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Breath: A Gift of Nature

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To receive this gift from nature, one has only to get out IN nature.

With a trailhead at over 9,500 feet, getting our breath was bit taxing. I constantly felt the same as I do when I run the steps at home a couple times—not really winded but not a full oxygen supply with each intake. 

To prepare for the hike we had been camping between 7,000 and 8,000 feet for a few days, with day hikes well into the tens. 

A week before we left home we had done some ridge walking at over 7,000 in the Canadian Selkirks. Walking the narrow ridges from peak to peak taxed our lungs and our legs. And it had given us some wonderful views of deep narrow valleys. In some of the shaded areas below us, winter snow never melts completely. 

With that training we managed to convince ourselves we would have no problem with the thinner air. With all that preparation we were confident our lungs would be up to the job. So after a couple of nights at the trailhead we felt ready to head out on our seven-day trek. 

In four miles we had gained over a thousand feet, so we rested at a spot called (with very good reason) Photographer’s Point. We were already feeling rather oxygen deprived but were doing fine. Then we saw the sights. They took our breath away. 

Several gray, stony spires pierced the sky, still gripping against the forces of time, snippets of ancient glaciers. We could see into valley bottoms that were less than 7,000 feet and up to peaks that were over 13,500.

While standing and looking I noticed my breathing. Usually I take it for granted, but at this altitude it was ever present in my consciousness. I couldn’t help but remember a line Cristina Baldwin wrote “And what is breath? Nature. Nature’s gift: the exhalation of trees.” We would take several breaks over the next week, both to draw in the precious views of nature and to draw in the precious gift of nature, breath. 

Some cultures believe Breath and Spirit are the same. In many cultures life begins with the first breath. In the book of Job, “The spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Spirit and Breath as one is easy for me to believe. 

Spirit breathes us while Breath creates life all around us. More than anything else it connects us to all the rest. We share it with everything: the plants, the animals, even the earth itself. Its very essence is more than the sum of the parts; in fact it is a mystery. No living organism can survive more than a few seconds without it.

Awareness of our breathing was ever present as we moved on; deep into valleys with stream crossings it was there. Up over saddles and through gaps it was there. Then to the tree line and beyond it was there. I was feeling my lungs asking for just a little more, yet none of us suffered any serious symptoms of altitude sickness.

One morning there was frost on our tents and the vegetation around us. The water supply we had drawn from the lake the night before was frozen. As I crawled out into the new day I could see my breath. It joined that of my companions and then wound itself into the atmosphere around us. It reminded me of the American Indians and their use of the peace pipe. As they pass the pipe they exhale the smoke into the air. The smoke symbolizes the individual’s Spirit mingling with all others and dissipating into the all. 

On another trip into the mountains several years ago I sat next to a fast flowing stream. Everything around me was frozen except the water as it cascaded down a narrow chute. A mist was rising from the water, which was warmer then the air and created a fog. As I sat, a bull elk came into view across the creek; his nostrils wafted vapor as he moved along the water. His breath and mine mixed with the mist over the water, all becoming one. I could see how we are all one in the Spirit, connected by the one thing our life depends on more than any other—air, our breath. 

We spent several days at the higher elevations never quite, totally, acclimating to the thinner air. This meant the awareness of our breathing was always there. Still, the beauty of the place, the pristine lakes, pouring tumbling streams, and those huge granite towers that are scarred and scored by the ice fields of several centuries ago, kept taking our breath away. 

It was a weeklong reminder of our connection to each other as well as the Earth. In the Spirit we breathe we are connected to other humans, other animals, the Earth and all she supports. We are individual creations that make up one vast creation. 

Coming out of the mountains our recovery was immediate. Still the lesson had been impressed us forever, it is still there. We are all one in Spirit. 

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

The Hawks Nest, Photographers Point, Canadian Selkirks, breath, spirit

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