It was the summer of my 26th year, spent traveling the western half of the United States, taking in all my eyes could hold and my Soul could feel of the most beautiful country imaginable. Growing up in the Midwest and only having traveled as far as Colorado, the barren landscape and searing temperatures of the southwest struck an unexpected terror in me. What if the car broke down out here? Who would save us from being fried to death by the unrelenting, angry Sun and how would we make it to safety? I’d always considered myself fearless in the face of new territory, even in my youth as a blonde girl from the farm, running with a Latin gang in the barrio of Kansas City (and good Lord, what was I doing there?). But this, this was something that was eternal, powerful and far bigger than the dangers of other two-leggeds whose bravado is a weak attempt to steel themselves from the terror of insignificance. This was an anciently-felt fear of an archetypal presence; the Sun; the thing that fierce cultures such as the Aztec had worshipped and to whom they had made bloody sacrifices. Would my life become a sacrifice to an ancient desire to know the mysteries of nature? That thought haunted me as we made our way from the Grand Canyon through Arizona and north along the eastern border of Death Valley.
As the mountains of the Sierra Nevadas appeared in the distance, with hints of dark forest green, the grip on my gut began to release. Soon, we were safe within the walls of the Yosemite Valley with dramatic, vertical cliffs and plummeting waterfalls roaring with reassurance that life could again be abundant through the gift of water. Water so clear it revealed small details of the colorful pebbles at the bottom of deep pools. Water, so cold it stole the breath from the bodies of those bold enough to submerge themselves in it and the sensation was at once invigorating and a reminder that life is fragile.
We awoke one chilly morning to the sun peaking over the mountains, made our breakfast and wrapped our hands around cups of hot coffee, watching the steam rise into the frosty air. Today we would venture out to explore in the very, short time we had in this awestriking place. Driving up to a height that would allow a view of the valley inclusive of El Capitan and Half Dome, we arrived at a viewpoint. I walked over to the bench and sat down, my heart beating with an emotion only felt while in the presence of transcendence. There was a silent voice calling to me to don a pack and set out over the vast country before me. I longed to get lost; to abandon thoughts; to just feel the ground under my feet, striding deeper into the quiet of the wilderness. The winds gently blew through the pines and chipmunks hurried around my feet, climbing onto the bench in hopes I had a morsel for them. Blue skies and wisps of clouds floated overhead as I strained to hear the sound of the life-giving water plummeting to the valley floor from an impossible height in the distance.
Engulfed in the magnitude of it all, I hadn’t noticed an elderly woman had quietly taken a seat beside me. Becoming aware of another life force nearby, I turned to see her leaning onto her cane. Her wrinkled face, and bent back told a story of a body well-lived in, worn, but strong. Then the light glinted off of something on her face. It was a tear, leaving a gentle trail from under her sunglasses. I turned away, not wanting to intrude on her private moment. Then, without turning toward me; as if needing to be witnessed, she said “I’ve hiked every trail in this park. I’ve seen every turn and every vista. This place is a part of me.” I could feel her love for something far beyond a place; something that had given great gifts to her, that had filled hours, days, perhaps even months of her life. Her heart seemed to have broken open with gratitude; love and sorrow. It felt as if she might be saying goodbye to her Soulmate. I was humbled and grateful she allowed me to witness her love affair with the natural world. And, as I watched her, gazing out over the love of her life, an eerie feeling came over me, as if I was watching my future self; that someday I, too, would be looking at the vastness of a love that is impossible to name, filled with gratitude and sorrow all at once.
Throughout the years, I have chosen to live in places that speak to my heart. Each has given its gifts in special and unique ways. Each has offered itself up to be explored and breathed in. I hiked the wilds of Colorado; climbed 14,000 foot peaks, white-water canoed its wild rivers and skied its fantastic snow. I had lived in the indescribable beauty of the Flathead Valley in Montana and hiked every trail in Glacier National Park, saying goodbye for reasons that still break my heart. Glacier National Park had been the closest thing to heaven on earth I had every experienced. Full of unspeakable beauty and moments of staring into the possibility of death while face-to-face with Grizzlies, Wolves and Moose, Glacier National Park had held my attention and my heart for ten years.
My path led me circuitously through Utah for a short time, where the Rocky Mountains continued to garner my love and enthrall me with the ruggedness of the young Wasatch range.
My time there, however, ended up shorter than planned and I was off for a land I had only fantasized about as a future retirement location. Southern California was to be my next home, although much sooner than I had expected. My heart was heavy to leave those Rocky Mountains that had filled my eyes, heart and soul with so much beauty and wonder and caused me to grind off a good deal of cartilage in my knees with pure pleasure.
Soon, I learned the beauty that my new home had to offer and explored the beaches with my son; the Sierra Nevadas and the daunting, vast cities that still intimidate this mountain girl.
It is here that I met my (pardon the cliché), Soulmate. Now, I understand why my heart said it’s heavy goodbye to Montana and how it is that the fates led me to my new home, albeit sooner than I had expected. As we come to know each other, there is a phenomenon of trying to see in our minds’ eye the sights the other has taken in; to feel the experiences that have touched the other and to understand their deepest longings. There is a kind of special, revelatory value in sharing the things that we hold dear with a beloved that opens a view into our hearts. Because this man is my beloved, I wanted him to see the things that are now a part of my Soul. So, the time came for the graduation of a young, Montana man whom I call my son, although I am not his mother, and my beloved and I flew to Montana.
Not only would I be able to share some of the people whom I love with my new partner, but one of the places I love. To see it all anew through his eyes was a joy. Hearing him exclaim with joy about the beauty of this place brought back my earliest memories of seeing it as a young woman. The awe I felt as I drove across the northern panhandle of Idaho from Seattle to Montana and then the Earth opening up as if to reveal her beating heart in the midst of Glacier Park was hitting me as if it was the first time I’d witnessed it.
The snows had been unrelenting through the winter of 2016/2017 and Going to the Sun Road was not open yet. So we parked at the edge of Lake McDonald to gaze at a view that is possibly one of the most photographed places in the world.
My partner walked to the small tourist shop as I sat on a boulder feeling into this place that holds indescribable meaning to me. Tears welled into my eyes and rolled down my face. Gazing out over the lake to the peaks beyond, my mind’s eye took flight to the trails I’d hiked there. Suddenly, it all rushed back to me; the sights, sounds, smells, feelings, experiences. The spectacular views so hard-fought to attain that whispered “Stay just a little longer”; the moments of wonder staring into the eyes of a cow Moose who chose to walk away after we surprised each other in the willows; the heart-stopping minutes as a Grizzly came into view, realizing he is gazing back at you; the quiet moments dipping sore feet into cold streams with water so clear the only verification that it exists is the blue color of your toes. They were the tears that are invoked by how the beauty of nature calls to an ancient longing to rejoin that from which we feel separate. That deep understanding that the atoms of our being are the same as what we gaze upon in reverie. Emotion stirred by a sense of being a part of everything; being joined again; being home.
As my love returned and saw the brightly sparkling drops of wetness on my cheeks, he asked, “My love, why are you crying?” It took a minute for me to compose myself enough to speak and longer than that to try to put into words what I was feeling. As I struggled to find them, it hit me that I could not possibly describe the emotion with mere words. There are no human words adequate to speak about the deep connection of all that is to all that is. In our human minds, time is linear, although physicists and spiritualist argue that it is an infinite loop; that all exists at the same time, in the same moment. Perhaps it was that as I sat there, time looped back in on itself as I found these words coming out of my mouth: “I’ve hiked every trail in this Park. I’ve seen every turn and every vista. This place is a part of me.”