HMI Gap: Saying Good-bye

hmi gap, adventure and conservation, patagonia national park, backpacking

Written by: Pearl

Just two days ago, HMI Gap fall semesters came to a close. At the end of every HMI program, students do a Solo, during which they write their Full Circle, a reflection exercise to consider what they want to carry forward with them. One of our students, Pearl, wrote the following poem as her Full Circle and has graciously allowed us to share it here.

the things I have learned are as many as the stars
in the wide open plain where
moons and suns rise in ritual.
i learned that until i fell face first into a screaming, freezing river
i hadn’t known fear.
that snow can fall in the dead of night in an eerie, noiseless tumble
and not make a single sound.
that joy
is a warm meal shared by people you love.
that icy glacial water can heal any sorrow, and that sometimes
to feel small is to feel big.
aching legs mean ‘purpose’
and the heavy hanging dampness between the trees after a rain means
‘breathing something more than air.’
that our bodies were built to walk,
but sometimes it feels
like actually, i was made to fit in this small bend in the hillside,
and lie there,
so the sun can warm my face.
i didn’t know that cottonwoods grew golden in the bottoms of canyons
or that wind can cut like needles
or that sleeping on slabs of slickrock is endlessly more comfortable
than a california king.
how much space there is to breathe
without wooden boards over your head!
space to stretch up taller than the trees or
to shout and shout and never fill the air with your echo.
that the things i can do alone will never be greater
than the things i can do in a wolf-pack of twelve.
i learned the sound air makes as it travels off condor’s wings
and the scent of dusky sage bushes
and how it feels to hear a pack of coyotes howling
and have my spine be lined with goosebumps.
i will not forget the dim red glow of headlamps at dusk
how slowly a full moon rises
how quickly strangers become family.
we pass up and over the land like a pack of weathered specters 
our feet never quite touching the ground
and eventually, the moss will forget the imprints of our boots
and the hills will lean back into place
like sinking into an old armchair.
and i will not forget the way the earth cradled me in worn stone potholes 
and beds of grass filled
with tiny yellow flowers.

how do you say goodbye?
how do you say goodbye when it drops a bowling ball-sized pit in your stomach,
when the months ahead of you are coated 
with a layer of heavy, wet, gray snow
and thick fog?
when it feels like every laugh has a tinge of pain
a crack in your voice
that you hurry to stitch up, haphazardly, with jagged thread,
in the hopes that no one noticed?
there’s a place inside your ribcage where vines grow tangled
and mountain streams flow, lined with moss
and beneath blackberry thickets and rose thorns
is that place where your heart is open
exposed to the air
and every gust of wind stings like nettles
because it isn’t easy to leave yourself exposed
to pain, but also to love.
it’s easier to close the shutters and squeeze your eyes closed
and ride out the storm trying not to feel anything at all
goodbyes cut like shards of ice
but if you listen closely
you can still hear the whispers of songbirds
from days when the sun was warm and life felt simple.
if you don’t look closely, you might miss it-
the waltz of falling snowflakes 
people who love you are waiting for you
with all the lights on
and oh, how they’ve missed you
but they don’t know how we huddled together
rain slamming the breath out of our lungs
and we made our own heat.
how we
with tiny sparks 
made our own light 
and to everyone else it looks like just another blinking streetlight on the highway of stars
but we know
it is ours.
how do you say goodbye to that?
with promises and long hugs
saltwater and crossed fingers
in the hopes that i’ll believe it,
telling myself
when the lights go dark
the stars will still be there
repeating over and over,
until it feels like praying,
the sun will rise again.