A breast. A buttock. A hip. Belly buttons and dimples. Glaciers tend to leave full bodied women in their wake. Or rather, brief encounters. Like a slip showing. A chance moment with what is ordinarily hidden. These hills, these u-shaped valleys and curved mountains, maternal mountains, strong-feminine energy mountains that, yes, can kill you if you don’t plan properly or if you’re just one of the unlucky ones no matter your wisdom and ability. From a distance, from my bedroom window, in my pajamas and cupping a mug of black coffee, I see the hills are dried—bunch grasses, noxious weeds, and in the middle of winter, other seeds and roots, frozen—waiting for their chance to bloom: shooting stars, lupine, bitterroot, yarrow, beautiful clarkia.
After a long ago meal of rainbow trout caught in a creek, the fish fried in bacon grease and served with a side of sourdough pancakes made from ancient starter, an old logger told me, “Once these mountains get ahold of you, you’re not good for much else.”
And so, the horizon gives my eyes a place to rest. I follow the curves of so many silty women. Women made of argillite, cobbles, and mud-cracked couplets. The land rests in February.
Worms chill. Mycorrhizal fungi dream. Perhaps only the water bears microscopically squirm like the adorable and freakish creatures they are—rogue uncircumcised penises with stubby feet.
I wake to new snow each morning. And why it looks tufted and pillowy, I don’t know. I wonder which words exist to describe this particular shape of snowflake that makes the hills look exposed. Cottage cheese thighs. Cellulite on full display. Boisterous. If only Sir Rubens could have visited Missoula, Montana—infinite graces around each curve.
There is a bulldozer just over the nearest hill. I know it is there by the fluorescent glow before sunrise. By the ravens, bald eagles, and magpies vying for scraps. Black plastic sarongs wave to the birds, the sky, to no one in particular.
We plunge through the fluff and fat and tear open frozen skin. We make a hole. We dump garbage in the hole. Bags and bags and bags of garbage into the other side of the hill. We fill the land. What must it feel like scooping out living flesh? To be the scooper, to have been scooped? There are plenty of fault lines in my heart, but never has it been fully excised from my chest.
Medical advancements allow the very fortunate access to engineered organs and limbs. A new Nano-body, elevating privilege to unchartered territory. I would like a sleek compartment installed in my midsection—a little pouch would be nice, easily opened in a wine bar bathroom—an economical place for my refuse: plastic of course and also the toothpicks and cocktail napkins—the occasional tea string and endless post-consumer paper towels but also the aggregating litter populating ditches and storm drains as I walk to work. The tangles of straws, cigarettes, and faded wrappers nested happily below my ribcage. The six trash receptacles in my home that seem to cry out, “Feed me!” Perhaps my pouch could be personified. “Pouch! Open!” “Pouch! Close!” “Pouch! What is the meaning of life?!”
“I couldn’t possibly provide a satisfactory answer for such an important question,” she would reply.
A new body. A new you. You are what you eat. I am what I put into the land. Footprints, E. coli, and prayers.
I am haunted by the unseen side of a hill. By the mundane pathways our bodies may cease.
After four weeks on life support and days of observation, the doctors finally give Dennis permission to return home. He is made whole by a half-dozen life-saving medicines, yards of tubing in and out of his orifices, the beeping robots we put eternal trust into—the infusions—the PICC line straight to his heart. Both of us are atrophied and stunned by the almighty power of MRSA to course through Dennis’s blood stream. Before leaving, we hold tightly to one another as Dennis, still dazed by the month-long coma, shuffles to the walk-in shower. I guide him to a plastic stool and run warm water over his body. With a hospital-grade washcloth, I brush his skin—exfoliating weeks of uncertainty—rivulets of epidermis. I kneel before him—elbows bump against knees—now both of us wet—our hair curling—our naked, trembling marriage—delirious and laughing—shiny and new. We return home to piles of down bedding and blankets. We fall into the feathers, a deep sleep, into an abiding hunger.
Joanna ES Campbell is the Director of Education Programs for the Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana. She teaches courses in wilderness, ecological literature, and field studies on the Wild & Scenic stretch of the Missouri River. She holds an M.S. in Resource Conservation from the University of Montana and an M.F.A. from Seattle Pacific University. Her writing can be found in various place-based anthologies: Farming Magazine, Art House America, Process Philosophy for Everyone, Relief, and Orion Magazine.