July 20, 2020
I’m perched on a giant rock (stone-colored with glints of shale and silver) overlooking a roaring river in the Big Pine Wilderness. The morning sun is filtering through the ancient giants (some pine, some aspen, others I do not recognize) and casting purple shadows of flowers and leaves upon my summer skin. Every time I pause to think, the river splashes me with its glacial cold as if to say “You have a river within you, too. Write from that place.” But I carry on thinking, of course. I’ll need more time to get closer to the kind of honesty the mountains, brooks, and soil inhabit.
Today is my fourth day here, nestled at this campsite behind a row of trees that whisper “do not camp”. It’s my third day waking to the beating sun, after first waking at dawn to watch the glorious alpenglow spread across the humble peaks, after first falling asleep to the sounds of the river flowing thunderously downstream, of embers crackling after a brazen midnight fire, of the milky way showing its colors through the mesh of my little wilderness home.
I sit here with mud-caked feet, sap-covered hair, and at least twelve new scars-to-be lining my legs from brushing trees and desert shrubs that did not ask to be brushed. I have bruises on my shoulders from carrying my pack through 11-hour days—an* 11-hour day—and a swollen Achilles along each heel from flying too close to the sun in thinking I could break my boots in with efficiency by wearing them for the first time on said 11-hour day. My skin is golden, my lips are dry, my quarantine bangs stick out like pine needles on a gnarled but otherwise reasonable head of hair, and I feel really good.
I love the cyclical nature of this life—wake, breakfast, read by the creekside, hike up to an alpine lake, loiter as long as you’re able, descend as the moon rears its lonely head, devour Aaron’s cooking, warm your feet by the campfire, read a little more, fall asleep to the silhouettes of giant reds against a starlit sky. Occasionally watch a teenage deer snacking on bushes across the way, occasionally watch a striking yellow snake climb a tree with so much skill and so few arms it blows your mind. Occasionally take the wrong trail back while hauling a ruby-colored branch with a pattern so glorious and twisty—like large synapses powering some complex system—on the back of a friend while you both stumble down steepness through dense thicket to find your way home. Occasionally have your 43-minute walk turn into a 4.5-hour climb just in time to catch the last few minutes of golden peaks lighting an alpine lake and then turn softer, then pinker, then dusty purple, and blue, and fade into the night.
Soon, “this simple, centripetal life [will be] blown to bits” — Kafka on the Shore
I really like it here and I really like who I am here. A giant ant (sketch for scale) just found its way onto me and rather than flinch, I let it survey the territory—going up one arm, down the other, exploring the crevices between fingers and toes—before helping it descend down the slope of my shin back onto the stone from where it came. I like the kind of patience and curiosity and kindness and softness that nature finds in me. And though it is easier in the wilderness than anywhere else, I know my task will be to remember these faculties on my own, wherever my life may take me.
When I breathe deeply, I can smell the iciness of rushing waters and it brings me such a singular joy. I think I’ll go and take another creek bath now, then join the others for breakfast. (Cinnamon rolls!)
(I did exactly that.)