The Thing About the Woods

Last Monday at 3:45 am I woke up in a “teepee” made of logs.  Somehow my headlamp had ended up in my shelter mate’s sleeping bag and “turned itself on”, startling her into waking up, which startled me into waking up.  Our conversation began with the expression of minor annoyance with the situation, and ended up a peaceful and easy discourse on some of the most “uncomfortable” topics.  Having lots of hard conversations is the price you pay to get the kind of relationship where nothing feels hard to talk about any more- where you can mention heavy and serious things in passing because you both know the rest of the story, and where you can let your sentences trail off because you’ve visited the   topic before, and you know you’ll be visiting the topic again.

As we mumbled about the dreams we had woken from and I gazed out into the small clearing that surrounded our little shelter.  It seemed that no darker night had ever existed.  I’ve spent plenty of nights in the woods, but I seem to have gotten more than my fair share of full moons and noisy neighbors who left their lanterns on past any Godly hour.  Not only was it dark, but it was quiet.    The windy day had turned into a still night.  We were too high in elevation to hear any coyotes, and too low in elevation to hear any elk.      I could hear the sound of the creek babbling down below our campsite, but it was somewhat in a different sphere than the one I was in.

She dozed off first, and as she did I was struck with a kind of awe about my situation.  Something about the serenity of both the conversation and the physical environment surrounding me left me feeling something like wonder, but different.  I felt a groundedness and connectedness that is difficult to describe.

As I took in the crisp air, the smell of the wood surrounding me, the sight of the shadowing forest that could have gone on forever, I realized that everything in that scene was peaceful and content.  Everything, that is, but me.

One of the few discernable objects in my field of view was my neon yellow hammock, which hung between two trees about 80 feet away from where I was sleeping.  The evening before, as we enjoyed a beautiful sundown in that very hammock, I told her that sometimes, and that that day in particular, I felt like all the universe had to say to me was “f*** you”, and that I had been getting the message loud and clear.

The work, the beauty, and the decision making of the hike that day had distracted me from my contention with the universe.  But I was like a bouncy ball- I could be propelled upwards into an elevated and exciting state of mind, but with each bounce, I was jump lower than the bounce before, until before long, I was sitting still and motionless at the bottom of my despair.

I love being away from the city- mostly because the city is where my problems are.  The mountains have no beef with me.  I have nothing to prove to them, nor they to me.  Many have described that being “in nature” helps them feel calm, peaceful, collected, and confident.

As I laid there, propped on my elbow, experiencing the darkness and the stillness, I thought to myself, “this is when it’s supposed to hit me.  This is when the perspective and wisdom that will solve my problems is supposed to flow into me and make me feel whole and wise and maybe even good again.”  I observed the peace, but I was not it, and it was not me.

I was not enlightened with the solutions to my problems, the antidote to the things that were tormenting me.  I walked out of the woods with the same problems I walked in with.  But I also walked out with something else.  I walked out with the understanding that the mountains, the trees, the creek are peaceful just because they are.  They existed the same way every dark and still night for who knows how many years in the past, and will for how many years to come.  They didn’t become what they were because I, or anybody else, had shown up to observe and label them.

The wilderness just is what it is, independent of me. And I just am what I am, independent of the wilderness.

The wilderness has peace, but only enough for itself.  I’m not sure who came up with the idea of “inner peace”, but I am finding myself wanting to cozy up to it more and more, as I see that, for me, “inner peace” is the only peace.  I don’t know how to get it, maintain it, or magnify it, but I think that to really be at peace is to be able to be so in both nature and the city, in both calmness and in chaos.

I laid down, humbled by my  inability to share the vibration of my surroundings.  As I closed my eyes, I accepted that the woods (or another place I may walk) would not change me, and that bursts of inspiration would not be floating down from the stars.  But the woods, and the stars, and everything else there that night revealed me to myself.  Just as much as I could not change them, they could not change me.

The wilderness just is what it is, and just I am what I am.

But I want to be more like the wilderness.






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