Life on the Mountain

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This is one of the *big* mountains nearby.

Here in Washington State, I live on a mountain. That’s not an exaggeration. My mountain even has a name: Livingston Mountain. It sits on the western foothills of the Cascade Range that runs from northern California right up through Canada. Livingston is not a very big mountain, and there are much bigger mountains nearby, but it is a mountain nevertheless. The road goes decidedly up to get here. That’s the first hint.

The second hint is the incredible views. From the top of the ridge you can see down into the valley over Portland’s northern neighbor Vancouver. In the distance is the first hint of the Costal Range, a different set of mountains that outlines the edge of the Pacific ocean. On a clear day, you can see as far as Mount Rainier, all the way in Seattle. That’s more than 150 miles away. It is awfully beautiful.

Mountain living has its quirks. It’s a far cry from suburbia but it’s also nothing like living in a remote village. Even some of the most basic things require adjustments and additional consideration. As I’ve been easing back into life in the States, I’ve also been easing into life on the great big hill.

Consideration One: The Weather. No weather forecast can accurately predict the weather on the hill. Here, we mostly get Portland weather, which only briefly mentions what weather might be on this side (the Washington state side) of the river. Even the Vancouver weather reports don’t take into account the 1,700 additional feet of elevation. There is usually a ten degree difference in the temperature by the time you get to the top of the mountain. It might be raining in Vancouver and be snowing or icing here. An important distinction. To compensate, I listen to the forecasts for the ski lodges and the elevation of the snow level, then find the happy medium between that and Vancouver. There is a small home-based weather station here that tracks the temperature and rainfall to help give me a clue. And there is always the tried and true method: walking outside.
To make matters more confusing, the weather on the north side of the ridge is different to the weather on the south side. It might be sunny and warm if you look out the windows, but over the ridge it might be pouring rain. Driving the mile to the main road can mean four changes in weather from sun to rain to fog back to sun again. Clouds will pour over the hillside, sneaking fog and rain into an otherwise sunny sky. Fog has taken a new importance in my life. If it’s cloudy in vancouver, it’s foggy here. It’s actually a beautiful site, watching the cloud roll down from the top of the hill and engulf the trees around me. There are also moments when the clouds fall even lower, so the sun shines brightly here, but the valley is filled with clouds stretching on into the horizon. Then, hilltops become islands in a fluffy white sea. The sense of solitude is unmatchable.

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The Deer-Neighbors

Consideration Two: Neighbors. There are other people who live on the mountain. Sometimes, you would never know it. From the house, the closest visible neighbor is three miles away. The easiest way to bump into someone is at the mailboxes, which sit collectively near the main gate. You might give a friendly waves as another car drives by. Otherwise, you might occasionally see a person or two out for a walk on a clear day, or hiking by with their dog. I wouldn’t say the community is tight-knit, but it is certainly protective. Everyone watches out for each other and pitches in to keep life on the mountain running smoothly.
More commonly, you’ll see our other sort of neighbor: the deer. There are a few families that live across the mountain, and I’ve gotten to know them pretty well. There is one family that likes to hang out on the front lawn, enjoying the manicured grass and the protection from the elements it offers. There are other neighbor animals – rabbits hop across the road in the morning and at night you can hear the coyotes. I’ve heard plenty of stories about a bear. My dad has a wonderful motion-activated camera to catch the critters on film.

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Flatland is full of weird people.

Consideration Three: Flatland. Flatland is the term my family uses to describe the world off the mountain. The grocery stores, the gas station, basically the rest of humanity lives in Flatland. The first vestiges of Flatland are only a ten minute drive to the bottom of the hill, but it might as well be another universe. Once you start climbing up the hill, its easy to leave behind the chaos of modern society. At the same time, even the most basic errands require leaving the mountain. Every potential trip is weighed against cons of leaving the mountain. Do I really need a loaf of bread today? It also makes these trips more productive as you try and cram in everything you need at once. That way, you don’t have to leave the mountain as often. Because once you get up here, it’s hard to find reasons to leave.

Consideration Four: Running. Figuring out a running routine has been an unexpected challenge. I love running. I’ve already run one 5K since I’ve arrived back in the states. However, I’m severely out of shape. In order to get back into shape, I need to train. But running even a quarter of a mile here seems nearly impossible, given the amount of vertical that gets included with the horizontal. I can run two miles without stopping… when those two miles are flat. Throw in a few hundred feet up and a few hundred feet of down and those two miles gets cut into very, very small pieces. It can be very discouraging, creating new motivational blocks for trying. After 45 minutes of jogging you feel unaccomplished because you’re completely exhausted but you haven’t run that far. On the flip side, if I can get past the mental block, I’ll be in really good shape for all the races down in Flatland – mountain training for the win!

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