Last Thursday, I found Narnia. It was a beautiful, sunny morning in Seattle and I decided I simply could not sit inside all day, so my friend Kesley and I drove east to hike Vesper Peak. Only when we got close, the road was closed, likely due to a windstorm that rolled through Washington a couple days before. We turned around, and tried to drive up the access road to another hike, Mt. Pilchuck, but the road was too icy for my little Yaris and we had to turn around again. We settled on Heather Lake – a hike half the distance and unfamiliar to both of us. We threw on our packs and set out anyway, hopping rocks and making jokes, happy to be outside. A few hundred yards in, we found our trail blocked by a series of fallen trees – too big to climb over. Kesley looked at me for a second and said, smiling, “Well, let’s just go this way!” before she headed straight up the hill of brush and fallen branches, around the trees in our way.
I followed her and we continued our trek, dodging fallen evergreens, ducking under branches, and delighting in the occasional stream of sunlight that cut through the thick forest. As we climbed higher, frosted branches surrounded us and a thin, untouched layer of snow crunched under our feet – the first snow I’d seen since I moved to Washington. After a couple of miles, with flushed cheeks and chilled fingers, we crossed a bridge and saw it through a break in the trees: a line of snow-covered mountains framing a flawless, glassy lake. The mountain peaks were perfectly reflected in the lake’s surface. It was silent. We were the only people there. The whole scene took my breath away. “How does this place exist?” I asked, bewildered. Kesley looked around “I think we found Narnia,” she said. I laughed. As we perched on rocks at the edge of the lake and munched on almonds and chocolate, I realized that in that moment, there was no other way I’d rather spend my time. In that moment, I was doing exactly what my heart, mind, and body wanted. In that moment, I felt free.
This all happened – the hike, the bushwhacking, the Narnia – because I wasn’t working on Thursday. I wasn’t working on Thursday because I’m kind of unemployed. The blessing and curse of working as a writer on contract is that you get paid for every hour you work. So, if there isn’t a project for you to work on, you don’t get paid. Which means weird, quasi-funemployment. When I found out the week before last that I’d be project-less, likely until the New Year, it was pretty disarming. Especially since I had just been throwing myself into a highly demanding project, only to find out there wasn’t going to be one after that. My first reactions were dripping in self-doubt – do they like me? Are they firing me? Will they bring me back? Then I thought about money, and started wondering how feasible it would be for me to eat canned beans for every meal for the next three months. But, once I took a breath and took stock of my finances, I realized that since I (thankfully) didn’t have to support anyone but myself, I had some breathing room. Whether it was my choice or not, I had a lot of time on my hands. I could view this situation as a defeat, or I could view it as a personal challenge. I chose the latter.
Attention: sappy simile coming in hot. You’ve been warned. And I’m not sorry.
Since I moved to Seattle, and especially since I stopped working, my life has been a lot like that hike on Thursday. I always set out with a plan, thinking I’m going to some destination. Sometimes the road is closed, so I recalculate, and then sometimes there are trees in my way, so I have to choose another path. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the original plan was, or how many times I have to change my approach – all that matters is that I end up somewhere beautiful. And here in Seattle, surrounded by friends and nature and endless opportunities, I always end up somewhere more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.
I’m grateful for my friends. I’m grateful for my family. And I’m grateful that unemployment means hiking through Narnia on a Thursday afternoon.
Happy (almost) Thanksgiving, and thanks for reading :)