Not All Those Who Wander...
Re-creation in Wilderness
“You look lost.”
It’s the first thing a friend says as I walk into the noisy mélange of a July lakefront restaurant. The deck is full of folk I know and don’t know being served by a staff I was once part of. A familiar band plays to the lake beyond the crowd. It’s 7:20 and I traversed out of the East Fork at noon, where I have for a few nights and days been not lost, even when I was over my head in tag alder, devil’s club, blowdown and rock. Put me on an elk trail and let me choose where I want to go. I am not lost. Put me in the midst of this. I am lost.
But not permanently, though I should have learned by now to break myself back into “civilization” more gently that this. I am capable of coming back to this world. I’ve done it many times, albeit sometimes—nay, often—reluctantly, unwillingly. All of this hyperactivity and noise and illusory social gaiety can’t match the moments of solitary route finding in the East Fork, perhaps because the latter is so rare and the former seem so mundane and repetitious.
Yesterday, Saturday afternoon: we are in the jungle and I am seeking an elk tread to follow on toward “home,” a camp in the East Fork Meadow. One of my fellows finds a clew and we puzzle it out to arrive at our chosen destination. I am reminded of a moment four years ago when I set this self-same young man out front and he took the lead, learning to think like an elk. I was proud that day to be with him, and I’m proud this day to be part of that foundation that allows him to find his way and ours. I am pleased to know we are not only not lost, but will not be, as long as we know where we want to be next. By tenacity and endeavor, we will arrive.
There should be something new to write about this place, but there is not. Nothing here is new. All is ancient. The mosquitoes and huckleberries are the newest individual arrivals, but they have been here all along, ever since the ice finished with the place and before.
Yet I learn something new each time I come here; a new bit of trail, a small, yet lovely fresh vista, a new way to almost get where I want to go before I have to resort to whacking bushes and cursing tag alder. In the heat of those sorts of wanderings, I wonder why I bother, but I know why. Each lesson is a precious piece of a colossal puzzle I will never solve. But, it isn’t the puzzle of the place that I come here to resolve, but my own self. Resolution. Renewal. Reasons to keep on keeping on. Recreation.
We misunderstand that last word, equate it with “fun,” “entertainment,” even “self-indulgence.” We make a thoughtless act of it—or something we can buy—and place it beside our wants, like movies and television and McDonalds. It is more sacred than those. And not so easy. Re-creation is not something we do or pay for, but something that happens to us when we let go. When we surrender to wilderness—wild places physical, spiritual, mental—we are recreated, torn down to our foundations and rebuilt anew in our own best image.
Tonight, I am not so sure that this sun-soaked deck and its denizens can be deemed “civilized.” As vague and tentative as elk trails can be, the social trails here are even more so. At least they are for me.
It is the wilderness that draws me in and then draws me out, shows me who I am. And it is up to me to remember what it shows me: to just be and avoid thinking too much, which can lead to drinking too much and other social dilemmas.
Home. Dishes. Laundry. Monday morning looming on the horizon like a forest fire in need of fighting. “Let it burn!” says the wild part of me, the wilderness part that knows 100 years is like a single, solitary heartbeat to the planet.
How good it is to know that one single, solitary lesson learned in a place that tells us nothing new, but knows all the oldies: peace, perseverance, patience; solitude, silence, sacredness. Presence without pretense; being, untied from doing; seeing. untied from wanting; living, untied from waiting. Forward. One step at a time. Rest. Until it seems time to stand. Look! For new hidden in the ancient.
“Learn,” the wilderness says. “Learn! Open your eyes, your ears, your nostrils, your pores, your heart and learn. Who. You. Are.”
“You are not lost.”