Shuffle… shuffle… drag. Mr. Teavendale, my sixth grade science teacher, taught me that movement is one defining characteristic of life. Shuffle… shuffle… drag. Inching through the bowels of an airport qualifies, I suppose. Shuffle… shuffle…drag. But it’s not my ideal form.
Step… step… glass. Slinking through broken timber is movement too. Step…step… glass. The range of life on planet Earth is staggering.
In the airport it’s 6:28 Eastern Standard Time. The giant LCD monitors all tell me so. I’ve shuffled from the check-in line to the TSA line, where they’ll take care of me, says the robot voice on the PA, so long as I present the right papers, take off my boots and surrender my water. Follow the rules and I’m entitled to security.
In the mountains of my memory it’s almost shooting light. The first suggestions of color tell me so. I’ve made it to the spine of a knife-edged ridge where I can watch two drainages start their days. The first thing I see is that no one but me, and nothing but the gear in my pack will get me home in one piece. “You’ll have no meal at my expense,” chitters a disgruntled squirrel.
At the gate we’re packed together, cheek by jowl, and each of us are alone. Some fix their gazes skyward onto wall mounted talking heads. Most of us stare intently into brilliant handheld screens, thin electrical cords dangling from our ears. An obese adolescent is running fast from an angry gorilla through a twisting, turning, treasure-filled junglescape. The woman I take for his mother arranges candy colored jewels into clusters, columns and rows with a tapping, manicured fingertip. It’s almost time, drones a disembodied voice. Don’t wander. Await further instruction.
On the ridge, I am neither alone nor as unnoticed as I would like. I look up and find, high in a nearby white pine, the Clarks nutcracker who’s been rasping complaint. A pika is peeping at me too, but he stays hidden. They know that we’re all actors in the same drama, and that it pays to keep tabs – at least until the roles have been handed out. Hairs raise on the back of my neck as I wonder for a moment who else they’re watching. Every other hair jumps to attention when, a moment later, somewhere in the aspens below, a bull screams out a bugle. It’s time. He doesn’t offer instructions.
Reproduction is another defining characteristic of the living, and like movement, it alters perspective. I inherited a great many things from my father, including a hyperactive sense of responsibility. That’s how I find myself in an airport, dreaming of home. I went to Washington to speak-up in defense of public lands and wild places. I went to the airport, in the hopes that someday my son can go to the ridge. Maybe he will choose a life of airports. But he’ll do so with experience of the alternatives. And If I can help it, he’ll have options.