”, ones that snuck in without fanfare or foresight. Unlike those though, I saw this one coming.
The dwindling days in Lander have been full. From randomly walking through the house and tossing items over the dog fence onto the pile on the living room floor to preparing raised garden beds for the fall to putting siding on the log shop to cleaning the various places, the days have been long and busy. The wee hours of the morning were spent on the couch crafting various work documents, then after logging a number of hours, I would transition to writing to Andy and doing a few internet related tasks before exploring the backyard projects of paintings, siding, cleaning, assembling, etc. Then sometime in the afternoon, I would settle into one of the purple yard chairs and catch up with a friend for an hour or two over beers, bubbly waters, or Cora pets. When the projects beckoned I would focus back in for another couple hours before a Hamms dinner, flossing, and bed.
“Lasts”, though, mean “Firsts” too. And “Firsts” are much more definitive than “Lasts.” Not necessarily easier to predict, but easier to assured that one is right in the assertion. This will be my First time living on the eastern seaboard as an adult. It is my First time moving for love. It was my First time declining a NOLS contract in over fifteen years. It was my First time not submitting a NOLS field course work request in the same time span. “It might be,” as Cassidy said as he helped park my truck in the log shop out back: “the first time in a hundred years there has been a car in that shed.” It will be my First time driving across country with dog as my co-pilot. And those things are real; they bring joy and trepidation, they bring smiles and furrowed brows, tears and laughter and ultimately closer to many who are close to my heart.
I will roll out of Lander with a heavy heart. The tears will fall from my eyes and I will be sad. They will fall heavy and hard, fat drops of precious moisture landing with plumb thuds and kick up small puffs us dust as I stand amongst the sage, taking in the rolling granite hills and meandering Sweetwater River one more time. And as I migrate, as I cross the 100th Meridian out of the Great American Desert, either on my first or second day of driving, I know that my heart will start thinking of woodpiles and autumn leaves and wool shirts and Dunkin’ and the rolling hills of my youth.
Despite passing the eager hands that reached out to our furry friends, we still weren’t even the second group at the crag; at least two other parties had made cool, early morning starts. But they all seemed to have taken up residency on the crag’s east end and we motored on, Sydney and I in tow, Anna in the lead with the vision. For both of us, it was our First time up at the Heavy Metal Rock Band, which I can say for certain. Anna’s knowledge of the crag had us at the far west end where the people had yet to migrate.
My day’s [list of To Dos] included Rock Climbing. Since it was not alone on the list, Cora and I had driven up in a separate vehicle, with my plan being to spend time with Anna and Sydney, with getting some time on the rock a side benefit of spending precious time with friends.
After a few leads, and a few top ropes-all being First times on the routes-, and the hour being around noon, it felt logical to head back to town and put some effort into the other things on the list. But Anna had other ideas: “come on, just take a TR lap on this . . . its you last day here for a while” she goaded. I had to admit she was right. Having just come down from a clean top rope of, what was a challenging grade for me, I felt a bit hesitant to go thrash and dangle on something even harder, especially when my mind had started to wander to gutters and siding and cleaning and gardens.
“You can even go next” Sydney said as we both watched Anna methodically and gracefully edge up the steep face.
I packed my bag and left my harness on and it wasn’t long before Anna cane down with the redpoint in hand. I tied in for another First on this day of Lasts. It wasn’t as poised and controlled as Anna’s ascent, but it wasn’t a trash and dangle; with Anna’s consistent beta, most of which, as per usual, I asked for and ignored, it was a just plain good enough and fun enough. I lowered off not with visions of tasks in my head, but with visions of movement and success, which was definitely a First for me in a long time. Anna offered to belay Sydney, so I shimmied out of my harness, packed it up and shouldered my pack. The goodbyes weren’t “Lasts”, so Cora and I scurried down the trail with some quick “see ya laters” and “have funs”.
Yes, my heart will be heavy, but part of that weight will be these times and memories; having these “Firsts” and “Lasts” together, seems fitting.