My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

Category Archives: hiking

Woman Alone in the Woods

I recently spent a week alone in the woods.  Someone asked me afterward if it was nice to get away.  I hesitated in response.  Away?! I never left. Here’s the thing…our mind goes with us EVERYWHERE we go!

When I first envisioned this experience many months ago I somehow thought it’d be peaceful and nurturing.  I’d get to soak up all the goodness and become more attuned to the magical subtleties of nature.  And then I began to think of it as my version of a meditation retreat…I’d be alone in the woods, just me and my thoughts…what a great way to stretch myself, right?

Before I even left town, the paranoid thoughts started.  The first and best of my paranoid thoughts:  “What if my battery watch dies and I don’t know what time it is.”  This thought and others like it told me how it was really going to go down:  I was going to encounter my mind and my fears.

I went down to southern Oregon, back to my stomping grounds, a long haul from Seattle where I now live, to the Chewaucan River, a place my dad loved to camp and fish and where he took me and my siblings in my youth.  I wanted to see and experience a place my dad loved from my adult and more awakened eyes, to connect with the memory and spirit of my dad and my brother, who have both passed from this life.

I drove into the Gearhart Wilderness on a Monday and let me just tell you…this part of Oregon is RE-MOTE:  very few people, very few cars on the road, and ZERO cell phone reception.  As I drove deeper into the wilderness I could feel myself becoming more and more afraid, mostly fears about getting stranded.  The thought of waiting alongside the road and trusting a stranger to help me seemed rather scary.

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I arrived at Happy Camp in the late afternoon.  There was only one other camper in the campground, all the way on the other side.  He was a fly fisherman – my sense was that he was safe.  I had trouble sleeping that night, even woke myself up by the sound of my own snore after about an hour of sleep.  I don’t know what I was afraid of exactly (animals? humans?), I was just afraid.

By the light of day the next morning, I started to settle in and felt less afraid.  Somehow I think I even felt comforted knowing there was another human at the opposite end of the campground, yet after a while something in me began to wonder about that.  I took a walk around the campground and discovered that the other camper was gone; he’d packed up and left sometime in the early morning hours.  I was all alone!  It’s what I wanted, or did I?

I spent three nights at Happy Camp.  I found the name ironic cuz I didn’t feel all that happy there.  My mind was agitated and I was skittish and easily spooked.  For instance, on my first full day in the woods I took a walk along the road and crossed over the national forest boundary into public land and came across a deserted cattle corral.  Its emptiness was haunting and my mind started playing tricks on me.  My mind saw a man in what was likely a wooden fence post.  I had a flash back of being flashed while walking alone on a road outside the city walls of Cortona, Italy and with a racing heart I bolted, looking over my shoulder until I made it safe back to camp.

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On my second full day in the woods I ventured away from camp.  Should I tell you how I was afraid of leaving stuff out at my campsite, like my stove, for fear that my campsite would be raided and my stuff stolen?  Yep, I had that thought.  My plan was to hike the Blue Lake trail that had been recommended to me by the gal at the forest ranger station in Bly.  It looked easy enough to get to the trailhead…get on road 3372 which, accordingly to the map, was across main road 34 and just opposite the road to Happy Camp.

I got on a road I hoped was Forest Service road 3372, though I didn’t see one of those brown signs with numbers.  I was supposed to drive 9 miles up this road before turning onto another road leading 2 more miles to the trailhead.  A more lush forest turned to a sparse and “unfriendly” lodge-pole pine forest.  No one knew where I was.  I didn’t for sure know where I was or if I was on the right road.  I started to feel vulnerable and shaky inside.  I missed my friends.  I wanted to hold someone’s hand.  I felt total relief when I finally saw the bleached out sign pointing to the trailhead and the brown sign confirming, YES, I was on road 3372.

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I got to the trailhead and I was THE ONLY one there.  This was a first for me.  I’ve *never* been THE ONLY one on a trail before.  I quietly gave myself a little pep talk…“you hike all the time, you have done plenty of solo hikes, you’ll be fine.”   I crawled over lots of fallen trees (known as dead fall) and did a good job of finding the trail again when it was temporarily covered by dead fall.  Cat scat was scattered on the trail so I knew the cats were around. I was hiking with bear spray, my protection against the wildcats.  As you can imagine, a potential encounter with a wildcat was another one of my fears.

I ate lunch on a rock on the lake shore, mosquitoes biting me by the dozens.  I heard something that sounded like an explosion somewhere on the other side of the lake.  My mind instantly thought, “someone is using dynamite to blow stuff up,” and then I remembered I was THE ONLY one up here.  Nothing was being blown up… I’d just heard a tree fall in the woods.  You want to hear something ironic?  With all the dead fall and hearing a tree fall, I wasn’t even afraid of a tree falling on me!

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Day 3 alone in the woods.  I slept pretty well the night before, the best so far.  My nervous system finally started to quiet down.  I packed up camp.  I was moving on to the Chewaucan River, my ultimate destination, but first I would hike up to “The Palisades” and “The Dome,” the crown jewels of the Gearhart Wilderness.  I get in my car, start driving down the very bumpy and dusty dirt road and my car is squealing like crazy.  The thing I was afraid of most – car trouble – was becoming my reality.

I made it to the trailhead.  My car squealed the entire 30 minute drive there.  I kept hoping and praying the squealing would stop, but it didn’t.  My mind thought of all the things it could be…a belt about to slip off, a wheel bearing that was going to fall apart.  I started hiking, doing my best to put my car troubles out of my mind and put my attention on my hike.  That didn’t happen.  Here I was on this incredibly stunning hike and my mind was thinking ahead to the possibility of breaking down in the south central Oregon and being stranded in some small town over the long weekend until my car could be fixed.

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I prayed and prayed some more.  I sat down on a rock and had a short sob.  I prayed again to all Divine beings – God, Father Sky, Mother Earth, my spirit allies, angels, fairies, my ancestors.  I prayed to my dad, an exceedingly resourceful mechanic who has passed to the heavens, “please dad, please, please fix my car with your Divine hands.”

Several hours later I returned to my car.  As I made my way down the *super* bumpy dirt road back to paved main road 34 I didn’t hear any squealing.  I had a choice – turn left and head toward the Chewaucan River or turn right and head back to Klamath Falls and take my car to a mechanic before the weekend began.  I turned left.  The deal:  if my car squealed in the next 15 minutes I would turn around.  About 5 minutes down the road I heard the hint of a squeal.  I immediately made a U turn.

I drove about 30 minutes down the mountain and out of the wilderness back toward Bly.  Something didn’t look right.  I had turned the wrong way.  I was going to have to turn around and go right past the entrance to the Gearhart Wilderness.  My car had been doing fine for the last 30 minutes.  I slowed down and listened.  No squealing.  As I approached the entrance, I made a split second decision: “I’m going back in!  I’m not going to give up my vacation cuz I might break down and I might not make it back to work the day I was scheduled to return.” I made it all the Chewaucan River and parked my car for the next 3 days.

The river valley was gorgeous – sage and ponderosa pine country.  I felt a connection to my dad, to this place he loved.  I’d like to say I was relaxed and filled with peace once I arrived.  Not so.  I was a wound up ball of fear.  I was paranoid my fire was going to spread, that the forest would catch on fire.  I woke myself up again from the sound of my own snore and was awake most of the night.  In the sounds of the river my mind heard fire and I was paranoid the forest was going to burn down and that I’d be burned to a crisp in my tent.

The next day, July 1, was my deceased brother’s 46th birthday.  I walked down the road in search of the campground my dad had taken me and my brother in my teens and where me and my brother fly fished together.  As I approached Jones Crossing campground, I knew in my heart and belly, “this is the place.”  I said to myself more than once, “dad sure knew how to pick good spots.”

I sat on the river bank and talked and prayed to my brother, a lump in my throat and tears streaming down my face, “Happy Birthday, Doug!”  What a beautiful thing to be in the exact spot we shared memories together on his birthday.  I made it to the Chewaucan and not just that, I made it there for my brother’s birthday, something that had only vaguely occurred to me in my plans leading up to this adventure.  I lay down on the river bank under a blanket of elms and took a nap and FINALLY relaxed.

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That week camping alone in the woods I got up close and personal with my FEARS and I’ve never prayed so earnestly in my life.  I saw how powerful the mind is.  We can attract the good and we can attract the bad.  A mind that is humming with fear becomes a very strong magnet and what we fear most can become our reality.  I pulled myself out of the fear and turned my vibration around through prayerful surrender and by cultivating a whole lotta faith and trust.

I had a meditation retreat like experience and what’s more, I had to be with all that arose within and survive (at the same time)!

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As for my desire to tune in to the magical subtleties of nature, it happened.  As I was packing up that last day a bug buzzed into my left ear.  Still a little skittish from being molested by mosquitoes, I swatted it away.  I immediately stopped myself.  “Oh wait, that might have been a fairy delivering a message.”  The sound of the bug was still in my ear.  I paused and tuned in, “if I had to translate that sound into words, what would they be?”  I heard and knew simultaneously:  “everything’s going to be ok” and it was.

I made it back to Seattle just fine.  My check engine light did come on as I drove over the scary river overpass in Portland after I had a paranoid thought of breaking down right there and the second after I said out loud, “I’m gonna be honest – this part of the freeway scares me.” There it was again, my powerful mind!

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Both my dad and my brother live on in the heavens. It’s through experiences like these and walking in the memory of their footsteps that I touch their spirits.

High in the Sky

On Saturday, October 13, along with a team of volunteer leaders with Seattle Inner City Outings and one teacher, I led a group of middle school kids to the summit of Mt. Pilchuck, one of Washington’s most popular and doable summit hikes.  Our hike was exhilarating and there was a real sense of adventure.

On a clear day, there are 360 degree views from the top of Mt. Pilchuck:  endless peaks of the Cascades to the north and east, Puget Sound to the west, and Mt. Rainier to the south.  For our hike, we were completely engulfed in clouds and visibility was extremely poor.  As clouds swirled around us, keeping each other in our line of sight was extremely important.  Leaders were very mindful to stay on the trail and were grateful for the bright orange trail markers that assisted in our efforts.  For the final ascent we scrabbled over large boulders and climbed up a precarious ladder (and by precarious I mean a little tricky and challenging, but totally doable).  Our final destination:  an old fire lookout perched on an outcropping of rocks at the summit.

Mt. Pilchuck fire lookout

I was the trip leader for this hike.  I love fall hiking because of all the colors (entire slopes can look like they are on fire from all the blazing orange and red colors of the vine maples, ash, and huckleberry bushes).  I mulled over different colorful hikes which I thought would be fun for the kids to experience, but ultimately I chose this summit hike because I wanted to give the kids the opportunity to climb to the top of their first mountain.  I was close to their age when I climbed my first mountain and I wanted these kids to be filled with the pride and sense of accomplishment that comes from making it to the top of a mountain.

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We did make it to the top.  I was on a high.  The kids were on a high.  What a rush.  We made it to the top and not just that, we made it in real mountain weather conditions.  A cold and strong wind blew outside the fire lookout.  Inside the shelter all the windows were fogged up.  The kids could see their breaths.  Steam was rising from the pant legs of one of the leaders.  We ate the most delicious lunches of our lives (and that had nothing to do with the fact that I’d made all those lunches!).

lunch time celebration!

We beamed from ear to ear in our enthusiasm.  We jabbered away about the strong wind, how cold it was coming up the ladder, how scary it was going to be climbing down that ladder.  A few brave souls faced the wind and ventured around the perimeter of the shelter.  The kids weren’t able to see beyond the clouds, but from the perch on the mountain, it appeared to be a straight drop from the look out.  Scary AND exciting!

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What an adventure.  One boy said he signed up for the trip because he wanted to “lead a life of adventure.”  During lunch time in the shelter I asked him how he would rank this adventure on a scale of one to ten and he said enthusiastically:  “TEN!”  I definitely think the weather heightened the sense of adventure.  The wind puffed up our spirits and we soared.  I had fun dishing out the congratulations to the kids for making it to the top and playing up our mountain adventure.  Looking back I see that in the moment my puffed up feeling colored my declarations of our “extreme”’ hike. 🙂

We came down in elevation from our “high in the sky,” but we were still soaring high.  Back at the trailhead there was a lot of excitement and sense of pride.  I reviewed trail stats with the kids and emphasized the difficulty and physical challenge of our hike.  Round trip this hike is just under 6 miles (or a complete 6, depending on the source) with 2400 feet in elevation gain.  This was a real mountain hiking experience – we hiked on uneven terrain, we crossed streams, one of which was swollen from new rain and moving fast, we navigated rocks, we scrambled over boulders and climbed a precarious ladder, all of this in poor visibility.  It was fun to rehash our successes, to review who made it to the top first, second, third.  Even the boy who made it fifth was proud of himself, as he should be.  This was not a race.  This was about determination and achieving a goal.

One of my favorite moments of the day was back at the trailhead.  I was one on one with one of the girls before we rejoined the group and I must have said, “that was great. we did it!” or something to that effect.  She replied with downcast eyes, “I didn’t do very good.”  Wow.  Where were these words coming from?  I was struck that she was so hard on herself.  To this gal I said, “have you ever done this before?”  She quietly said “no.”  I told her, “you not only made it to the top, but you were in the first group that made it; you were in the first group with two other boys; you didn’t fall; and you didn’t cry.”

When I said “you didn’t cry” I saw a change in her face.  I think my words began to sink in.  Maybe during the day when she was wet or cold or navigating the terrain, she felt shaky inside and felt like crying, but she didn’t.  I think she got it.  She did something big.  She was strong and brave and unwavering in her determination.  She made it to the top.  She not only did good, she did a great!

As a volunteer leader with Seattle Inner City Outings, my joy comes from sharing something I love with our urban youth:  nature and the great outdoors.  My joy comes from witnessing their enthusiasm and seeing through their eyes their experience of nature, which is often full of wonder.  This hike was especially joyful for me because I was able to empower these kids.  One of the biggest gifts I received was that moment with this young gal.  The gift was in my being able to give of myself in a way that helped her to claim a special gift for herself: discovering the courage and strength she possessed.  I have feeling that each of the kids on our Mt. Pilchuck hike discovered the gift of their power, a new or perhaps deeper self-confidence.  And…their power will grow for as long as they hold on to the feeling and memory of being “high in the sky.”

High” Lights

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“Look! It’s a dragonfly.”

When I was in Bali this past summer, my new friend Jeannie had a dragonfly land on her arm.  I was both excited she was experiencing an awesome and auspicious moment and a bit envious.  You see, dragonflies are my talisman, or so a friend of mine declared, and I’m inclined to agree.  That day in Bali I shared with Jeannie what I know of dragonflies.  In Japanese culture, dragonflies symbolize courage, strength, and happiness.  In Native American beliefs, the dragonfly symbolizes renewal after a time of great hardship.

My affinity with dragonflies began in my old life.  Even though my old life has ended, the dragonfly has remained a constant and my connection to this darting insect has deepened.  I first researched dragonfly symbolism in the last chapters of my old life, but came back to this information in my new life, just a few weeks before my trip to Bali.  When I initially learned what the dragonfly symbolizes, I thought these particular details were significant and applicable to circumstances in my life thus far.  Revisiting this information, I was struck by how incredibly significant and relevant the symbolism is to my life now.  Courage is one of “my words,” something I am cultivating in my life.  Strength is one of my “natural” resources and my strength has carried me through the challenges and hardships of my life.  Happiness is one of my heart’s desires and also one of “my words.”  Renewal after a time of great hardship…I am experiencing renewal every day of my new life.

I spent the first Saturday of November hiking with a group of kids in Seattle’s back yard:  the Cascade Mountains.  We hiked up to Dirty Harry’s Balcony.  As a volunteer with Seattle Inner City Outings, I, along with my team members, take urban youth on wilderness experiences.  Seattle ICO serves at risk youth from diverse socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds.  Many of these kids live hard lives and struggle academically and nearly all of them have very limited exposure to the great outdoors.  For many of these kids, these outings will be filled with firsts – first time seeing a waterfall, first time seeing, touching, and playing in the snow, first time setting up and sleeping in a tent, first time preparing a meal in the outdoors.  One of the things I enjoy most about serving these kids is that I get to share with them something I love and I get to see and experience their joy as they discover the outdoors.

On this unexpectedly sunny and bright Saturday, most of the kids were bursting with excitement and energy and more than once I had to run to catch up with the front of the group.  Much of the hike to the “top” it was me and four or five other kids.  I was busy chatting with the kids, but at the same time I was giving my attention to these kids, I was taking in the beauty of this hike:  vibrant green undergrowth, mushrooms sprouting from the ground, rippling streams alongside the trail, fallen leaves resting on the rocks of the dried creek bed that for a time was our trail.  The kids were taking in their surroundings as well, commenting on the “brook” and the mushrooms, stopping for pictures, making observations.

I work with middle school kids, grades 6th, 7th, and 8th, ages 11-13.  The younger kids, especially the boys, are still innocent and I cherish moments with these youngsters the most.  The group of kids on this outing was an especially good group and there were several really sweet, cute kids.  Most of the kids engaged with us big kids, the leaders.  I had kids running up alongside me and asking me questions like, “have you ever climbed a mountain?” to which I said, “I have.  I’ve climbed Mt. St. Helens.  Do you know that mountain?  And the first mountain I climbed was Mt. McLoughlin, when I was your age.”  Early in our hike up the trail one young gal asked me, “aren’t you tired?” to which I responded, “I could do this all day long,” but then realized this was a teaching moment and added, “I ride my bike to work every day so it makes it easier to do this.”  We ate our lunches on the rock balcony, a ledge that put us face to face with a snowy, rugged peak.  I heard several kids exclaim, “wow, this is pretty.”  As leaders we love to hear these exclamations.  I was sitting close to the edge of the rock ledge and the same gal who asked me if I was tired, asked me, “aren’t you scared?”  I felt pretty secure.  I had gone out as far as I felt safe, but I looked down and realized it was quite a steep drop, actually kind of scary, especially for a young person who has never sat on a rock ledge before.

Not all kids in this age range are easy to interact with, are not easy to be around.  Sometimes their behavior and comments can be jarring, their attitudes and behavior exasperating.  We had a couple of challenging kids in our group.  These “challenging” kids have been on trips with us before, so I’m starting to learn their behaviors, am starting to learn ways to respond to their words and actions.  One young fellow, a very little dude, is developing an attitude, a big personality to compensate for his small stature.  He can be cute and charming, but he can also be flippant.  On the hike I was expressing my enthusiasm for the fresh snow on the mountain tops, saying how exciting it was going to be to see the snow, to which he said with an air of attitude, “why would you want to see that?“  I said, “because it’s pretty” and he replied, “so. it’s only gonna melt.”  To this I said, “but we can see it and enjoy looking at it before it melts.”  I wasn’t going to change this kid’s perspective about snow or its beauty, however fleeting, so I let the conversation fade away.

At the very end of our hike we let the kids scramble down a bank of large rocks to the sandy and rocky river bed below to have some unstructured play time.  The boys immediately started throwing and heaving rocks into the water.  I went out to join them, tossed a few rocks across the river myself.  These boys kept saying “look at me” and “watch me” to which I very effusively said “wow” or “awesome” after they threw a rock across or into the river.  The little guy with a big personality was with us.  He could really throw.  He could throw as high as the tree tops and over the river.  At one point he said, “I’m Awesome.”  I paused and noted that he said the exact words I learned to say of myself in my new life.  I smiled and said, “you are awesome” and wished for him that he would continue to exercise his inner champion, no matter what hardships life gives to him.

We were the last ones out on the river bed.  I was starting to head back to the group and the boy said to me, “look! it’s a dragonfly.”  I looked down to where he was pointing.  Resting gracefully and peacefully on the smooth, round river rocks was a lifeless dragonfly.  Its body and wings were still intact; its transparent wings an intricate pattern, glistening in the sunlight, resembling the symbol of infinity.  I gingerly picked up the dragonfly and held it in the palm of my hand.  It was as light as a feather, lighter perhaps.  Its head bobbled and I said to the boy, “look at its eyes.”  I can only imagine that he was watching me as I squat on the rocks, transfixed with this dragonfly, the darting insect whose quick movements in flight catch my eye.  I didn’t see this motionless dragonfly lying on the rocks right beneath my nose, but this boy did.  I continued to hold the dragonfly in my hand, continued to look at the intricacies of its body and wings, was probably saying how beautiful it was, what a special moment this was for us.  This young boy said to me in the sweetest, most tender way, “you could take it home with you.”  I considered this briefly. The dragonfly was much too fragile, so I put it to rest where we had found it, but I did take the dragonfly home with me and this “renewing” moment we shared together in my heart.