When I turned 18 I went into the woods, not to live deliberately, but out of fear. I went for lack of a better idea, because I didn’t know what I was doing with my life. I went into the woods because the opportunity to work in the backcountry of Idaho arose. So I went into the woods.
A love for the outdoors was reintroduced then. A love for the smell of pine. For jagged mountain peaks and grassy meadows. For fresh air and twirling smoke that stretched mesmerizing arms out of fire pits.
I didn’t know what I was looking for back then, but I remember a crazy uncertain fear that was growing inside me at that time in my life, and I remember how the woods soothed the savage beast of uncertainty that comes with early adulthood.
I began to backpack as much as I could after that summer. I found a good friend who embraced backpacking as much as I did and we threw all our goods in the back of his Ford Festiva and took off for new vistas whenever we could.
I found my self, my soul, on each and every trail I’ve ever walked. The exertion of breath that came as I headed up a dirt path became a sort of confession. Breathing deeply the smell of pine that mingled with dust and fresh air was my absolution. Smoky fires made from fallen pine boughs was my incense. The sound of the wind blowing the tops of the trees, the rush of a stream, the morning chirping of birds, that was my choir.
I’m not going to lie. I glimpsed God in that church of the wilderness. I understood the universe in the darkness of those cold nights. I was made whole in those moments. Without a mirror, a phone, a television, and the voices of society screaming what I must be and what I must be doing…I was enough. Just then, in those moments, I was enough just as I was.
When I get around fellow backpackers and lovers of hiking, I have a lot of trips I get to relive and tell them about. I’ve had more experiences than some, not as many as others.
This past weekend I was able to go camping again. It’s been too long since my last trip.
I found my thoughts meandering wonderfully.
There is this idea that we are all energy and we are all connected. The theories are long and involved, but the gist is that if we are energy, then being bathed in the sunlight, our very source of energy, and being surrounded by living things like trees and plants…all of that will invigorate us. I like the idea, it could be one reason I always feel so alive after a camping trip.
The other thoughts that pass by are lines from poems and memories of books I’ve read on past trips. I always had a book, even if it was a bit extra weight, I would carry a book with me and spend my nights after an exhausting trip, tucked in my sleeping bag reading a few lines. I spent one entire summer with the Idyll’s of the King by Alfred Lord Tennyson, so much so that as I hiked I could memorize the poem “The Lady of Shallot”. To this day, there is a pressed leaf from one of my trips marking the poem in the book.
“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” –John Muir