Monday, May 24, 2010


The Confines of My Mind
            Here I am alone, excepting perchance Orion and Cassiopeia in the sky above. I am an island in the tempestuous sea of the wild. I am nearly a mile from another human, a speck of intelligence alien to the vast and rocky Sierran topography. Tonight I prove something; and though it may be of some notice to others, it is an internal battle I face tonight[1].
            Why I set myself against the forces of the wilderness is a larger question, whose answer lies in my very nature. In brief, I felt I could not know myself without the
challenge-- like Oedipus exploring the mystery of his birth, 'twas a test perhaps alluring for its very existence. Could I withstand the torrents of nature? This was a query I could not allow to rest.
            I huddle around my humble fire. A solemnity I cannot laugh at sets in; 'whistling past the graveyard' is out of the question. This overwhelming blanket of graveness envelops me more tangibly than the approaching darkness, and I realize: this is Nature.
            Around me as well is the cold. It is so cold that I actually bury the embers of my fire and attempt to sleep on top of them. I have no sleeping bag, except the bundles of heather and pine needles I have prepared. Though the potential warmth of my tent beckons, I do not waver. My fortitude surprises me; though I have before braved such nights as these, I have always previously done so surrounded by encouraging comrades.
            My connate curiosity tells me introspection is requisite for growth, and my thoughts turn inward as I attempt to insulate myself from the external punishments I try to endure. In the wilderness it seems almost that I exist only in the confines of my mind as the impersonal breeze howls.
            No one is here to acknowledge my presence.
            Therein, however, lies a certain ironical comfort; I am alone, but I exist all the same. In the wilderness I am a self-defined entity amidst swirling disorder. Though the night roars on, I am still here. Under the stars so numerous, I am only one so small and my existence may be absurd but some solace comes from this. There is no order to this world except what I can set to it, and therefore, whatever I can possibly come up with is better than what I started off with.

* * * * *

            I survive the night. Though I cannot point specifically to one precise moment of epiphany or revelation, I do know that night was significant in ways difficult to explain. What I found that night was that there is beauty all around-- not only in the sky above or the animals around but also in the everyday wilderness and the basic, fundamental, impossibly quotidian process of survival. I am reminded of the weakness of one human and the incomparable strength of many united. The experience is a simple reminder of the natural and intrinsic beauty of life, existence, and survival. I will forever appreciate life in both its humbling complexity and lucid simplicity-- and finally, finally, I have fulfilled Emerson's mandate: self-reliance.
            Of a greater pertinence, I realize that I was misguided in my approach to that night; steeling myself for a confrontation with some hostile idea of Nature was not the answer. I learned that attempting to master Nature as if it were some untamed beast is preposterous, for I am as much a part of Nature as any rock, lake, or wolf. To reach a peace with Nature one must first reach a peace with oneself. Whether I could withstand 'the torrents of nature' was irrelevant--what ultimately mattered was whether I could master not Nature, but myself.

[1] I underwent this ordeal in hopes of attaining the John Muir badge of the Boy Scouts, which signifies a stronger understanding of Man's place within nature. The primary requirement is this night alone, without modern conveniences, absent of company from sundown to sunup, in which the Scout must write a poem, climb a tree, eat a loaf of bread (all of it), and brew tea from an indigenous plant (white fir, in my case).

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