Mother Nature is amazing. Really, truly, amazing.
Ellie and I welcomed November with a hike up to Olancha Pass yesterday from the Sage Flat Trailhead. You may or may not know this about me, but when my head is full, my heart is heavy, and my self-esteem is low, all I need is a commune with Mother Nature to make me feel better. If I can take a few moments - or miles - without people, my iPod, the Internet, or cell phone service, I can contemplate life, love, and the meaning of happiness. In solitude or with companions on the trail, the fresh air, whispering pines, and singing birds calm me down, lift my spirits, and provide me with the answers that I seek.
The day was beautiful, hovering in the high 60s at the trailhead. The sun was shining and I immediately had to take off most of my layers before I even made it to the first set of switchbacks.
The hike starts at just under 6,000 feet, traverses the slope through a series of switchbacks, before mostly leveling out and climbing to the Pass itself around 9,200 feet. While I would like to say the heavy sweating and labored breathing was entirely due to the elevation change and heat, it probably has more to do with the fact that I am terribly out of shape. Also, I was carrying a heavy pack loaded with my water, Ellie's water, and a whole lot of warm clothes plus a headlamp (as always, just in case). Whatever the reason, by the time I got to this point:
I had to take off my completely soaked cotton over shirt and put on my rain shell over my wicking layer, since wet clothes can make you cold, even if it isn't that cold outside. Ellie and I hiked on, stopping here and there to take pictures and enjoy the view. We rounded the top of the hill, and had a nice vista of the next row of densely forested mountains. And our first look at some not so pretty clouds. But "hike on up the trail!" Ellie insisted. We got to the Pass around 2:30. It was open, rocky, and had it not been for the wind, would have been a nice place to sit and knit for a while. This could explain why there was a very nice scatter of lithic artifacts in the area - someone else a long while ago must have also thought it a nice place for purposeful creativity and contemplation. It was also cold and I started bundling up.
I took some pictures. Though the self portraits, as they are apt to do, failed miserably.
Because experiences with Mother Nature are entirely personal, because I don't know who actually takes the time to read this blog, and because I am not comfortable sharing my inner-most thoughts with anyone (an admittedly detrimental Virgo tendency and a fault of my own that I would like to remedy), I will not go into great detail about the next half hour on the Pass. I will say this: beautiful moments in nature can be ruined by self-seeking and self-centered thinking. Selfishness and over analysis are also Virgo tendencies that Mother Nature informed me She does not like, especially when She may or may not be trying to tell me something.
And so I was humbled. With lightning. With thunder that made Ellie jump and her hackles raise and that made me feel like I may be pushing the limits of my comfort zone. With hail that turned to snow that turned to freezing rain.
Heads down, butts in gear, Ellie and I made it down off the pass and back to the car by 4 PM, cold, wet, and in awe of the speed at which the Sierra weather patterns can change. And feeling perhaps a little defeated.
But then. Just in case I forgot the whole purpose of seeking solitude in the wilderness, Mother Nature reminded me of something very important.
Life can be unpredictable. Cold. Uncomfortable. Maybe a little scary. Storms and turmoil sneak up on us when we least expect it. We might not always be sure that we are going to make it. We might be disappointed by the way things turn out sometimes. If we focus too far ahead on the future, we'll forget to focus on building foundations and relationships in the present that will make everything ahead that much easier to handle. If we get wrapped up in ourselves, we fail to see the beauty in the situations that surround us and be thankful for the small moments we have with those we love. We must remember that storms are life-bringing. Cleansing. A natural part of the cycle of life.
Whatever lesson I was supposed to learn yesterday, I think the most important was this: