Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Love and Longing

Mike's tent in the Gobi
Mike has been working in Mongolia again. This last trip he was in the Gobi desert the entire time so there wasn't any way to communicate. I knew he was out there bouncing around in a jeep, locating eco-plots and camping under the Mongolian sky and I really wished he could Skype me and tell me about it.

While he was gone, I hosted a young woman bicycling her way from Oregon to Florida. As we chopped vegetables for stir-fry one evening, she asked me to tell how Mike and I met and got married. It's a long story that starts in Seattle with a cowboy hat, a horse and a guitar, and ends three years later with a wedding on Mount Rainier.
Traditional Ger of herder household

Desert Shrine
During those three years Mike and I didn't spend much time together. A few months after we met, Mike went to work in Alaska. When he came home, I left for Germany for a year. When I got back he left to work in Alaska again. Then he came home and I left for college in Minnesota. When I got back from Minnesota, he left for the Yukon Territory. It was a bit ridiculous.

"How did you get to know each other when you spent so much time apart?" my young friend asked. There wasn't any internet and even if there was a phone, long distance calls were expensive. The whole year I was in Germany we only had one awkward twelve minute phone call. What we did was write letters. Stacks and stacks of letters.

Mike washing up at a Camel Trough

Finally, when Mike was in the Yukon, working at a gold mine, he asked me to come up and float down the Yukon River on a raft. Three weeks later, with the glacial fizz of the massive Yukon swirling us north, we decided it was time to get married. We thought getting married would mean spending a lot more time together. And it did. But a life of working on ranches, going back to college after having kids, and now doing international consulting, has meant we still spend a lot of time apart.

Prayer wheels
Last night after the sun had gone down in a tangerine-chocolate harvest sky, Mike asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. We called the dogs and headed west through the new-mown alfalfa field.

In the dark we could still make out the brow of the Wallowas jutting up at the edge of the valley and to the east, the low dry hills rising toward the Zumwalt prairie. Alfalfa stubble crunched under foot. The smell of hay and dust and ripening wheat eddied around us. The velvet air was balmy and where our bare arms touched, Mike's skin felt smooth and cool.

When we reached the marsh along the creek, the dogs raced past into the field beyond. We stood in the quiet, each of us with our own thoughts, the creek gurgling faintly beneath the waist-high grass. Then we headed back toward the old farm house that has sheltered us so many years now, and I felt a familiar longing well up inside me.  They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, but sometimes, at night in a field, when the one you love is right there in front of you, striding along in the dark, your heart can feel his presence and his absence at the same time.

From Sara at Magpie Ranch, home of Bunchgrass Beef