I love the mountains of my new home – the Olympics to the west, the Cascades to the east, Mounts Rainier and Baker to the south and north respectively. When I see them, I get excited. As a little girl I would pretend that the far-off clouds I could see on the far western edge of the prairie were mountains. Now I have real mountains. Actually, they have me.
I am reminded of my Midwestern roots each time I drive to my office, which is 3 miles from my home. One might think that walking three miles is do-able – especially if one is a native Midwesterner. I can hear my mother telling me how “I walked 3 miles to school everyday in the Minnesota snow AND I walked back home.” I can imagine she did this – I’ve seen the road she walked – a paved straight east-west country road with no intersections to navigate. I could not – and would not – even attempt to replicate her 3 mile walk to my office. It enough of a challenge to drive there.
Here in the Puget Sound area, straight east-west roads of more than three miles are a rarity. And why? The geographical differences, in conjunction with the topographical differences, eliminate the possibility of driving here with any semblance of the way one drives in the Midwest. To further complicate things, add in a tremendous number of people working around the clock for an aircraft factory that doesn’t sleep, one major north-souththoroughfare, and a plethora of right- (or left-) turn-only lanes that appear as if by magic.
I have always prided myself on my sense of direction and being able to know where I am. I’m a great navigator and map reader – and I am frequently right when I follow my nose. I should probably state that in the past tense, however.
In the Midwest, most everything is north-south, east-west. You can get around traffic jams, road construction, you name it, by driving a little further one direction and zig-zagging your way back. You might add a few blocks or miles, but the ability to end up where you intend to end up is pretty much a no-brainer. Even when you don’t know exactly where you are, finding a place where you can zig and zag your way to a known location is fairly predictable.
This is not the case when driving in the Puget Sound area. I have spent so much time trying to drive as if my Midwestern bearings would work. This is not the case. This is not the case. Let me say this again: Midwestern bearings do not work here.
I can drive in odd places. You may recall that Minnesota can claim Jesse Ventura, the pro wrestler, as a past Governor. One of his more stellar quotes was “Those streets in St. Paul must have been designed by drunken Irishmen.” He got a lot of flack for the Irish comment, but the truth is that St. Paul, being a rivertown, has geographical and topological limitations of where the streets CAN go. Driving in St. Paul is VERY different than driving in Minneapolis where I lived. I was quite successful negotiating the intricacies of the St. Paul streets when I did in-home therapy. That’s because I didn’t fight. I accepted that I would not know where I was, so I followed the map. I didn’t try to take shortcuts or try to outmaneuver the traffic: I surrendered to the geography.
I learned a long time ago that sometimes you can take shortcuts – and sometimes you can’t. I regularly walked the labyrinth at St. Kate’s in St. Paul as a contemplative spiritual practice. A labyrinth is not to be confused with a maze.
In a labyrinth there are no decisions to make, no dead-ends; you surrender control. You follow the path as it leads you in, and you follow the path as it leads you out. During one particular walk, I speculated on what would happen if I tried to take a shortcut. (It’s me! Of course, I would contemplate the properties of zigging and zagging in a labyrinth!) I realized that if I stepped over one path edge, I would be on another unknown part of the path. I wouldn’t know which direction to go to reach the center, and I would have the possibility of forgetting not only which path I had left, but which direction I was going when I left it. I would be lost and have no way of establishing my bearing without having to hop over all the path edges to the center, or go back to the beginning. Also, initiating a shortcut would rather defeat the point of surrendering to the labyrinth.
I know all this, and still I don’t give up trying to take shortcuts here. It offends my sense of competence and reason to have to drive south to go north. Yet, this is what I have to do in order to get to my office. And why is this? Because those far-off pretend mountains of my long-ago childhood are real here. Intellectually, I understand that you can’t drive over a mountain; but I want to. I think I should be able to. I fight. I try desperately to make a zig work; but as you might imagine, I end up in a cul-de-sac or a dead-end parking lot or some other place I totally didn’t expect – and I have to backtrack.
I think I continue to try to defeat the mountains here as a way of remembering that I am not of this place, that I am a visitor who will leave and go back to the Midwest at some point. In this case there is a spiritual component for attempting shortcuts in this pacific labyrinth. It is a way of appreciating that, for the moment, the mountains are real and this terrain is temporary. It’s a way of remaining connected to my Midwestern home without broadcasting it. It is a way of reminding myself of who I am. And thus, I will likely continue to take shortcuts.
If I were to keep a tally on my attempts to outwit the mountains, today’s score would probably be Mountains 197 – Cherylann 0 – and I am winning 🙂