Posts Tagged ‘mountains’

idaho view boise mountains treasure valley

A couple of weeks ago, I found myself on a westbound plane, traveling way past my usual west Texas destination. Some beloved friends of mine moved from Boston to Boise last spring, and welcomed their second daughter right after Christmas. So I hopped a plane to the “big sky” country and spent several days soaking up time with my dear ones and exploring a brand-new place.

abi katie boise state house

Abigail and I, and our respective husbands, have been friends since our college years. We all – plus our friend Shanna – moved to Boston together in 2010, and the five of us got one another through that first difficult year (and snow-covered winter). I’ve missed Abi dreadfully since they moved, and we hardly stopped talking the whole time I was there.

We spent an afternoon wandering downtown Boise: visiting the Capitol (above), Goldy’s for a delicious brunch, Rediscovered Books for copies of the new Flavia de Luce mystery, and Snake River Tea for some afternoon caffeine.

rediscovered books boise bookstore interior

Of course, a main object of my visit was meeting this little lady.


Miss Genevieve is a sunny little thing – happy to snuggle or just hang out, and fascinated by her big sister, Evie. We had lots of cuddle time while watching the Olympics, and I think we’re going to be friends.

On Saturday, Abi and I drove with the girls up to Table Rock, high above Treasure Valley, where Boise sits. It was cold and windy – more so than we expected – at the top, and Genevieve was not impressed. (Poor baby girl.) But once Miss E adjusted, she was fascinated by the views and the rocks. “I want to go to the edge!”

katie evie table rock wind

We all had a delicious dinner at Fork that night, and we spent most of Sunday out in nearby Caldwell, where a lot of Abi’s extended family lives. I’ve known Abi’s parents for years, and it was so fun to see them and slide right back into the cheery family chaos at their house. I loved seeing Abi’s sister Bailey, who is my friend and a former student, and meeting a few other relatives I’d heard about over the years. Also: white chicken chili + Olympic speed skating + cheesy jokes from Abi’s dad, Allen = feeling right at home.

It wouldn’t be a Katie-and-Abi weekend without lots of tea. This was Sunday afternoon: Earl Grey, of course. We both love it, but Abi is an Earl Grey connoisseur.

afternoon tea teacups tray

There’s a little park around the corner from Abi and Nate’s house, and I went for a couple of runs there. It was my first time running in high altitude (Boise is about 2,700 feet above sea level), which was a challenge. But I loved the mountain views and the pink sky.

boise park pink sky pond

Mostly, it was so good to be together: washing dishes, cooking dinner, watching the Olympics, talking and talking and talking. We folded laundry and made scones, and Evie climbed into my bed to cuddle on a couple of mornings. Nate gave me the tour of his workplace and we traded stories about work and church and classes. And Abi and I talked about nearly everything under the sun.

I’d never imagined myself hopping a plane to Boise. But after this visit, I can say for sure: I’ll be going back.

abi gen smile


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The temperatures are slowly rising. The skies are losing the cloud-streaked pallor of winter, giving way on some days to a bold, nearly electric blue. The crocuses are out in full force; the trees are budding; the rhubarb and asparagus are out at the grocery store. On my lunchtime walks, the earthy tang of mulch hangs in the air. I even spotted a rabbit in Harvard Square last week.

And I’m feeling homesick for the mountains of northern New Mexico.

hermits peak blue haven new mexico

Eight years ago, after two semesters fraught with loss, I packed my car with a sleeping bag, pillow, a few books and two weeks’ worth of jeans and T-shirts, and headed west across the Texas plains. I drove past my hometown, crossed the New Mexico border, then wound down a long grey highway bordered with scrub and cacti, then with pine, shadowed in the distance by mesas. I was heading for a camp tucked into a valley under the Sangre de Cristo mountains, where I had signed up for a writing workshop with a former English professor who now ran the camp.

For two weeks, we lived out of cell phone range, hiking and writing and reading each other’s work, sharing meals at a long narrow table in the dining hall. I spent hours walking around the camp alone, inhaling the scent of sun on dried pine needles and the sharp, crisp mountain air. I laughed as Jake, the resident golden retriever, bounded into the river and out again, shaking himself dry, wiggling head to toe with joy. In the late afternoons I stretched out on the wooden porch of the old dining hall, with my journal and a bottle of water, eating M&Ms and writing poetry, soaking up the sunshine and the quiet.

We read Wendell Berry and William Stafford, and I spent a Sunday afternoon sitting in the doorway of the laundry room, reading Kathleen Norris and listening to the rain. Sometimes Scott, the director, would pull out his guitar and share one of the songs he was writing. His words, and the words of these other writers, are bound up with the long hikes and the bowls of hot vegetable stew, and the moments at night when I crossed the short distance from the cabin to the shower house, and paused to look up at the indigo sky pierced with stars.

hermits peak group new mexico hike

I did not solve my problems, nor completely jettison my worry and grief, during those weeks spent so far away from my usual life. But I began to imagine what renewal might look like. I began to believe, after a year of struggle and loss, that I could move forward with peace and steadiness, drawn somehow from the quiet strength of the mountains and hills. I discovered, again, the ability of words to help work through the sorrows we can’t explain, and I knew the deep joy of talking about words with people who also believed in their power.

Every spring, when the air begins to soften and the sky turns toward the vast, jarring blue of early summer, when the life that has lain dormant all winter under the earth begins to quicken, I long to pack up my car again and head for that valley. My soul aches for the deep quiet of those afternoons on the porch and the camaraderie of evenings around the campfire. My ears strain to hear the sound of Scott’s guitar. My whole being remembers, and for a few moments, I am back there in the mountains, where my soul found rest.

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I’ve never been one for leaving.

I love to travel, sure – a weekend getaway or a weeklong trip to an exciting new place, even a semester (and later an entire year) studying abroad. And, of course, last fall I pulled up stakes and set off across the country with my husband, on a new adventure.

But I’ve never been one to bolt when the going gets tough. I’m the stick-it-out type, the girl who wants to make it work, to salvage something beautiful from the pieces of a wreck.

However, at the end of my junior year in college, I was ready to chuck it all. The year began with a severe case of post-Oxford reentry shock and a car wreck that killed my friend Cheryl, and continued with a breakup, the divorce of a friend, a risky surgery for my choir director and the death of my six-year-old cousin, Randen, in a car crash. And a rough finals week that culminated in a shouting match with my housemates, leaving our friendships, and our souls, battered and bruised.

One of my housemates moved out the next week. The other took off for a vacation in London and Paris with some friends. And me? I threw some jeans and T-shirts into a suitcase, grabbed a pillow and sleeping bag, and hit the road for the mountains of New Mexico, where I’d signed up for a writing workshop/retreat with three other students, and an English-professor-turned-camp director. And as I drove through dusty Texas towns surrounded by cotton fields and then into the wide, bronzed hills and steep mesas of New Mexico, I could feel my shoulders begin to relax, my spirit to exhale.

I’d never been to Camp Blue Haven before, though I’d come several times with my youth group to Glorieta, just down the road outside Santa Fe. But I’d never taken this winding road through tiny Las Vegas, New Mexico, and turned off onto a rutted dirt track, crossing the bridge over the creek, heading for a group of cabins nestled on the side of a hill. I’d never hiked up to Eloi’s Meadow or had an English class in a grove of pines, or spent a day toiling up Hermit’s Peak and down the other side, all the way back to the dining hall for a dinner of vegetable stew and hot cinnamon rolls.

But I did all those things, and more, during those two weeks at Blue Haven. I did my laundry in the shower house on a rainy Sunday, sitting in the doorway and reading Kathleen Norris while I waited for my clothes to dry. I walked slowly back to the cabin every night, gazing up at the indigo sky pierced with stars, diamond-bright in the absence of street lights and city glare. I watched Basil, the little dachshund who belonged to the camp’s caretaker, trundle around among the cabins, intent on some secret errand. And I spent hours at the picnic table on the porch of the old dining hall, scribbling in a notebook and eating M&Ms, and soaking in the silence of this place, green and wood-planked and deeply peaceful.

Every May, the urge to be back there hits me again – among the rustling pines, walking barefoot on their sun-warmed needles, smelling their spicy scent on the air. I see the faces of my fellow writers, an odd, mismatched little community, listening intently as we shared our work and talked shop and read poetry aloud. I hear Scott, the director, strumming his guitar and singing in a rough-edged baritone voice with a hint of loneliness in it. I smell the campfire smoke and taste Beth’s cinnamon rolls, and hear the booming bark of Jake, the golden retriever, shaking himself after a dip in the river, and I wish I could go back there – just for a little while.

(Writing “class” at Blue Haven)

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