This trite statement deserves a bit closer look. As I am in the last throws of preparation for my three week hike on the John Muir trail, friends ask questions about things I haven’t thought about, or haven’t wanted to think too hard about. I am ready to just go, and let the “universe provide”. I know that I have covered the basics for this trip and I have travelled enough to know to leave the rest to “chance”.
The first “chance” issue is leaving my car somewhere safe for the duration of my hike. I figured I would find a place once I got to my destination. A concerned friend called me and had arranged for a secure parking place through her brother who owns a condo in the area. Bless her and the grace that shines down on me. I do believe in Grace. As long as I live ethically and pay it forward as we call that these days, good things come to me also.
Living with this notion is what adventure travel is about. It’s about letting yourself be held by the universe. This planet, this place we keep calling Home. Placing myself in a bigger framework of sky, trail and nature forces me to trust or I will be miserable. This hike is an exercise in trust. Trust in life, trust in forces bigger than me, and trust that somehow I have a place to return to.
If you think of it, we are just small particles being hurled through an infinite firmament. Why try to secure yourself in a place and hold on? You know the grip will break sometime under the force of change. I like the idea that we are meant to move, that walking is in our DNA. Moving for weeks on end nomad style maybe closer to the origin of things than you ever thought.
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Travel can be as simple as a walk through an unfamiliar neighborhood in Portland Oregon. A warm light filled summer night walk to a pizza garden where they serve real Italian pizza with the crispy thin crust and a few flavorful toppings, instead of an American style doughy crust with quantities of sauce and cheese mixed with meat and whatever else you can think of putting on there.
The neighborhood presented all its grower’s glory in gardens. The unfamiliar sprinkled liberally among the familiar plants. It seemed to me a neighborhood of explorers, at least on the flora front. Plants grow big in this Northern rain forest area with warm, mild summers. Coming from weeks of battling hundred degree weather to keep my plants alive in my own garden, this Portland neighborhood was a walk in Paradise. Five foot high tomato plants, nasturtium leaves as big as salad plates, passion flowers looking at me intensely with purple rimmed black eyes. I drank in this walk with Alice in Wonderland thirstiness.
Suddenly there was the box. A flat box with plexiglass front on a post by the side walk. I stopped to see what was in the box. It was not a real estate advertisement. It was a poem from Mary Oliver. I was told that poetry boxes are the latest thing, inviting passers by to stop and become mindful. Mary took me to one of her moments with nature. My meeting with the poetry box was a soft brushing up against a friend who shared my delight of a summer evening.
I feel inspired to put a box by my sidewalk and live life just a little bit deeper. Won’t you walk by and read my poem?
Imagine sitting on top of the mountain, nine thousand feet high above the world. Flies and bees and ladybugs are swarming, looking for ??. Rock piles everywhere. You just wiped the sweat off your brow, and are tuning into the funny sensations rapid elevation gain produces in your body. Is it really lighter up here, are my movements more swaying, the tickling in my nose the beginning of delightful smell? Then a man enters your vision. He is carrying a fishing pole, wears a camouflage hat and does not have a back pack. Altitude happy you call out to him, “Going fishing for flies up here?”
And you know, what he says?
“Someone told me there is a lake with fish in it up here.”
Altitude hallucination? Who is hallucinating?
He comes closer, smiles and then says,
“Would you mind terribly if I fire off my handgun?” Yes, I would mind, you say. Hallucination or not, you are not going to spoil your altitude high with a loud blast of a gun near your head. Surprised look on his face. Then you see the handle of the gun hanging out of his pocket. He is not joking. Patiently he explains, “There is a lady down below. I promised to fire my gun if I made it up here.” You feel the waver of niceness in your chest, but you don’t say anything to give in to his request. You reminisce about the gun and the fishing pole as equipment for mountain climbing as the man walks away and waves good bye.
This is what happened when I climbed to the top of Mt. Eddy, across I-5 from Mt Shasta. I thought, this is my mountain too, I climbed it, I will sit here in peace. I drink water I carried, I eat the lunch I brought. There are different ways of finding food, I suppose. We all share the outdoors. There is Them with the gun and fishing pole, there is Us with the botany book and Cliff bar.
A shot fired in the distance told me he respected my space.
Somewhat, at least.
How do you know it is time for a transition in your life? You can wait for your surroundings to tell you. You can wait until you get sick, literally, of doing what you are doing. Or - you can listen.
I call this BIG LISTENING. This hearing of a voice has been with me all my life. It often starts just with a word, the name of a place, an action, that keeps rising up in the depth of my gut, where my subconscious brain must sit in my body. Usually, I reject it, don’t think it is possible, don’t want it to be. The older I get, the more I have learned to let the voice ripen until I “know” it is something I need to do.
This is how the John Muir trail entered my life last fall in a very tiny, fleeting thought. After walking home the length of Oregon, I really had no need to do something like that again and had settled for shorter, easier to manage sixty mile hikes. The JMT persisted through the winter, through a kayaking trip in Mexico.
I asked myself why do it? I still don’t have the answer. I can make up answers, but I won’t know until I do it, what hiking the JMT will be about for me. I trust this process now and look forward to learning something about life, my life in this go-around. Hesitantly I put out the idea to my community always giving myself permission to “nix” the whole thing. I got response from others, critical information about permits etc, several hiking partners interested in joining me. The important details, the support needed, always come when I listen to the voice.
I have not always known that the support is there and made the process more difficult for myself. More difficult than necessary. By surrendering to the bigger force that moves through me, I let myself be part of a bigger universe, a bigger ever changing world. A world that transforms me and shows me new things about living. Hiking this challenging trail will give birth to the ME I am still becoming.
Do you have a voice inside you that needs listening to?