Landscapes of Love: Stitching Our Stories into Wild Places
When we make our memories on trails and in wild places, they take on a kind of permanence and heft, long after we’ve packed up our tents and gone.
In the first few months we dated, I took my wife camping among the sand dunes of Assateague Island National Seashore. In January.
We might have been the only people there. Even the park’s wild horses wintered on the leeward side of the island. It was too windy for a fire, so we ate huddled behind a bush. Hours before dark, we retreated into my tiny blue tent. It was so small that my wife couldn’t sit up. Her sleeping bag, it turns out, was rated for summer, so she spent the night curled against me like a half-frozen inchworm.
The next morning, we left the stark beauty of the winter dunes behind, ate a hot breakfast at a diner on the Delaware shore and caught a matinee movie in a crumbling strip mall. It remains one of my favorite memories from that early era of our togetherness.
My parents tell a similar story about the first time my dad took my mom camping, something about a herd of cows wandering into their campsite at night. Friends, colleagues, trip reporters: We all have these stories. They aren’t all stories of outdoor trips gone sideways. But there is something about our public lands that helps us create such strong memories. Something in them that draws us there with our loved ones.
Outdoor places are a continuing thread in so many lives, including mine. Years after our camping trip, my wife and I were married on the shores of Lake Crescent in Olympic National Park. It was late September, a dicey time to throw an outdoor wedding in a Pacific Northwest rain forest, but we lucked out. The sun shone all weekend. We gathered our families and friends together in a place where mountains meet water. We swam. We hiked to Marymere Falls. We caught up over campfires, stars blazing above us. We made our promises to each other and kicked up our heels in joy until 3 in the morning.
Five years later, my wife and I returned to Olympic National Park for our anniversary. Backpacking the High Divide–Seven Lakes Basin Loop, we saw six bears, met two frog biologists and watched one unmatched sunrise over the Bailey Range. It’s an experience we will never be able to fully re-create. But that’s okay. We’ll likely return in two or 20 years and layer new memories on top of the old ones. Perhaps we’ll mark another anniversary or share the trip with our kiddo. Until then, we can simply look to the west, the familiar outline of the Olympics in the sky, to remember and fall in love just a little bit more.
We humans have an instinct to stitch our love stories into landscapes. We meet, date, fall in love, get engaged, get married, celebrate our anniversaries and mourn our lost loves on trails. The land, trails, the deserts and mountains can somehow hold it all. They can let love and grief intertwine, can let first love unfold, can uplift and reinforce the promises we make to each other. When we make our memories there, they take on a kind of permanence and heft, long after we’ve packed up our tents and gone.
PHOTO GALLERY: More Stories of Love in the Landscape
Have a great love story? Tell us about it in the comments below.