In Northern New Mexico, the wind coming from the West across the mesa gathers and moves the hot air to the East. Clouds form as the air approaches the high Sangre de Cristo and Picuris mountains. This orographic phenomenon repeats itself daily here in summer. Sometimes the clouds cool off enough as they rise and rain wets the dry desert at its feet. I can watch for hours from my porch and writing window at the dramatic sky patterns that play out.
From Ocean to Sky
The clouds move like waves in an ocean; an ocean of blue sky moving its billowy moisture, until a clap of thunder lets me know its force. I’m surrounded by the colossal forces of nature. There are no high-rises, no freeways weaving over and under each other, no big concrete walls here that give the illusion man is in charge. I feel small and vulnerable among the big skies and tall mountains. This landscape calls for hiding places in rocky canyons, and deep forests; places that can offer shelter from the elements, the bright sun, the downpours, the fierce winds.
I have such a hiding place. My new nest, my Nido Nuevo, is a small flat-roofed house that sits unobtrusively among the sagebrush at the end of a cul-de-sac with similar houses sprinkled around on the mesa. A tiny house made of the mud and earth that forms its foundation. A house that keeps me cool in summer, warm in winter, and lets me watch the clouds race by in the big sky outside my windows. A house that not only shelters me, but houses in its surrounding mesa quail families in its brush and ants in dusty perfectly round anthills. We are the low-living creatures of this place. I haven’t seen prairie dogs or chipmunks on my property yet, but it will not surprise me when they make their appearance.
I feel safe here. And yet, I’m leaving for awhile to challenge myself in nature and feel its force. A long hike on the Pacific Crest trail in the California mountains awaits me. The Pacific Crest trail is a 2650-mile long trail that runs along the mountain crests of California, Oregon and Washington from the Mexican border to Canada. Summer is the time for this pilgrimage; a walk that will remake me, let me rediscover what I’m made of, and learn about the world around me. Nervous anticipation with anxiety over the forces of aging affecting my body, are making me feel vulnerable, and cause restless sleep despite the preparations, despite the training I’ve put my body through. A last pilgrimage on this trail I discovered 10 years ago and have explored and traversed every summer since.
A 10-year Journey
At age 65 I started small, a 3-day hike near my home in Southern Oregon, then a 3-week hike to cover most of Oregon, then a week to finish the Oregon section. I felt I had gained a sense of the place where I lived. The experience called for more exploration of myself, my stamina, living in nature day in, day out. The John Muir section was next. I finished half of it in a thunderstorm-filled 2 weeks, finding my body rhythm as I climbed high pass after high pass and waded through trail turned river from a suddenly formed cataract. Exhilarated by the high Sierras, Washington state called next. The Washington Cascades are an undulating ocean of mountain ridges with far vistas, steep inclines, berry-filled valleys, towering trees and human sized ferns. My first experience in old-growth forests left me with awe and gratefulness to be a human walking this earth.
The desert in Southern California scared me; it was an unfamiliar part of the PCT, a way of life and survival unknown to me. On a sunny April day I stepped away from the Mexican border and found ridges surrounding dry dusty bowls, ridges with rainbows, ridges with a plant world in a super bloom. I fell in love with the desert and lost my fear. I gained respect for the tenacity of plant life. I learned to heed weather warnings as it can snow in the desert. I crawled over icy slopes dropping off into deep ravines. Every front has its back, and the desert shows it in spades. As my body lost its sweat, I fainted and learned to drink electrolytes throughout the day and manage the heat. I sustained a knee injury carrying 4 liters of water between water caches. My body showed what it is capable of as I walked a 100 miles with pain, not knowing I had a stress fracture.
Every time I completed a section, I came home with a new sense of self, a deep feeling of connection with the world I live in, a trust in my body and its natural processes that fuel living, creating and forming relationships. The hikes gave me love for life. The hikes gave me hope and trust that things will work out.
The Last Leg
And so, after a year of transforming my life and moving to the high desert of Northern New Mexico, after a year of horrendous war, mass shootings and divisiveness among political perspectives, I set out to hike and remake myself once more on this, for me, last 150 mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I will enter Desolation Wilderness near Tahoe and hike to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite park where I entered the John Muir trail so many years ago. Other women will hike with me, women I’ve met through my postings online and my book writing. I’ve cherished the sections of the PCT I’ve done solo: most of Oregon, half of the JMT, the Southern California desert; but I welcome the companionship of others who are discovering themselves as they hike along with me and work off my expertise. I will pass the baton of inspiration and devotion to the natural world to them and hope they will bring others along on their journey of finding themselves one step at a time.
The wind is picking up and blowing in through my window. Will the clouds drop their moisture this evening as they rise up the slopes? Will I make it up the looming slopes in California with my heavy pack?
Desolation Wilderness with view toward High Sierras, photo courtesy Margie Reynolds
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