Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Things November

"The wind carried the smell of the mountains, high and sweet.  It was so still I could imagine a peace without boredom."-Pam Houston, "Cowboys are my Weakness"

The first Monday in November my friend Liz and I walked until lactic acid made our calves cramp. We walked until the arches of our feet swelled and the cushioning in our shoes compressed. We walked until the pavement echoed in my shins. We walked together for the first time in six months, across Boise, Idaho, a city neither of us knew, a city where Liz had moved less than a week before. We hiked to the Table Rock where we ate vegan peanut butter bars and trail mix made from squash seeds Liz had roasted Sunday night.

When I hike in the Cascades I seldom see another person, but in Boise, Liz and I walked a trail full of footprints, sparkled with bottle caps and broken glass. Graffiti colored Table Rock with words that bloomed together, striping the sandstone red, orange, white, and blue. Liz and I photographed broken eyeglasses and Starbucks coffee sleeves littering the trail. We scrambled cliffs too high to climb without rope, stretching our limbs till they shook with fear and exhaustion. We photographed each other’s sun-browned sweaty shapes ascending above Boise. Below us, red and orange leaves dotted the city-scape, marking the change in season. 

Liz and I meandered into conversations that could have made us cry if we’d been sitting across from each other at a table. Walking shoulder-to-shoulder, we could bear the weight of the words we’d both needed to say to someone for months: stories we needed a friend to help carry. We retraced moments. We walked and we listened. We photographed traces of people who had visited the places we hiked before us. We returned to Liz’s apartment ten hours after we left, with swollen feet and sunburned faces and I wished I could spend every day of my life outside, walking with someone I love.
Liz moved to Boise with her friend Ian, dog Sonoma, and a kitten that doesn’t have a name yet.  The kitten, who we addressed as “cat” or “kitten,” fit in the palm of my hand.  She bounded around Liz’s unfurnished apartment, chasing shadows and sun spots.  It felt like the most normal thing in the world: sitting on Liz’s carpet with my computer across my legs, watching Sonoma and kitten skitter across the carpet.  It reminded me of the countless afternoons I spent sprawled on Liz’s floor in Ames, Iowa, while we were both graduate students at Iowa State University.  We’ve both changed so much since then, and yet, when we’re together it feels as if no time has passed, as if making breakfast and going for long walks and sitting side-by-side on the carpet are still part of our regular rhythm.

I drove back north to Washington on a two-lane highway that snaked Idaho’s western border.  I drove mountain passes with signs prohibiting vehicles without chains from driving them during the winter.  I drove along the Snake River.  Mountains rose from either side of Highway 95, shadowing the asphalt.  I bought huckleberry jam and sweet onion pretzels at a roadside fruit stand near Hell’s Canyon.  I stopped at the co-op in Moscow for a six pack of beer and a baguette.  I spent the night in Spokane, Washington with my friend John and his partner Tamera.  We drank wine and ate lasagna and baklava with our plates in our laps as we watched the Electoral College map turn red and blue.  I slept in their guest room, on a bed heaped with quilts and pillows and woke before five to drive the three hours back to Fields Point to catch the ferry back to Holden Village. 
My friend Brenna sent out an e-mail at the beginning of the month rallying a group of our friends to participate in a project called “New Things November.”  Every day in November, Brenna tries to do something new and she invited us to do the same.  November first: Brenna wore bright blue tights, November second: Brenna cooked balsamic roasted cauliflower.  Brenna bought sandalwood soap and read at a poetry slam, she chalk-dyed her hair teal, learned to jack-up a car, and made breakfast hash with golden beets.  She asked us to e-mail updates about our November endeavors.

Melissa finished knitting her first scarf and made chocolate beet cupcakes.  Katie ate quail eggs, watched a James Bond movie, went to a hookah bar, and sang karaoke.  Gen started training for a half marathon, made pumpkin curry, and tried meditating.
Sometimes we need an excuse to take initiative to do the things we know we want to do.  Today, like most days in “New Things November,” I filled my time with novelty and felt the significance of that newness.  I went to my first winter waffle bar and topped my waffles with blueberries, powdered sugar, and walnuts.  I listened to a man describe the history of the Holden mine and its remediation.  I participated in a village-wide snowball fight and spent over three hours sledding down chalet hill.

This month I’ve gone on a midnight walk, chalk-dyed my hair pink, and helped judge a pie contest.  I organized a book club, presented my thesis,went to a beer tasting, ate black bean brownies, climbed Table Rock, attended my first Washington state cross country meet, and drove to Boise to visit my best friend.  It’s been a month of novelty and nesting—of being playful and vulnerable, of learning to trust and be trusted, of trying out new routines in a place I’m trying to make my home.
Today, while sledding, my friend Anna said that living in someplace so beautiful makes everything seem significant: standing on the top of the sledding hill, doing snow angels with the first graders, walking to breakfast in the morning--the way the sun shadows the mountains and the way the clouds move over the ridge, shrouding the peaks in filmy white.  "We're so lucky we live here," I whispered back.  She nodded.  Then we high-fived like high school students on a sports team, giddy about getting to spend a winter in the mountains.

I’ve been thinking lately about travel and change, community and home, about the people we attach ourselves to and the obligation that attachment entails.  I’ve been thinking about trying new things and sinking into old habits.  I’ve been thinking about the ways I feel myself changing and feeling lucky to be living in a place that supports me through those changes.  In Brian Doyle’s beautiful book, Mink River, character nick-named Worried Man describes his relationship with his wife, "She knows me.  She desires my joy.  I desire her joy.  That's the point of being married.  To want the other to be joyfully at peace."  I dogeared the page because it seemed like a statement not just about marriage but about friendship and community.  We want to know one another, we want each other to be joyfully at peace.

The village and everything around it is knee deep in snow.  At night the snow reflects moonlight, making it easier to move safely in the dark.  I like how quiet the woods get: with a blanket of powder smothering sounds and softening my footsteps.  I've been walking a couple miles most nights: to Ten Mile Falls, the labyrinth, Glacier Peak Wilderness, the bridge, or the ball-field.  My favorite part of night hikes is walking back into the village--seeing the light of the lodges and chalets, and letting the stream of brightness lead me back to my chalet. When I see the lamplight of the living room of Chalet 4, I feel so grateful: grateful for friends who push me to do new things and for friends who feel so familiar that they can make any city feel like home, grateful to live someplace so beautiful it hurts, grateful to be with people who wish me peace, grateful for the footprints that broke my path back home, and grateful to be able to slip off my shoes and walk upstairs in stocking-feet.


  1. I wish this was a book so I could dogear this page.

  2. Lovely, as always, Ms. Button. A handful of new things from me: I went to my first game night, last night, in Boise (there are stories in that, I think) with complete strangers. I began volunteering at a homeless shelter. I took a class from the school district on how to be a substitute. I began volunteering with a group that works with refugees and teaches them English and job skills. I ate chocolate peanut butter. I took a Women's Self Defense seminar, and loved it. I am writing a poem a day (Nov 15 - Dec 15 -- and this totally counts as a NEW thing every day). I read books on rape culture and pornography.

    Also! We rescued two couches (so we now have furniture, kinda).

    1. Liz! That makes me happy. I'm so excited to hear more during our next phone conversation (probably around December 22.) Keep watching flight prices. I'd love to see you.

      Also: You should send me poetry. I like reading your work even if I'm sometimes a slow responder.

      All the best,