Here's to Wilderness and See You Next Year Utah!
I am lying on a bed of soft pebbles on the northern point of Red Pine Lake surrounded by two 10 year olds and two 13 year olds deep in a spontaneous “choose your own adventure” game led by my favorite 13 year old boy on the planet. We are one day into a camping trip that I’ve been anticipating for months. This lake is a wilderness extravaganza surrounded by towering pines, gorgeous cliffs and peaks, black bears, deer, chipmunks and no cell coverage for hours. We are in the Sawtooth Wilderness and without the help of a chartered ferry, we would have hiked for hours to get here. Instead, we arrive by boat with 6 days worth of food and everything we need for a comfortable camping stay including camp chairs, 2 stand-up paddle boards, 3 tents, books, journals, a down comforter, pillows and plenty of cheese. For me, wilderness with comfort is heaven. Everything I miss about living in the states is right here - people I love, the huge vastness of the west, and everything that comes along with wilderness. Both the tangible bits like the certainty that we are living and sleeping amongst big animals and the intangible feeling sense of vastness - the reminder of my beautiful insignificance.
We have been living in Spain for exactly a year now, and it is stunning - the landscapes, the architecture, the cathedrals, the art - all of it is absolutely stunning. But it is not wild. We can hike for miles and see birds, maybe a few deer tracks and a squirrel or two, and on occasion, if we are lucky, we might spy some possible evidence of a wild pig in our midst. But coming back to the West, driving from Utah into Idaho with it’s big open spaces, huge mountains and forests that go on forever, I am reminded of why I’ve made the West my home. There are many things over this last year that have made me question my life in the U.S. and even whether I really want to live here. So I am so grateful for this huge otherworldy reminder of why this is home.
Sinking into these vast swaths of wilderness, I feel myself shifting into that place where I experience myself and all of my challenges as small and at the same time, my presence as expansive as the universe. I know that neurologically this feeling is a response to a full body/brain/mind shift into the parasympathetic nervous system and a brief experience of transient hypofrontality, when at least for a minute, the focused, thinking part of my brain gets a rest and nudges me away from ego identification and the barrage of thoughts that come with it. I know this cognitively and I love that when I don’t have this concentrated access to nature, there are mindfulness practices that will help me move into this state where I feel more content, more alive and more connected. Despite my love of teaching the neuroscience and psychology of mindfulness, I also love to put all of that aside and acknowledge magic - the magic of the sound of water bubbling over rocks where the stream marches towards a lake so clear that I can paddle out and see straight down to the bottom where there is a cemetery of pines that have tumbled into the lake from the waters edge; the magic of the jagged peaks my husband is willing to wake up at 4 am to climb and the aspen glow that will light up those peaks during his descent back to camp while a buck, almost silently skirts our campsite at last light, and the richness of sharing all of this with people I love. These are the moments I’ll hold close when I return to Spain where my camping experience will include showers, flush toilets and a glass of wine with dinner at the campground restaurant. While that experience is also wonderful and the landscapes are brilliant, it is not wilderness, and I will not spy that buck, and I will not drift off to sleep knowing that big predators inhabit the same space as I do.
And then there is reason number two why Utah will always be home. While, I am slowly but surely developing deep friendships in Spain, my Utah community is so dear to me. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that I’ve had my fair share of loneliness. So I gratefully take with me, the many moments I’ve had over the last 3 weeks reconnecting with people I love. If our paths crossed on this visit, thank you for the conversations over tea and coffee, around hot tubs and pools, between classes and workshops, over lunches and dinners and emails and everything in between. I have been nourished by all of it and it will undoubtedly support me in the lonely pauses that are sure to come this coming year.
So thank you Utah, both people and place, for calling me home.