Thursday, October 1, 2009
Going to my happy place
This week has been tough. I have suffered some disappointments, worry has been knocking on my door, my body is betraying me on the dental front, and Josie has been keeping us up nights with a 102 fever. As I was driving home from work tonight, feeling depressed and sorry for myself, I was suddenly reminded of some happier moments. So I took a short mental stroll to some of my happy places. Here, for your enjoyment, are three of my happy places from some different times in my life.
Childhood: Sunday's at the vertebrate zoology museum
On the WSU campus they used to have (and maybe still do) an amazing old school museum of vertebrate zoology. It was used by undergraduate zoology and biology students to learn about animals. It was an amazing, wonderful, and mysterious place full of fish and amphibians in jars, butterflies, bird feathers, insects - all lined up on shelf and after shelf in case after case. But the best part were the stuffed vertebrate specimens - some just arrayed in cases, others in life-like poses, and still others in actual dioramas. When I was in late elementary school and middle school my best friend Mara Duncan and I would often walk from our houses the few blocks up to the tree-lined campus. Then on a hot summer day, there was nothing better than to enter the old brick building and go down into the lower floor and the basement where the museum was housed. It was always open and there were often no other humans in the place. Our imaginations really ran wild and we were so intrigued and inspired by all the animals we saw in that place. We would spend several hours walking from case to case, reading and speculating about these strange animals and what they were like alive. We spent lots of time choosing which animal would be the best to have as a pet or imagining which one was our secret imaginary friend. It may sound nutty but it was magical to be unsupervised in a place so rich with so many of the biological mysteries of the life and the world. Needless to say, both Mara and I went on to become biologists, Mara a molecular biologist and me a plant ecologist. It was pretty nice in there. I would go back any time, especially if it was like the old days and I could run through the halls unfettered, yelling and looking, and talking and imagining.
College: friends, music, carpeting.
Sometimes during my undergrad days I would get overwhelmed by some crappy day to day happening - overwhelmed by homework, too much rain, some crappy interpersonal interaction. And in those days there were two things guaranteed to make me feel better: walking from my house down the big hill to downtown Olympia for a salmon burger, fries, and a shake, then a movie with my friends Sarah and John OR laying on the carpet in our small apartment, eyes closed, face burrowed into the short nap of our all purpose carpeting, listening to some music that was commiserating with me (maybe Chris Whitley, maybe John Prine, maybe Tracy Chapman, who knows), while my friends Sarah and John either laid on the floor with me or puttered around the apartment. There was something so comforting and grounding about laying on the floor and just letting myself do absolutely nothing except listen to the music. I wouldn't dwell, I wouldn't obsess, I would just lay there and let my mind go blank as I listened to the music. Maybe not true happiness but certainly a lot of comfort was to be found in the carpet/music combo.
Graduate School: a relaxing walk-off after an interesting but totally do-able multi-pitch climb.
The rock is granite, gray with crystals of quartz or some other mineral. The face is a ways from the car but not too far, maybe a twenty to forty minute walk (picture Lovers Leap or some formations at Donner summit). I am with friends, maybe Mitch and Anthony, or Tiffany or Vicki. Probably Mitch and maybe one other person. The walk to the face is enjoyable (although Mitch always walks a little bit fast, forcing me to hurry), through trees with boulders and shrubbery. But that isn't the happy moment. For me, the happy moment isn't even typically on the climb (although the climb is for sure fun in parts and full of exhilaration). On the climb the feeling is concentration, some anxiety, a lovely feeling of intensely paying attention. The feeling of happiness is at the top, enjoying the view, feeling like I am at home in my body, like I am a competent person who looked for a way into and up the rock and found it. The happy moment is being outside, in the sun, in an interesting place, with people I like, having done something interesting. The air is cool, the sun feels warm, I am secure on the top, not perched on some ledge or in a hanging belay. It smells of pine trees or mountain misery. And the walk back to the car is a nice hike through the woods.
I may not be in any of those places right now but I once was and some day, I will be again.