Today’s Writing 101 assignment is about evoking a place.
When my husband and I vacationed in Hawai’i, on one of our last big trips before Little Boy came along, we took a break from the warm beaches to spend some time on Mauna Kea. Many miles of winding roads led us to the visitor’s center, nine thousand feet up the side of the massive volcano. The moment I stepped out of the car, the feel of the thin mountain air told me that I was welcomed, that this was where I ought to be. As lovely as the ocean waves and swaying palm trees were, they were not my place. The mountains are where I belong.
I have been on other mountains like Mauna Kea, rocky mountains with little vegetation, mountains that are beautiful in their isolation. But the mountains to which I will always return are the Rocky Mountains, with their great pine forests and ice-cold lakes. They are my home mountains, although they have rarely been home in the literal sense of the word.
My grandparents built a cabin in the Rockies in the 70s, and oh boy, does that cabin show its age. Green carpet and orange countertops, with decor in strange shades of brown and yellow. Spiders in the corners. Mice in the basement. A half-fallen treehouse in the woods outside. It perches on the slope above an old mining town, hidden among cabins that are newer and fancier – but most of them up for sale.
At times, I have strongly disliked that cabin. Somewhere around the age of 18, cold and grumpy and concerned about the quantity of cobwebs, I declared to my father that I never wanted to inherit the nasty old place. It was too ugly. Too much work. Too full of odd and frightening memories. The first time I remember visiting as a small child, we arrived to find that it had been broken into. My preschool mind picked up on the adults’ concern that the invader might still be around, along with some mention that he had been injured in the break-in. For the rest of the visit, I was terrified about what I might find inside each cupboard and behind each door.
But it is a place of comforting memories, too. Of wet ski gear drying on the radiators. Of watching M.A.S.H. tapes on an old rabbit-eared television. Of building a wall of rocks that survived the elements for a remarkable number of years. Of seeing hummingbirds up close for the first time. And of launching hikes to hidden mountain lakes – of walking rock-strewn trails to the top of the world.
And so, every time I catch the scent of pine trees, I think of the Rocky Mountains and an old cabin and a deck fenced off with chicken wire. And I am happy.