“This self is out of love with the ordinary; it is out of love with time. It has a hunger for eternity.”
Mary Oliver, Of Power and Time, from “Upstream, Selected Essays”
This summer I met the wizard of the Pacific Crest Trail trail-named Billy Goat. Long curly grey beard below probing eyes touched his bony, sunken, old man chest covered with a blue, lightweight breathable shirt. A large brimmed hat covered his probably balding head. No flowing robes, no purple mantle adorned with stars. A smallish man in shorts, with tanned, muscular legs reminiscent of a youthful stride. A stride that took him to walk, hike, seek adventure. Was it adventure that he was after? 76 yrs old, 30 yrs on the trails, on his 10th through-hike of the PCT, Billy Goat has become wizened. Not wizened to leave the outdoors, the steep ascends, the long hot or rainy days behind and find a cozy home to live out his days. When asked where home is he points to his pack. No, Billy Goat is wizened to wait out the rain in a motel before hitting the trail, wizened to take it slow and listen to his compromised heart, wizened to stop, talk to the hurried young ones and point to a tree, the sky, a river. “The trail”, he says, “is to be lived on, not to be conquered”.
This summer put me up against a part of me again that seeks the whole sky, that is “out of love with time” as Mary Oliver calls it. (www.brainpickings.org/?s=Mary+Oliver) A part of me that hungers for something bigger than the daily accomplishments of a prudently lived life, a clean fridge, a solvent bank account.
I want to talk about the part of me that “hungers for eternity”, that wants to be lifted up, feel the bigger workings of this thing we call life. The brief moments of a morning sunrise from my back deck or across the water in my sculling boat, are just that, brief taunts of something greater, something I need to go find, experience.
I set out for a day, several days, a month and let nature wrap itself around me with her haunting wind sounds, her quiet green leaf canopy, her splashing dancing water laughter. The outside world knocks on my sullen brain with her sensations, invites me to step on her rock-strewn path, shakes my comfort stiffened muscles awake in a measured rhythmic movement of breath and body. I strap on the pack, leave the comfort of home and hotel, and enter an outside world that will match an inner world bigger than the daily me. An outside world that stretches and massages my thoughts, that empties me of constricting habits while adopting a routine of survival and forward movement. The daily routine of walking creates room for the big inner world of being, a feeling of coming home to myself.
Billy Goat points at his pack when he talks about where home is. On the trail the pack has everything I need to survive and be protected in the big open world of nature. The pack serves as a symbol for the home of the creative self I carry inside me, a creative self that helps me feel alive, connects me with the bigger way of things, always. I walk many miles to loosen the grip of the world restricting that creativity. I walk many miles to solidify my confidence in making the plunge into the unknown of being. I walk many miles not knowing what is ahead, and meeting surprise after surprise, both good and bad.
When Billy Goat climbs a ridge for the 10th time, when he points at a moss covered tree, a turquoise river, he seeks the enlivening surprise of what comes next.
Step out of the ordinary, remember the creative curious self enlivened by the surprises of the unknown, wherever you are, whatever day it is.