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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)!
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!
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.