This is right-sized relationship with nature!
This is what I need to remember when the ego swells with self-importance. When the mind proffers it's view of reality and hierarchy and importance. This is the truth of our human beingness, our relationship with nature: we are a part--a minuscule one at that--of this whole.
If ever I recognized a power greater than myself, it was in this moment. It was in this very moment.
I'm not sure how much time lapsed before the tumbling rumble seemed safe enough in the distance to move on, but as I did so, I knew the overpowering immensity of the experience and insights that erupted during it would lose their fierceness. That's just the way experience is--it changes, it fades. I can remember it being my most scariest moment out in the wild, but I'll never experience it as it was again.
I'll never feel the crackling aliveness coursing through my veins as it did. The humbling conversation with 'God' that didn't include bargaining, but an acquiescence to my less than pea-sized importance. The recognition that animals living outdoors in this area experience this all the time and the compassion that arose in response to that. The submissive gratitude for the safety of the trees. And the millions of other thoughts that fired through the synapses of the brain.
Traversing through the open meadow the ranger warned of was still ahead before I could rest for the night. I chose to forego the usual intention to tread lightly by staying on the trail, and instead scurried along the tree line as best I could. (I reflected momentarily how even when alone in dangerous circumstances, I still found myself justifying my actions, as if being watched and judged by every rule ever written. 'If other mammals could make their way across the land as they see fit,' I reasoned, 'I certainly can in an emergency situation as this.') It added to the overall distance, and I was far beyond exhaustion at this point, but the thunderstorm was still moving it's way through the valley and the adrenaline flowing from knowing I was definitely the tallest tree in that valley, helped.
I imagined the hike through the basin would have been spectacular were it not for subdued lighting from smoke and clouds and my hushed and hurried traversal through its short tufts of grass.
For the final mile or so, the valley gave way to a steep rocky climb on the edge of precipice that was home to an aged and harsh forest of twisted dying and dead conifers. The weight of the pack and my weariness made trekking that final mile precarious. I stumbled here and there grumbling about my fate but grateful for hiking poles that added stability and the strength of my arms to the mix.
Since I still hadn't seen anyone on the trail since the ranger, I felt sure I was going to arrive at Vogelsang and be the only one there, leading to my biggest fear--being alone in the wild. As frightening as this sounded there were no other options. At nearly 10,000 feet elevation, seven and half miles in, and post-adrenaline exhaustion, I would be lucky to get my tent up and dinner made before crashing.
Cresting the final rocky turn revealed a scene that brought a new deep sigh of relief with each laboring step--an expansive plateau where at one edge, a little village of tents emerged. With the wispy pink dusking sky as a backdrop, Vogelsang Peak in all it's grandeur, including a sizable rising full disc of a moon on its shoulder, graced my view. This was my home for the night. Wow!
A small group of people was gathered in the expansive open field. I puffed my way toward them and was invited to join in for the sunset talk. Quickly declining, and too out of breath to share the whole story but enough to let them know if they heard screaming during the thunderstorm it was me, the leader pointed to the backpackers camp where, with the rapidly approaching darkness and my fatigued legs and grumbling stomach, I pitched the tent while heating up dinner. I savored the under-cooked freeze dried meal, drank the rest of my allotted fluids for the day and took a few ibuprofen before collapsing into bed.
I reflected on the day. This was only the first day of a seven day backpacking experience--the pack weighed the most, the elevation gain was the greatest, it was the longest segment distance, and I was the least experienced I would be. I already had the most harrowing outdoor experience in my life and was in the poorest shape I would be. What was left to come?
Undisturbed through the night, I awoke at first morning light to a freshness of heart and body ready for the second day's adventure.
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom