This blog is a personal publication and does not reflect the views or opinions of the US Peace Corps or US Government...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

a Long Goodbye

Hesperus, Colorado

Well, I am officially in the final phase before my departure to Morocco, although sometimes it feels like I have already left... In fact, I do have people contact me occasionally in confusion, asking how I am enjoying Africa. But the fact is, I am still here in states and it is finally sinking in that I am leaving. Everything I see, and have taken for granted in the past, takes on a different quality. Everything is clearer, I notice things I haven't seen before, nuances of behavior or quality of light; everything I see is emphasized by the thought "this may be the last time I see this for a very long time".

Not that I am unprepared for March 1st; in fact I have spent the past year tying off loose ends and saying goodbye to friends and relatives, some of whom may not be around when I return. Each goodbye is bittersweet but an unforseen result of this intense visiting is that I am closer to my family and my roots than I have ever been in the past. I chose to spend my summer at Cape Hatteras National Seashore, for the simple reason that it would put me within a day's drive of much of my extended family. I put 25000 miles on my truck in that time period, taking advantage of this fact. As a result, I spent time talking, laughing, and bonding with my family and friends, some of whom I hadn't seen in years. Some of them had married, some had children I had never met, and some, I was saddened to see, were beginning to slow down and grow frail.

Moving to Colorado at such a young age, I was disconnected from the South and had been back only once or twice in the past 15 years. After this summer of goodbyes, I feel like I have a connection again. This could not have been clearer than when I visited my Grandmother's hometown in the North Georgia mountains and stayed with her best friend from childhood. My friend and cousin, Jane, had begun to slow down some, but was still sharp as a tack. She gave me a unique view of grandmother's life, telling me of the 1920s and 1930s deep in the Appalachian Mountains. As we walked through the deep green forests and I smelled the wildflowers, mosses, and green of the place, I began to feel an indescribable resonance. It was as if the mountains were tuned to some part of my soul and as I viewed the mist-shrouded summits around the town, I realized that this was one of the only places on earth I could be tied to by blood, both European and Cherokee.

In October, I said my final round of farewells in the East, and drove across the country to the Colorado mountains, and spent some time at home. Thanksgiving came and went and I began the first of my truly difficult goodbyes: my brother. I picked him up in Seattle at his University and we drove the Oregon and California coast together, we spent days on the beach, both camping and staying in hotels. We saw lighthouses, seals, seastacks, and every little thing in between. Some of our best times were in the quiet green cathedrals of Redwoods or just singing along to inane music in the car. By the time we got back we were finishing eachother's sentences and had so many in-jokes that nobody could figure out what the hell we were saying to eachother. We got home and spent Christmas together as a family, but before long he was gone, back to school, and the last I saw of him was his back disappearing through the airport gate. It is unlikely that I will see him in these next two years, as nursing school will take up much of his life and visiting Morocco can be... time consuming. But I feel that we left on great terms and I look forward to our future adventures (how about rowing across the Atlantic, Will?). The Kolb Brothers are at it again!

This long goodbye is now compounded by the realization that I have to leave the Colorado Plateau, which is quite simply my favorite place on earth. (For an accurate summation this incredible and diverse piece of earth, I recommend the essay "Come on in" by Edward Abbey). This was incredibly apparent yesterday as I drove back from visiting a friend at Great Basin, and drove through Capitol Reef, across Cedar Mesa, down the Moki Dugway, and through the great Comb into Bluff UT. I sat in the Twinrocks Cafe eating a frybread dish and sipping coffee as I looked out over the twisted cottonwoods and dormant fields along the San Juan River; beyond lay the cliffs that mark the northern border of Dinetah, Navajoland. I looked at the pictures of rock art on the walls, and at the faces of Navajos and desert rats at the surrounding tables and sighed. Ya'at'eeh. [it is good] Aoo'. [Yes it is...] I left with reluctance, and headed back to Colorado through McElmo Canyon as the sun set and the world grew dark.

Both people and places, so many loose ends to tie off; so many threads to pick up the on my return. This long goodbye has helped my put my life in perspective, to realize just how many people I will miss and be missed by. Now I rest, at home in the snowy San Juans, woodstove crackling and the cat sprawled out like a furry throw rug at my feet. I have things to do, packing lists to compile, and people to spend time with. The long goodbye continues, but is overshadowed by a sense of contentment and excitement in the face of the unknown. I will post contact information (or at least how to get it) as soon as I can; until then, enjoy your winter.

6 weeks... and counting...