Warning: f-bombs up ahead!
I can hear the tiny twigs and sprigs of sage crack and crumble under my feet as I walk.
The refuse of dozens of years of plant growth and the shedding of old parts into a solid mat that covers the earth.
Things don’t decay very fast here, despite the heavy sun, but the bitter brush and Ponderosas leave their once-cherished parts behind nonetheless.
There’s a metaphor in there, I’m sure.
I’m passing (versus the drudgery of “hiking”) over sun-baked logs and branches that once stood as majestic junipers, gnarled and crooked despite centuries of growth. They seem to twist and writhe on the ground like wild cracking snakes, despite their motionlessness.
In life, they don’t quite become the tall, strong, majestic towers of nature’s strength that we ooh and ahh at like the pine or redwoods, but in the last dying words of General Katsumoto, “They are all perfect.” *
There is a sun here that beats down with a great fervor and yet I never seem to notice the skin cracking effects until hours later. I feel the life giving flow and energy sapping power of the UV on my wool hood; the only thing between the only face I get in this life, and the burning rays of the sun that makes that life possible.
There’s a bit of irony in there, I’m sure.
Clark’s Nutcrackers ca-caw, like the little Corvids they are, all around me in flocks. Murders? Despite the small black shoulder-pads and sleeves they wear,and the fact that we’re not anywhere near the ocean, they look more like seagulls to me. Passionately digging pine nuts from cones, they impress me with their persistence. Their presence.
Who’d have thought a flock of squawking forest birds would bring me around to my point? Just as I do when I am wandering the woods, I write from within a state of presence and flow. I know the topic I want to get at just as I know the region I hope to explore, but I don’t write a road map or check the GPS.
Neither does the Nutcracker, for that matter.
Did you know they bury thousands of pine seeds a year, remembering where most are and yet forgetting just enough (unintentionally, the scientists say…) to be a major contributor to forest replanting?
How many seeds do you think you could collect, crack, bury, and then find again later in the year? How about while you’re flying, hopping, squawking, walking, watching for predators, laughing at the other nutcrackers, and taking time to poop and sleep?
Do you suspect that they can manage this grand task because the nutcracker is evolved to do it, or could it be their conscious presence?
Ok you have a point there, they did evolve for this, and they’re not technically as intelligent as their Crow relatives, but they do possess the ability to plan ahead and check behind.
You might argue that their memorization of thousands of seed locations is the opposite of being present, or that it’s dumb luck since there are thousands of them hiding thousands of seeds.
Ok you might have a point there, too, but I’d suggest otherwise.
It becomes sort of passive acceptance of whatever the hell happens to us in “this moment,” and that’s really important at times when the fuck-it mentality can save us—but harder to apply to the real world.
There’s something to be said for having the presence of mind and body to commit yourself to a task that could take months with focus and determination. There’s something to be said for letting the rest of it go for as long as it takes.
There’s something to be said for flowing with the universe around you and yet, not just standing there with a corporate co-opted phrase such as “Being Present” held up like a shield. It’s an important phrase, but are you doing it for yourself, or because a shoe company told you to?
When I go on my wanderings in the wilderness, I (usually) do it to reconnect with something that is easy to leave behind. Presence.
This isn’t the same as finding a distraction from the rest of my life. It’s about living my life right now. I relax into a state of intentional focus. Watch the way the light moves across the forest floor, the sounds the birds make as they go about their day, the smell of the sun-touched sage. I often come back with some new perspectives, but I don’t go there expecting to find any.
I go into the wilderness simply to go.
I go to feel myself as I am. To quiet the clutter of a modern mind and get in touch with the inner voice that matters. The voice that guides me as I stumble through my humanity. The voice that enriches my understanding. Not the one that heckles me into the ground. That is the voice of self-critical ego and he can go fuck himself.
I go to collect some clarity, focus, and peace of mind to bring back into my everyday life.
So that like the Nutcrackers out there, I can devote myself to the tasks before me when I get back with determination, understanding, and Presence.
*Quote from the film, “The Last Samurai”
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Kimby Maxson/Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Author’s Own; Wikimedia Commons