Answering the Call of the North


My ex-boyfriend used to jokingly call me a farm girl. Part affectionate and part derogatory, he meant that at my true nature, I was happy living the life of the lower class. I wanted physical labor, not office work. I wanted my hands in the soil and my back under the sun. He implicated that I wanted the burdens of the uneducated, the ignorant, and the poor, even though I had gone to school and passed myself off as an intellectual writer.

My ex wanted me to deny his accusation. He wanted me to say that farm work was beneath me—that white walls and high ceilings were more “me” than heavy lifting and manure. But I could not say that. I could only smile and say:

“Yes… I would be happy as a farm girl.”

And my ex would smirk.

As I outgrew that relationship, I made peace with the acceptance that I was not the child-bearing, Hispanic housewife I was groomed to become. I learned that it was okay to love both words and wilderness—both barns and books. I sought to separate myself physically and emotionally from the macho culture I grew up in.

A few months ago, I was reunited with my aunt and other extended family members at my uncle’s house in Los Angeles. In an effort to find some common ground, I asked my aunt why my parents ended up in Canada when the rest of the family lives in California. She simply said they had papers in Canada. We moved on to other subjects, but what I really wanted to know was why my family had traveled north.

Did my mother hear the northern calling that echoes in my ears? Did a compound in her tropical blood pull her toward rugged lands? Did my parents feel, despite the fact that they were leaving the only country they had ever known, that somehow they were heading home?

It’s hard for the traveler to find a home. Everywhere we pull in, there are things about that place that I immediately love. I can always see myself living in a new destination, and in many ways it feels like “home”. Then the next place feels like home as well. And the place after that. Then I realize that I’m a turtle and I am carrying my home on my back. Comfortable in any setting, I can just duck my head and fall asleep in the safety of my tiny shell, no matter where we park. In the morning, I poke my head out to the wonder of a new place. I run around and explore it, then pick up my home and keep trudging.

What is it that calls me northward? I believe it is a wild place. A longing for nothingness. A space where land, mountain, air, and water are enough. A place where there is no need, nor room, for roads, parking lots, or shopping malls. I want to feel a northern breeze on my face, to round a corner and find myself staring unexpectedly into the eyes of a musk ox. I long, perhaps above all things, for solitude.

We are in Southern Oregon now and I am amazed at how fast the time has flown. Soon it will be summer and we will be in Alaska. The solitude I seek has already begun. We have missed races we love and friends we adore—opportunities where we could have been surrounded by crowds and merriment. Instead, I sit at the North Umpqua trailhead and type silently in a cubicle of trees and waterfalls. A single track 78 miles long stretches out before us and I know that when we get up to run it, we will be alone—just Shacky, Ginger, and myself.

Somehow, it is enough.

We all have a northern calling. It may not draw us to Alaska, but it always stretches us just beyond our comfort zones to a world where simplicity is sufficient. It doesn’t always scream, but may whisper gently, “Just one more step…”

If we follow, we find ourselves north of where we are today—one step higher, in a wild and wonderful land.

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