As a child, East Coast crickets, fireflies, deciduous trees and schist hills were refuge from confusing early adolescent emotions. Walking warm, sticky Appalachian trails, losing my breath on the uphill and finding life croaking beside babbling brooks soothed the angst and promised that there was more to life than streets and sidewalks and social norms.
When I moved back to the Pacific Northwest, I was no less captivated. The Stillaguamish was my safe place, which was strange because it never stayed the same. Spring and autumn flooding promised chaotic change, but always it flowed; across the street from my nightmare life, my gestating addictions and night-time fears. I went to its banks, laid, eyes-closed, on damp, mossy logs and listened to the promise of nature.
The promise: life is steady and unstable and it will not stop. It changes; it is horrible and wonderful and sounds like birdsong and crashing rotten trees, it smells like mold and decay and roses and honeysuckle, and it always goes on… until it ends. And life, all life, all the time, always ends and leaves evidence of what once was and is no longer.
There is life. There is death.
My life ebbed and flowed and, like the mighty Stilly, its course changed over and over.
Then I was alone.
I was drawn to the woods. Day in and day out I walked up the mountain behind my house to read a Psalm, to be at peace, but never too far; because I’d never been too far alone. I asked people to take me further, the answer was no. I found courage and strength to do it alone. In my car, petrified to get stuck, I drove into the mountains and realized I’d forgotten to use my feet! I left the car… but never too far, and wandered and breathed in the air.
As always, the beauty of creation overwhelmed me! I was in love. I wanted more silent rugged trails and windy rolling ridges that stretched as far as eyes could see. Then sanctuary made friends with my real-life. There were people at my gym planning a hike.
Maybe I invited myself, maybe I was invited. I do not remember. Someone said Mt. Cashmere was a ten mile hike, and Mike said the top gets a little sketchy so if I was unsure, don’t summit. I was in! I ran half marathons, I worked out, I knew my body could handle it and I wanted to go to the mountains! The group would be my conduit to finally go too far!
I had no clue what to bring. All I knew were long drives and short hikes. The morning came. I tried to pretend like this wasn’t a big deal. We got to the trailhead and someone said the hike was eighteen miles!
EIGHTEEN MILES!!! I had never done anything remotely close to eighteen miles in my life! My insides were sick! I was scared: to make a fool of myself, to admit I’d never done anything like that, to be the slowest person on the hike, to not be able to do what I planned to do. Fear invaded me. Then we hiked.
Steve, Andrew and Marisol were the only people I knew, and these only slightly from the gym. Casey, Ana, Shane and Ed were strangers I walked the woods with. Ed was a runner training for his first marathon. Shane knew some of my favorite friends. Casey spoke of fires that scarred the hillsides. Ana and Marisol, ethereal beings of beauty, moved with strength and grace. I did my best to keep up, praying to the Lord that I didn’t embarrass myself. Steve had a hard time hiking that day. Now that I know how it all works and where I fit best in the pack, I would have stayed back with him, but that day, I didn’t know; and that moment in my life… I had a thing to prove to myself.
I needed to do it. We hiked, up and up and up, past beautiful lakes and forest trails, past burned trees that squeaked and hissed under my fingertips. The char and cinder of once alive trees leaving black evidence of death, reminding me I was alive... and as long as I wasn’t last, I wasn’t lost.
It took forever. I bouldered, I tested limits, I ached and I didn’t summit. I was unsure, so I waited in the bitter, cloud covered cold, in the cleft of a hard, rigid rock, on the spine of the mountain. They summitted; I waited alone… afraid. It was scary but it was perfect! Me and Jesus and a downloaded version of the Bible. They came down and the trek reversed. I thought I got lost. Andrew guided me to a trail I could see, then I sent him on, or he sent himself; it didn’t matter I wasn’t afraid anymore! I wasn’t last. I wasn’t lost. I wasn’t lonely. I was just alone for miles… in my sanctuary, streams and leaves and wood and rocks and one foot in front of the other; down, down, down.
Then it was over. I didn’t make it to the top but I did it! (here are the pictures to prove it!)
I go on to climb new heights figuratively and literally. I am grateful! I see God and His amazing design and skill and talent in creation. I am blessed that these, once, strangers allow me to hike with them. I am humbled at our collective ability and agility and know not everyone can move like we do.
A year ago this week they touched the peak of Mt. Cashmere and I summitted my fears. I am strong, I am brave, I am full of life! I will go too far into the woods, the rivers and the mountains as long as I can … I will be dead some day so I ought to live life well now!