Wash Your Spirit [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir

I did not know how badly my spirit needed a good washing until we were hiking the Ditch Trail. The aspen trees were just beyond their autumn peak so the mountainside popped with islands of orange and vibrant yellow. The only noise was the breeze murmuring through the trees, quaking the leaves. I literally felt the world of angry people drop away. I breathed deeply the air, the sun warmed me to the bone. The cleansing commenced. Silence of the mind.

Jim once told me that people go to the seashore to experience the eternal. The tides were coming and going long before your birth and will come and go long after you are gone. It puts everything into perspective.

The mountains are like that, too. They are perspective-givers. This week Horatio told me “This life is short so we better get out there and do what we want to do.” The mountains are in constant motion but our lifespans are too short to see the waves rising and falling. On our last day in Colorado, while climbing above timberline, I realized (again) that in my short life I have been less and less concerned with what I want to do and more and more interested in how I want to be. Standing at the edge of Lower Lost Man Lake with Kerri and Kirsten, a bitter wind watering my eyes, I wanted nothing more. The spirit washing continued.

Driving back to Wisconsin, we mused that our re-entry into the world of people would be difficult. It was nice to be out of the fighting and the lying and the aggression. It made me wonder how the mountains perceive us. Such a small creature steeped in a full-blown-delusion-story of having dominion over all things. “Hubris,” the mountain blinks and we are gone.

In the midst of our incessant search for value and meaning and achievement and worth and dominance, our bitter fight over whose story we will tell, the mountain issues an invitation. Come. Walk awhile. Exit the chatter and stand in this moment. What else do you seek?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAINS

2 Responses

  1. The image of a much younger me that appears next to my name here was taken in late December or very early January of 1971 on the slopes of Mt. Howe which is located about 75 miles as the crow flies (though they are non existent there) from the South Pole.

    Yes…that South Pole. Mt. Howe has the distinction of being the furthest south exposed soil on Planet Earth. My team was there to collect some of that soil. We did that and I also brought back with me a few stones bearing 6 million year old plant fossils that have become cherished momentos.

    During breaks from our field work tasks we took turns taking these satirical images of each other calling them our IAEP’s (Intrepid Antarctic Explorer Portraits). I post it by my name these days not because I think of it as some grand self-image but as a tongue-in-cheek representation of a former me before an immense and slightly mysterious backdrop…that most certainly is not a green screen.

    Why I was there–I’ve concluded over the intervening 5 decades–was far less significant than the general humbling one cannot help but acquire after living for several weeks in one of the remotest reaches of our home planet and traveling through vast other parts of it over the course of a few months time.

    In this instance the four of us in our group, living out of three two-person tents (one was our kitchen & dining room) were the only human presence in millions of square miles of one of the most breathtaking, least explored, spectacular and ruthless environments on Earth. We did have something of an umbilical to the rest of humanity but it was thin and could be unreliable…especially if the 100+ mph adiabatic winds from the pole chose to blow steadily for days at a time.

    Hubris?

    In such a place?

    Not insignificantly it is generally accepted now that that is exactly what doomed Scott’s party of British adventurers and sailors just 50 years prior to my adventures there. On their journey to the pole and their frantic, fatal attempts to stumble back they passed a stone’s throw from the spot where this photo was taken no doubt believing the whole time–in their staunch British colonialist stiff upper lip ways–that they’d survive because that’s what staunch Brits are always destined to do. We almost certainly crossed their hubris littered path on our way to this mountain slope. We talked of it more than once.

    We are, indeed, only dust (and, in some places, blowing snow) in the wind. We should get used to it.

    And you’ve hit the nail squarely again–more than once–with this posting DR.

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