Molly's Personal Story
My intense connection to nature finds its roots in a gigantic magnolia tree in my childhood backyard with blossoms the size of my great-grandmother’s dinner plates.
It was she, in fact, that planted that tree, in ground saturated with enough water crawfish constructed muddy turreted homes in between blades of cool grass, like drip castles you make on the beach.
The tree towered above everything else and in the midst of childhood angst I would climb to its uttermost branches, swaying in the velvet breeze, looking down on all the trivialities below. That same serenity rose again when later in my earliest of teens I peered from the edges of the Ozark and Blue Ridge Mountains out onto the undulating cutouts of light and dark. The mountains felt like peace, solace. From a young age I learned what perspective can do, and that having a little air in your vision helps clear the way forward. Little did I know, I was slowly setting a pattern.
My deep Southern upbringing cultivated a sense of the swamp, of mucky ripeness and sluggish atmosphere. I ventured even further, to the sub-oceanic terrain of New Orleans to learn about literature, but where I became more versed in grinding music, spicy food and scrolled architecture than I ever did in books. Here I ate fried oyster po-boys only to dance them off to dirty funky blues in warehouse bars that had to be hosed out at the end of the evening. I climbed more trees – giant live oaks this time – with beckoning and jointed hands so low you could crawl up the fingers to rest in the crook of their arms.
After college I journeyed West, immediately getting blissfully stuck in the giant heart of the big-breasted Southern Rockies. I ski bummed in the San Juan Mountains, skilled myself in scaling vertical rock and summiting high peaks – again and again seeking a vision unhindered, where my eyes and my mind could stretch for mile upon mile upon mile, breathing deeply from that airy and expansive perspective, and once again inhaling utter peace.
I loved it so much I became an outdoor guide and educator, spending over a decade sleeping in the wilderness, wandering trails with students and clients, living in my long underwear, happy as a bluebird watching the sun set over the high peaks eating dehydrated beans and rice for the seventh time in as many days. I studied more books, this time finding kinship in the likes of Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams and Annie Dillard. I was uncovering my clan, and the home I wasn’t born in, but felt inextricably linked to the moment I stepped foot on its granite-dusted soil.
I took it on the road to the Red Rock Desert to vaporize into the mystery and stillness, raise my own voice to coyote’s howl. I journeyed to Alaska, placing my footprints alongside those of grizzly, caribou and wolf, ate wild blueberries by the bucketfuls, watched glaciers calve into a landscape so newly scraped it bled raw rock in hummocks a thousand feet high.
At a time I lived in the jungles of Costa Rica, awakening to bands of howler monkeys, flocks of parakeets and the constant washing of the Pacific Ocean on that black sand beach and the backs of sea turtles. I wandered amongst Buddhist temples on mist-laden footpaths in Nepal, trudged up 20,000-foot peaks in the Andes and then the Himalaya, only to be dwarfed by the highest pinnacle of this planet. I sought the source of the sacred Ganges, passage tombs facing the spring equinox sun of my most ancient of ancestors in Ireland. I learned the lilt of Spanish from the lips of those who live in countries huddling closer to the equator, like warmth.
I still travel and speak Spanish. I still voraciously hike and climb peaks and cross-country and telemark ski, but these days, rather than embarking each season into the schedule of the professional outdoor vagabond, I am sinking my tendrils into place, in a tiny rural village perched in a high mountain haven at 9,000 feet. For years, now in the double digits, I have been learning to navigate the ties of community as much as the topographical lines of a more consistent geologic relationship. I’ve been listening to the solstices and equinoxes of our extreme climes, the fall bugling of the elk, the summer call of the white-crowned sparrow.