This can be seen in its entirity in issue #41 of SUGAR MULE LITERARY MAGAZINE: WOMEN WRITING NATURE
Away from buildings and street noise, surrounded by lush evergreens is where I feel most at feel at peace. Only in the wilderness do I feel truly steady, my feet rooted in the ground. Over the years, the trails and dirt roads of the Cascade Mountains have witnessed events large and small in my life, the wilderness a steady companion and inspiring teacher.
I was 2 years old on my first hike. Strapped into a blue canvas backpack carried by my father to the top of Mount Pilchuck, it set in motion a love for the outdoors that I never grew out of. Later as a moody adolescent, I carried my own Jansport rucksack loaded with books up the same trail, just to sit on a rock and read, ignoring everything else. When I wasn’t hiking, I was often perched on the dropped tailgate of a station wagon at the end of a dirt logging road, eating cheese and crackers, enjoying the view. Despite the evils of clear cut logging, the lack of foliage exposed the texture and pitch of terrain normally concealed, and was beautiful in its own stark way.
Day hiking when the car is a mere ten miles or so away was simple. I didn’t have to prepare for much, my pack was light, there were people on the trail and help was relatively close. But backpacking was taking it up several notches. It never occurred to me to worry – I knew the important stuff, like how to read a map, what gear to bring, how to dig a hole for a toilet and squat without sitting in nettles. I had no idea that what you learn on the trail is not something you can prepare for.
The night of my first backpacking trip I woke to heavy silence, the tent filled with an ethereal glow. I had never heard silence so loud. Can silence wake you up or was something there? My hiking partner snored softly next to me, and I didn’t want to wake him like a scared city kid. But I had to pee. Ridiculously bad. But I couldn’t go out there – alone. What was waiting for me in the dark? My heartbeat sounded like a drum in the quiet tent, alerting all within hearing to my fear. Didn’t animals attack people when they sensed fear?
I frantically searched for my headlamp so that I could see something besides shadows. Where was the damn headlamp? Oh my god, why didn’t we have a can or something to pee in? Finding the headlamp underneath me, I slid it on unicorn-style, and flicked the switch to its brightest setting. A reassuring beam was now directed at whatever I looked at. I scrunched deeper into my bag, hoping the urge to pee would just go away, and closed my eyes.
With my eyes squeezed shut, my ears reached outward with supernatural ability. Trees creaked earily, rubbing against each other in the slight wind. I reminded myself that the faint sound of laughter and voices was really the nearby stream. Or, wait! Was someone there? I held my breath. The sound of a twig falling softly onto the nylon rain fly was magnified as if a giant night creature just perched above my head. My eyes flew open, my bladder clenching. The headlight beam careened crazily off the ceiling and walls as I bolted upright, head whipping around right and left. I couldn’t ignore it, I really had to go. Fumbling for my glasses, I unzipped my cocoon of warmth and safety and braced myself for a quick trip into the bushes. Unzipping the doorway, I crawled into the night and was birthed into starlight.
Still on my knees on the packed earth, everything else was forgotten as I gazed upwards. Clusters of stars were so dense that their outlines merged with one another made entire clouds that lit the sky with brightness. The empty night had become full while I was sleeping. Darkness was an illusion – something that lived in the imagination of someone who lived in the city.
Switching off the unnecessary headlamp, I marveled at how much I could see. Of course I knew the infinite universe lay out there, just beyond the invisibility cloak of daylight, but to see it revealed against this blue-velvet backdrop was astounding. There was nothing limited here, except my own ability to perceive. As I looked up into the endless space, I felt so small. But there was a strange comfort in that. Nothing in that vastness knew I was there; I was a piece of a larger puzzle – not the whole puzzle as I so often believed in my busy life. My problems were relatively unimportant in the larger world, and maybe they should be in mine. There was nothing to fear in the unknown, except how I let that fear cause me discomfort. My heart stilled. I stood up stiffly to complete the task that sent me into the ignited night. I was no longer afraid….