I circumambulate Mt. Rainier, tallest of the Cascade volcanoes. My friends come and go for different legs of the journey. They take away my dirty socks and supply the next days’ food. Everything is calculated— 93 miles in 9 days, the weight of my gear, the calories of my food. It is summer and I am between teaching. I won the lottery. You can only circle this volcano if you’ve won. I’ve been given a gift— being able to skirt danger at rest. I walk clockwise, its summit in view over my right shoulder. For days, I put one foot in front of the other, one thought spilling into the next.
I am 16, driving for night-hours in my white mini-van on country roads truncated by suburbia. My friends and I sing Dylan, Joplin, and The Doors. We belt “White Rabbit” until catharsis strips our vocal chords and empties us of everything that was misunderstood by day.
Beside the volcano, I catch up with each of these friends in my head—I haven’t seen them in years—before dropping them off one by one. I pull up to my house and kill the engine, abruptly putting an end to Dylan’s raspy drawl. I look up at my house looming still and dark as if my newfound hollowness conjured up the dreams that cradle my brother’s schizophrenia and the sleep that holds my parents’ silence.
Who knew then that someday I’d be 36, circling a volcano, thinking of the smoke rising from my childhood chimney and oak leaves backlit by streetlamps? Of the way my house appeared at the top of a hill, like a fortress, on those late nights?
The crater steams from vents that lead deep into the earth. The hot air sculpts ice on its way to the surface. I never asked when the last eruption was, or when the next might be. I imagine phantom rumblings in my solar plexus.
I cross bridges over icy rivers. I look into heads of glaciers slithering down valleys, ancient snakes so cold against the warm emptiness below. I walk among the purple larkspur and yellow lilies blooming atop the volcano’s fingers. I am at home beside a mountain that can gut itself at any moment.
Caroline N. Simpson was a 2020 Delaware Division of Arts Established Artist Fellow in Poetry. Her chapbook, Choose Your Own Adventures and Other Poems, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2018. She has thrice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, both in poetry and nonfiction, and in 2013, a collection of her poetry won Honorable Mention in Hot Street’s Emerging Writers Contest. She teaches high school English at the Tatnall School in Wilmington, DE, and has taught at international high schools in Turkey and Spain. You can follow her at carolinensimpson.com.