The Smell of the Wild

I loved my morning on Sunday. Despite fitful sleep and rising at 2:40 am, I still get exhilarated as I pull out of my neighborhood. The drive takes me past the packed casino ( at 3:30am !!) , the Pentecostal Church ( I always think of a book I read years ago, Salvation on Sand Mountain ) and Pete’s Pool ( that’s another story altogether ).

I popped in my favorite CD from Preservation Hall in NOLA. I ate my apples and chugged a third cup of coffee. Then I opened my window and took it all in.

The Sunrise parking lot was pretty empty and quiet. I was tempted to shut my eyes for a few minutes but the air felt good and I grabbed my pack and headed up. I expected to smell the alpine firs but I was surprised to be taking in a musky, wild smell. Animal. I never saw one,  but that scent was unmistakable. There was scat on the path too. If only I knew what I was looking at. Oh well. I have come to truly believe that anything that quickens or races my heart is a good thing. So be it.

I started this post fully intending to share a trip report. It will be partly that. I’m learning and growing and changing all the time. Its almost hard to keep up with myself.

I wouldn’t call myself an intrepid explorer. A year ago, if I couldn’t find a suitable companion to adventure with, I’d stay home. It made for a sparse year of hiking.

Also a year ago, my body was in the beginning stages of freaking out. It’s been a wild ride. By November of last year I was having a hard time navigating the stairs to go to bed. My body was betraying me. No way could I happily hike. I was in pain and I was scared. I’d lost 25 pounds since summer, there were days I couldn’t hold a pen and I was afraid of whatever was happening inside of me. It sent me into panic mode. It wasn’t until March that I was diagnosed with the RA. My doctor insisted my best chance would be aggressive treatment.

So I said yes.

Then no.

Then yes.

How is it going, you wonder ?

It’s going.

But I digress.

On Easter, I was supposed to meet a friend for my first sunrise hike up Rattlesnake. She got delayed and told me she would meet me at the top. This was the day everything changed. Out of my fear, rose faith and confidence.

It was the beginning of my weekly adventures. Sometimes I have company but mostly I make a plan and am happy to go alone. I’m beginning to love the feeling of trusting myself. There is also something to be said for being free of the emotional entanglement that comes when others are sharing your space. ( Am I going too fast ? Too slow ? Am I talking too much ? Not enough ? ) It can be exhausting. ( But sharing these places with people who appreciate them is pretty powerful stuff too. )

Two weeks ago I did my first long (for me) solo hike. Summerland at Mount Rainier. The hike begins in the woods and has the kind of diversity I’ve come to just love about these hikes. Forest, meadow, waterfalls, rushing creeks, jagged rock trails, beautiful views and solitude. Beautiful solitude. I could get used to that.

But here’s the thing … I’m discovering so much more than how to be alone with myself. My confidence is growing, yes. My spirit is opening too. ( I can’t name it, but it has everything to do living in these moments )

But there’s another thing. The biggest thing. I have been learning about unconditional love. I know, I know … maybe I’m a little “out there” but hear me out. ( those who know me best will not be surprised by this at all …)

Unconditional love.

I love that beautiful mountain. It doesn’t matter if clouds obscure my view. It doesn’t matter if I get rain and mist on a day I expected sun. It doesn’t matter if the bugs are bad, or the road is bumpy or a bridge is washed out. It doesn’t matter how I’m feeling or what is happening in the rest of the world. I always love her with the same deep affection. It’s not conditional. My time there doesn’t come with a lot of expectations. I am content, happy actually, to just love her exactly as she is. In the moment.

I’m learning. I understand the value of what is happening and I also understand the depth. Sometimes, being there feels like a huge hug. A big group hug with my confidence, my trust, my faith and my growing understanding of love.

Okay. I’ll get back to the trail report.

It was a wonderful, misty day. I got there around 5:15 and headed up Sourdough Ridge. I considered Dege Peak, but when I realized there would be no sweeping views, I changed course. I headed back down to my car. I opted to wander down the Silver Forest trail. Wow ! Practically no elevation but a plethora of wildflowers lining the narrow path. It was soaking wet and I absorbed it all. Literally and figuratively.  The trail is fairly short and probably even better on a clear day.

Back to the car again. This time for rain pants. My ranger friend suggested I take the Shadow Lake trail to Sunrise Camp. It sounded like a great plan. Another misty walk through forest and meadow. There were deer and lots of squirrels and pikas. Sound filled the woods. Bird songs, wind, drops of rain. Shadow Lake was misty and mirror-like. I didn’t linger too long as the bugs were unbearable if you stopped for long. Onward to Sunrise Camp and then Frozen Lake. The trail was beautiful and I didn’t see another soul.

From Frozen Lake I headed back to the car again. Palisades Lake trail was next on my list for the day.

I should have known better as I started this. It was three quarters of a mile steeply down. And you know what that means : three quarters of a mile steeply UP on the return. It was beautifully green and the wildflowers were mostly finished. There was a grove of burned out fir trees and Clover Lake at the first turn. I stopped there. And turned around. The bugs were persistent.

The hike back up was as I thought. Steep. I was tired. I made one short detour to see Sunrise Lake and then headed for home.

All week (And most weeks) I let my mind wander back to these wild places. I find myself wondering about why some leaves are burned in my yard. Why crows roost in community in the winter. I wonder where they all go at night in summer. I wonder why my favorite flowers are called Paintbrush. Why chipmunk have stripes. I wonder if the Pasque Seedhead is how it looks after the flower or before ? I think of bears and goats and deer and marmots. I’m a little nutty about all of this.

But as I always say:

There are worse things.

Enjoy the pictures, and again, thanks for indulging me ♡





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