"Come to the woods, for here is rest. There is no repose like that of the green deep woods. Here grow the wallflower and the violet. The squirrel will come and sit upon your knee, the logcock will wake you in the morning. Sleep in forgetfulness of all ill. Of all the upness accessible to mortals, there is no upness comparable to the mountains."
- John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir, (1938), page 235.
Dominica was full of that "upness" that John Muir references in the quote above. The view of the volcanic mountains and the contrasting far sea horizon gave a glorious upness to the often difficult day to day in which we lived. (And our difficulties rarely compared to the Dominican's day to day.) The university gave us a cushion in many ways but the mountains too gave us a cushion, one that was harder to name, harder to recognize, and one that I miss dearly now.
I stopped blogging in our last semester there. I think the idea of wrapping up a life somewhere that took real grit to settle into was difficult to comprehend. I had just figured it out and now we leave? Packing, crossing things off the Dominica bucket list, and saying goodbyes certainly didn't lend itself to a quiet stillness in which to reflect and write. Its been over a month now and I think those reflections are starting to show themselves. And the mountains are a recurring vision.
In Dominica I was an outsider. I wasn't from there, I didn't recognize the foods, I didn't know their slang, I didn't share their history. There were figurative mountains I had to surmount in understanding how to cook there, how to buy food, how to get from place to place, how to communicate, how to be a foreigner in my day to day reality, how to live. Plus, in the med school community, I was in a sea of other outsiders struggling to do the same thing from their own experiences.
I think some of it was just a little too much to wrap our minds around and so many of us climbed literal mountains, hardships we could see, name, climb, finish, and succeed. I think we needed those mountains, those concrete challenges and successes, in order to mentally surmount the day to day. Each mountain, each swim and run and yoga session, each physical venture pulled us out of ourselves, pulled us out of the insatiable desire to explain what was, at times, inexplicable.
Being back stateside is full of delights (phone calls, blankets, baby spinach, affordable apples, potable water, book stores...) and many things are comfortable again, recognizable again. But after the shock of these renewed delights passed, the figurative mountains of the day to day returned. It is not foreignness but life itself that offers us daily mountains to vanquish. We exhaust ourselves trying to explain, reason, and think them away. In that exhaustion, I think of John Muir's idea of repose and upness; the woods, the sea, the mountains, the plains given as places of rest.
Andy and I still live by the sea now but without any mountains for miles. Some days I run up to the ocean to look out on the waves and the horizon and run home again, once again pulled out of myself, slightly accepting the inexplicable and taking a deep breath in the reality that we are given work to do and it is ours to do it.