I dragged my heavy, insulated, lace-up snow boots from the back of the closet where they’d been lingering ever since I returned home from Holden Village four years ago. I have to lace one of the boots in a wonky way because the Holden mice chewed off a few of the loops. I was ready to give the mice a chance to repeat their efforts on the other boot. Even as spring was popping out all over at home, I’d decided to revisit winter and the village, where two-and-half feet of softening snow still lay on the ground.
From 2011 to 2014 I was a staff member at Holden, a spiritual retreat center high in the mountains above Lake Chelan, on the Glacier Peak Wilderness boundary. (My occasional essays about that experience are here.) I returned home just before turning seventy, the gateway birthday to what a friend describes as “s-aging.”
If I’ve acquired any wisdom thus far in my seventies, it is this: don’t get too comfortable. The tempting path of least resistance is the path to immobility. Holden is no longer in my comfort zone, which is why I went. There’s not only the physical challenge of tromping through the snow. Solitary living gets to be too comfortable. I needed to spend a few days and nights sharing space—including bathrooms—with other folks.
It was the week after Easter and the beginning of “post-holey” season at the village. That has nothing to do with religion. As layers of snow begin to thaw, the unsuspecting pedestrian can break through the top crust, plunging one leg knee- or even hip-deep into the snow, creating a “post hole.” Retrieving one’s buried foot can be a challenge—some folks have been known to leave an entire boot behind. Every step along the slushy paths is a journey with uncertain destination.
One afternoon I happily donned snowshoes to join the village naturalist on a short hike. Despite the thick cover of snow, the naturalist pointed out signs of spring emerging all around—including a meandering set of bear tracks that crossed our trail. I imagined a bear just waking from hibernation, still groggy, like me in the morning on my uncertain way to that first cup of coffee.
My visit to the village was just long enough to challenge but not destroy me. Departure day happened to coincide with my thirty-ninth wedding anniversary. Down at the lake, where snow had melted into mud, I had a couple hours to wait for the boat. Still wearing snow boots, I lumbered up a portion of the Domke Lake Trail, thinking about my late husband. John liked to give me my favorite—yellow roses—on our anniversaries. He didn’t fail me. At a turn in the trail I spotted a “yellow bell,” one of the earliest blooming wildflowers in sagebrush country. Another turn and a carpet of the dainty blooms spread before me. What’s a little discomfort when the heart is full?