Introductory Note: I wrote this a week ago but for some reason didn’t post until now. Probably was being perfectionistic, trying to “get it right.” That’s the irony of having a profoundly moving experience… the temptation to over-think things can get in the way.
Last week my brother and I spent four days hiking in the Yosemite wilderness. I shall attempt to articulate what this trip meant to me, as I sit here three evenings after I returned in my cushy apartment in Sacramento.
In short, this trip was magical.
It was magical because it was hard. And I don’t just mean physically. We did hike 25 miles in 4 days, which, while not a huge amount, is more than I have ever backpacked in one trip. However, I am in the habit of exercising on the regular (I wrote a post about it here, if you are curious), so it wasn’t really a big deal to be walking 25 miles in 4 days.
So I would say that the trip wasn’t hard physically. And it wasn’t really hard emotionally or mentally, though it had its mental demands (mostly because of the 900-page book I embarked upon reading and am half done with! But that was pure pleasure).
If anything, I would say this trip was hard spiritually. I have gone back-packing twice in the past year prior to this: one day trips up Mt. Diablo in the Bay Area. About 10-15 miles each time. These were good trips, but they were up a mountain that is comfortably visible from the freeway in the Bay Area. Even at night, with a great view of the sky, you see the nearby cities of Walnut Creek, Concord, and beyond.
What made Yosemite so completely different from this was the sheer intensity of one word: NATURE. In Yosemite, you see the night sky. That’s it. You are in nature. While we were hiking we didn’t see a single car. We saw a few hikers, but probably fewer than a dozen. When we got back into Yosemite Valley we saw hundreds of tourists. But not where we were hiking. Go a few miles in and the tourists drop off quickly. Make them work for it a little bit, and you will learn who is really intrepid… and who just wants a free view, or a spot to park their RV.
I don’t think I understood it before. For the first time in my life, I believe I get what being in nature really is about.
I felt it when we purified our water from the lakes we camped next to–because that is HOW you drinkable water when you are in the wilderness. I felt it when we locked our bear boxes filled with food (and toiletries and bug spray… anything that a bear might find attractive) and put them twenty feet from our tent at night. I felt it at night while I lay on the shitty sleeping pad I bought the week before and couldn’t get to sleep for hours because of the combination of a bad sunburn, the shitty sleeping pad, and being on red alert about the probability of a bear approaching our camp (seemed mighty likely, though none ever did). I felt it when we hiked nine miles on day three, which included descending a steep hill cross country style (and breaking my sunglasses in the process), out-maneuvering a cloud of mosquitoes that decided to join us on our hike, eating lunch by a beautiful lake (can someone say “skinny dipping”?), and taking a trail that criss-crossed miles of creeks. I felt it when I jumped into the lakes we passed or bathed in the creek. And I felt it when I had to bury my shit (And no, I’m not just being foul here, I am being real: because that is what they ask you to do when you are hiking in Yosemite).
It was nature. It was me. I was in it. It was in me. It was a spiritual experience as much as it was a physical experience. I was like a dog running through the field chasing a tennis ball. I was in my element. My soul was vibrating with joy. What could be more spiritual than that?
That’s why it was special. Because it was hard, which made it valuable. Which made it memorable. Which uplifted me.
Now I understand: Nature is buzzing flies, and hungry mosquitoes and flrrrp-ing humming birds and cold lakes that in July still have patches of snow around their perimeter. Nature is dark nights where the stars stare down at you. Nature is felled trees that don’t ask permission before blocking your trail. Nature is alive, and nature is in flux, and nature has no boundaries. Contrary to our world of boxes and gates and walls and road signs and rules and regulations, Nature has neglected to carry a manual. It doesn’t need one. Nature has learned the timeless dance of God.
I admit our little trip was pretty cushy and mostly was on a trail. Also, it is in one of the most popular National Parks in the world. And yet just that simple experience of being out there, me and my brother and the elements, made me feel more alive than most recent days I can recall.
And just think, Nature has been there all along.