A soft, early morning glow illuminates the treetops as the car weaves on a two-lane road through a tunnel of pines. Underneath the canopy, the forest floor is a barren brown, contrasting the lush and vibrant evergreens. Between each of the towering trunks the air is dark, an eerie fog emerging from its depths.
Following the curve on the road, the car propels from the darkness of the forest and into the fog of an open valley. The dawning sunlight spills over the blue haze mountains on the horizon. Large, black cattle are scattered throughout the fields, emitting clouds of icy exhalation with each breath. Pulling up to a stop sign, we turn left and meander through a sleepy old town, the kind of town that seems content to have people do nothing more than simply pass through.
Snow-capped mountains now loom ahead as we forge into its pine-tree laden base. Following every twist, turn, and switch-back in the road, we’re seemingly climbing higher and higher into the heavens.
Then suddenly, the road flattens at the top before a dominantly cloudless sky.
“Looks like it’s gonna be a bluebird kind of a day,” Katie Riley, a friend from what seems a lifetime ago, says from the driver’s seat. “Ever hear that expression?”
I hadn’t. But it seemed a fitting expression for a sky so clear as it begins budding from an early morning pink to an empty, mid-morning blue.
After pulling into a parking spot at the visitor center, I opened the passenger door and stepped outside. A blistering winter wind immediately greeted me as I hustled to the back of the car and lifted the trunk open. Throwing on an extra pull-over and zipping into a heavy wind-breaker jacket, I flipped up the collar to buffer the wind from my exposed cheeks. With weather like this, I was grateful for the long-underwear and extra layers I put on this morning to keep warm.
“Come on, let’s go!” Katie beckons Sailor, as her Grenadian dog leaps excitedly out from the backseat.
With our lunches stored in our backpacks, we set off on our way. The snow-packed sidewalks were iced over, each step a calculated risk of slipping and sliding. We approached the far end of the parking lot, where an aged lodge with boarded up windows was reminiscent of a scene from an old-time horror film. On the other side of the lodge, the trail up the rest of the mountain begins.
A clean, professional sign at the trail-head reads Garfield Peak Trail. To the left of the sign, a sneak peek of what was to come presented itself in a clearing through the trees.
A jagged, mountain ridge-line circled around the horizon. Below it, a flat blue canvas lay across the floor. A single, hump-backed mountain protruded from its deep blue surface. Seeing this, it didn’t take long to realize that the blue-canvas floor was not, in fact, a floor; but the surface of Crater Lake.
What surprised me was not only how still the surface of the water was, but also how high the water level was, too. The way the mountain ridge-line contained the entirety of the lake was not unlike that of a teacup filled nearly to the brim. The small mountain-island in the southwest side of the lake, known as Wizard Island, could even resemble a tea bag floating on the surface.
After this brief and amusing self-reflection, I turned and proceeded along the trail to catch up with Katie and Sailor. The path we were on took winds and turns up the backside of the mountain ridge, offering a brief sanctuary from the bitterly cold wind. Although our view of the lake was now blocked by the mountain on our left, a new horizon spilled out to our right. Rugged, pine-covered hills and mountains rolled steadily into the distance. To the East, a pointed, snow-capped mountain watched solemnly over the hills. Another, smaller mountain, this one brown, jagged, and barren, also stood watch like a little brother imitating his older sibling’s watchful care.
As the hike went forward, gaps would intermittently appear in the mountainside to our left, exposing us briefly to another stunning view of the lake. But each lake-view could only be appreciated briefly, for at each gap we were once again at the mercy of the biting winds.
Continuing on, the trail was much like the parking lot sidewalk before it: covered in an icy layer of hard-packed snow. Footprints from previous hikes were frozen solid in the snow, giving us a tactful idea on how to navigate each step. This turned out to be a vital strategy, as the mountain would periodically drop sharply on our right-hand side, promising an ill-fated consequence if one were to lose footing.
Following this path for another hour or so, we finally emerged at the top of Garfield’s Peak. An entire, panoramic view of Crater Lake lay far below us. The top of the mountain ridge cast a subtle shadow on the edges of the lake, as the sun now approached its midday peak. Wizard Island still lay unassumingly in its spot, the only protrusion from the tranquil surface of deep blue water. It seemed to be completely at peace, undisturbed and protected in its own little sanctuary, wishing not to be bothered by anyone or anything.
Turning around, the rolling mountains extended on into the distance. But to our left, there was something new for us to see. Low-hanging clouds lingered over an open valley. As it turns out, this was the very same valley we drove through that morning.
The wind surprisingly died down, providing a brief but comfortable hiatus at the summit. Finding a tree with exposed roots, we sat down for lunch with a view.
Throughout the rest of the day, we hiked other trails to take in the different vantage points the Crater Lake Rim provided. After the sun reached its midday peak, it was finally warm enough to shed some layers. As if to embrace the day’s release from the early morning cold, a bald eagle appeared, soaring elegantly across the lake. Through it all, the sky remained a cloudless blue, truly becoming “A Bluebird Kind of Day.”
The following morning, we went back up to Crater Lake for another hike. Yet, overnight a snowstorm had swept through. By the time we got up there in the early morning, it was a bitter 19 degrees, not accounting for the blistering wind chill. Hiking the trails became unfeasible, which just goes to show how lucky we had gotten with the beautiful day we had prior. This was understandably so, as we were visiting at a time of year that is technically out-of-season for tourists.
However, thinking back now I think I needed this trip more than I originally accounted for. Ever since I arrived in Reno, I simply sought to bury my Grenadian experience behind me. It was nothing personal, I guess I’ve just been trying to embrace this fresh start here. I started making better decisions for my health and giving up some of the vices of my past. I dove headfirst into school, trying to answer the big questions of not only what I want to get out of this education at UNR, but also what I want to do with my life when the next step does come.
In truth, I also think I was burying my Grenadian experience because when it had finally approached it’s end this summer, I had lost something. As this huge life transition was taking place, I had numerous people entering and exiting my life. During my time in Grenada, I had a solid foundation around me. It was a foundation that I had built from scratch and entirely on my own. I knew what was expected of me and that being there was exactly what I wanted. To put it simply, I was on top of the world: I had a fulfilling job, a meaningful presence in a community, a strong support network of friends and family, and an adventure at every turn. But as the end approached, it felt like the walls that had supported me for so long were suddenly crumbling down around me. As this happened I didn’t know how to handle it, so I did my best to stay the course and pretend everything was still going as planned. Yet, with enough transition going on to make my head spin, I lost something that I didn’t realize I no longer had.
I wasn’t happy anymore.
In all my time through Peace Corps, I was happy for all the reasons mentioned above. Everything was going according to plan…until it wasn’t. I had started taking certain things for granted, having gotten used to things being the way they were. I was especially comfortable, I think, because I had constructed this life entirely on my own. Consequently, when things were coming to a close, I think I got so caught up on what I was losing that I forgot one crucial lesson I learned early on in my Peace Corps career, in the days when I first found myself alone and in a foreign place:
The only person responsible for my happiness…is me.
In life, our situations and circumstances will always be changing. For the better part of this year I recognized that, but never wanted to accept it. I wanted to blame forces that were out of my control for my lack of happiness. Meanwhile, I just put on a happy face and pretended like it was all still going according to plan. I suppose it’s easier to blame the world than to confront the reality of a changing situation. Looking back now, the frustrating thing for me is that the solution was right there within me the entire time; and being one of the first lessons I learned, I now wonder how I let it fall by the wayside.
I avoided posting on this blog again, I think, for similar reasons. I didn’t know how best to pick up and move forward from what I just had to leave behind. I wanted to shut everything out as if it never happened, to re-build myself from scratch like I did before. But I can’t pretend what happened didn’t really happen. I have to confront and accept reality for what it is.
I’m still grateful for everything that happened in Grenada. Not a day goes by where I don’t think about the friends, family, and experiences I left behind there.
But now, I have a new opportunity in front of me. It’s new and exciting, albeit in different ways. Reno is a town with character. The people here are authentic, which I appreciate immensely. They are not afraid to be themselves or to share their views openly. Much like Grenada was, what you see is what you get.
I’m also getting to know a side of Reno that many tourists and even locals don’t know. As part of my assistantship, I’m working for an online publication called Our Town Reno. It’s run by a professor here at UNR and spotlights homelessness and the lack of affordable housing in the area. So essentially, my job is to go out on the streets and interview Reno’s homeless and share their story with the world.
So once again, I find myself in what many see as an uncomfortable situation. For on a cold autumn morning, how can I walk up to somebody huddled on a city tennis court with only the clothes on her back but without even socks or shoes on her feet, and ask to hear her story all the while on the next court over some older men are indifferently playing a casual game of tennis?
Working with the homeless here has been incredibly humbling and even inspiring. In so many ways these people are neglected and abused: I’ve learned of people throwing rocks and setting fire to homeless people as they sleep. They are constantly and wrongly judged for being lazy, mentally unstable, alcoholics, drug addicts, or all of the above; when in many cases they’re just individuals that got dealt a bad turn in life. Yet, somehow, with each interview it seems that these people are happier than I’ve ever been these past couple months. They have dreams of not only finding homes of their own, but also of things like owning restaurants and meeting their grandkids. They’re simply people without a home, just wanting the respect and dignity that’s deserving for any human while they chase their dreams.
The same morning I left for my trip to Crater Lake, I spent a few hours with some guys that were sleeping on a public basketball court. They didn’t want to be interviewed or go on the record with me. Nonetheless, I stayed to chat with them and laughed with them for a good part of the morning. We talked about everything from Trump’s Border Wall to whether or not there are other life forms in this universe. They accepted me for who I was, even offering what little they could to make me feel like I was welcome among them.
So on that “Bluebird Kind of Day” on the top of Crater Lake, I was reminded that absolutely nothing here on Earth is owed to me. It’s just up to me to make the most of the hand I’m dealt and be happy with what I do have. It’s almost hard to admit now, recognizing that I let forces out of my control dictate my happiness these past couple of months.
I originally took that trip to Crater Lake simply because I could. The opportunity presented itself and so I jumped on it. Besides, I was due for a little bit of Grenadian adventure in my life, having gone on so many hikes with Katie in our time with Peace Corps. Yet, what I didn’t know at the time was that I would re-discover something I didn’t realize I had lost.
After all, isn’t the whole premise of our life centered on the pursuit of happiness?
And what if we recognized and cultivated our happiness within ourselves, without any outside influence or need for any place or anyone? What would there be left for us to pursue?
So while I’m going to keep working on myself, my personal happiness, and regain what I lost, I guess I’ll have to find new things to pursue…
Things like “A Bluebird Kind of Day.”
“Everyone you meet always asks if you have a career, are married, or own a house as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy.” – Heath Ledger