The Way

Five years ago today I had just reached the ledge at Rattlesnake for my first solo sunrise hike. I had to laugh at myself a little this morning knowing I could barely climb my own stairs up to the tub. As I’ve been reminded a dozen times, this is not my forever. This transition to a new drug for my RA has been painfully slow, but I’ll get to the other side and be climbing again by summer. 

That morning comes back to me like it was yesterday. A friend I was meeting called to say she had been delayed and I should go up alone. It was Easter Sunday and it was expected to be a beautiful sunrise. The call came as I was standing in the pitch black parking lot. I had just minutes to decide what to do. Sunrise would not wait. I could either wait for her to arrive and miss it, or I could keep with the plan and head up alone. I flipped on my headlamp, grabbed my pack and headed up. 

The sounds in a dark forest can be unsettling. Every snap of a branch, every loose rock under my feet sent my heart racing. I imagined animals in the shadows. After coming through the lower part of the woods the trail began to climb and I could see the moon through the trees. 

The headlamp illuminated the path ahead and my pace quickened. I didn’t think about what might be behind me or that I was breathing heavily. It was all about the very next step. Only later would I recognize the metaphor and mindfully log in my memory what it was to be so purposefully in the moments. 

It is just over two miles and 1100 feet to the first ledge. It took me just 50 minutes from the parking lot, an impressive pace for me and my quickest time ever up this trail. As I neared the top, the color was already spreading across the sky and my love of civil twilight was born. A couple others soon joined me there as the sun peeked up from the Cascades. 

Over the course of that year I would go up often. My heart would still race with every noise in the woods. As I learned the path I noted how many minutes to the foot bridge, where the birds were singing as I reached a certain point along the ridge, where the rocks looked like hearts on this rocky, rooty trail. I saw new life as we moved through spring into summer. 

This year I found myself on another new path. My heart raced on this new one too, and I was definitely poised to face new fears and even more unknowns. My Mom led the way down this new path and armed with necessity as my headlamp, I dutifully followed. 

I’ve been dreaming a lot these past several weeks. I can’t be sure of the role exhaustion has played in conjuring these sleepy mind-reels, but they have been vivid and in full color. The most disturbing one has a re-creation of something I never witnessed. 

I see my Mom in eerily bright light on a steel table with bright white sheets and an imposing figure standing over her. He’s replacing a valve in her heart and as the wire he is using to guide it into place begins to retract, the end of it plunges into her heart. Blood spurts out through her chest onto the sheet and floor and I can see a river of deep-red, pooling inside the open cavity of her chest. 

I know it didn’t happen exactly like this. There was a surgical team and an operating room and it wasn’t open-heart surgery. I didn’t lay eyes on her until she was in recovery, and even then, I never saw the drain in her chest. They had carefully draped a sheet over her upper body but there were splatters of blood on the floor. She was awake and in pain, pale and clammy. I could feel my knees turn to rubber and my whole body go slack as I stepped away after kissing her forehead. Quite unceremoniously, I went down. I came to, moments later, with quite a fuss being made over me and a half dozen new eyes on me as I pulled my cheek from the floor. 

When the dream comes, my mind returns to that recovery room. On waking, the very real feelings of helplessness come over me and I realize that in those moments just beyond sleep, that I am holding my breath. As I finally exhale, the dream begins to fade, held in memory for only a split second then gone like vapor. 

I had little to conjure after that. She would spend three nights in ICU with no visitors. Covid has robbed us of a lot of things, but this clearly, was the one that I would feel most keenly. Technology has limits. A face on a screen, uncharacteristic and one-dimensional, will never be a true substitute for a held hand. Reassurance comes with touch and with looking right into someone’s eyes. I had no way to comfort her. No way to fulfill the promise I made to be with her every step of the way.

It didn’t end there. In fact, her return home would begin an odyssey beyond description. An irreverent introduction to caregiving. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew the day would come that my parents would need help, but this was a plunge off the high dive into the deep end and I would soon be treading water as fast as I could. 

That story will come. 

In the meantime I will marvel at how facing my fear on the trail has helped me navigate some new mapless paths. Everything is so beautifully, inextricably connected. Separateness is such an illusion. All that really matters is what we do with the moment. All other measures will take care of themselves. 

” We work in the dark. We do what we can. We give what we have. Our doubt is our passion. Our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art …” ~ Henry James

There is a light somewhere. It may not be much light but it beats the darkness.
-Charles Bukowski

22 Comments on “The Way

  1. Ahhh, so strong. You and this writing. What an ordeal this must have been. I can feel you well through these words. And such strong images too. All well to your mother and you all.

    • Thank you, Manja. We are taking all kind words and wishes as we move forward into what’s next! It was quite a time.

  2. This is beautiful Bonnie. One thing that stuck out for me was how you allowed yourself to find the metaphor of focusing on the trail like was being in the moment. So much was there for me in that glimpse you painted. The feeling of being alone in the woods is familiar to me when I haven’t been solo hiking often enough. When I lose familiarity, I begin to fear the forest, and then I am motivated to get out there more often so I can get over it. Also the pleasure I have when I can draw an analogy between a lesson and an experience, like you did. And the importance of being in the moment, which can calm me. I love that in four sentences you tapped into so much that resonated with me. 🙂 I have never done a sunrise hike. Not ever. I guess that needs to change, huh? I have fingers crossed that your RA gets managed soon so you can get out there soon!

    • Thank you so much for writing. I think you are totally right about losing the familiarity of being alone in the woods. It usually takes me a couple adventures in spring to remember that I am safer in the woods than on the road to get there! Sunrise hikes are the ultimate soul spark. It is all about emerging into the light ❤

  3. I seem to read your blog at just the right times. And the quotes you share are always timely. “There is a light somewhere. It may not be much light but it beats the darkness. ~Charles Bukowski”
    May the light always burn in the darkness. And may you always find that light… and have the “eyes” to see it.

    • Always glad to see you here. I have always loved that Bukowski quote. It seems to be just the permission I need sometimes to know that things don’t always need to be any more perfect than they already are. And a little bit of light is often “just enough”.

  4. This brings tears to my eyes. Having cared for my father earlier this year before his passing is just such a “new” territory on the surface, yet right away you realize how natural you pick up what to do. Past experiences always help us move forward. It is a time I treasure and will forever!

    • Thanks for being here. Yes, I think that is right about how we pick up what needs to be done naturally. Naturally doesn’t mean easily, but I so know what you mean.

    • Finding my way through the tangle of the unknown is a bit of a theme it seems. Thank you for knowing me and loving me through good and bad. I’m forever grateful ♡

  5. Ah Bonnie Rae, you got your mojo back. This is a fantastic essay, full of wonderful imagery and truth telling and passion. I was riding along on every word. I am so moved by your journeys – 5 years ago and this unbelievable year. The plunge and the peaks will continue on. Great quotes. Stealing. Reminded me of this one: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” ― E.L. Doctorow So keep your light shining. Also, I need a coffee cup like that. 🙂

    • I am forever grateful for discovering you through your blog. Your encouragement and insights have helped keep lit the path ahead. Thank you. The quote you shared is exactly how it feels most days. Cheers to good mugs and quiet mornings.

  6. This is especially poignant for me right now, coming out of being in the hospital and “critical.” Sometimes walking in the dark is necessary in order to discover a new way of walking in light. If I refuse to step into the dark, I’ll never experience the different light.

    • Thank you so much, Jo Ann. I’m so glad you were cared for in good time. May your recovery be swift. I love what you say about walking in the dark … so perfect!

  7. Wonderful writing, Bonnie Rae! I wish you dawn colors and birdsong on every solo sunrise hike in this amazing life. Also, I’m sure this post will attract many new readers from everyone who searches the internet for the combination of Henry James AND Charles Bukowski. 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Alan! I have been pretty fortunate to see some spectacular dawns. I hope there are many more ahead. And thanks for the nudge to actually tag this post!

  8. Thank you for this deep reflection on your trail…beautiful words paired with perfect images. 🌞

    • Oh, Bailey, thank you so much for walking this path with me. There are more twists and turns ahead, but I am ready for what comes.

  9. You did it! You took a first solo in the dark (which I will never do, btw; one foggy hike was enough for me), you walked with your mom up this mountain and down the other side (yes, every. step. of the way.), and you wrote about it (beautifully) ! Well done, intrepid friend!

    • Thank you so much for a hand that steadied me on this path. You’ve been such a wonderful, supportive friend these last several weeks. You are the headlamp and I am grateful♡

  10. The wholeness of this rendition–the beauty of nature, the frailty of your body and your mother’s brings me to tears, a pause, looking out the window, breathing love and compassion to you. And you are writing! Deep blessings and tulips this day.

    • Oh, Christina, thank you so much for reading. The stories seem to lie in wait until something inspires them to the page. Grateful for the kind words. Dad’s turn is coming this week, please keep those blessings coming ♡

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