I had stretched my body out on a rock in the heart of the Siskiyou wilderness as the sun inched it’s way up into the sky and the heat of the day began to build in the air around me. As I laid there in repose on a slab of marble streaked with serpentinite, breezes blew the fronds of the conifers gently to and fro. Ravens were riding the drafts above me, wheeling in the sky.
And me? I was tired. My body was tired, but not in the usual way; where your legs burn and feel like weighted jelly sacks. I wasn’t stressed from the athletic requirements, it was coming from somewhere deep inside me. The conventional ways of moving through the mountains had taught me to set my exhaustion aside; ignore it, refuse it, push through it. But I didn’t want to do that anymore. Why take yourself to the most incredible places and then drag your body along, unaware of the ways you can assume or adapt to the experience?
I wanted to lay there and just… unfold. I could feel the strain of all the burdens I carry, the uncertainty of the future, the weight of my pack, the weight of all my mistakes as a parent, the choices I’ve made that cannot be undone, things that broke forever before I could fix them. I opened my palms to the sky but still felt like I was clutching at something I didn’t want to let go.
I had taken myself on another retreat to the mountains. Wasn’t I here to do the work, listen to my guides, and lay myself bare to the experience? Can’t do I that on this ridge right here, without dragging my body up and over another four thousand foot pass, through a trailless chain of swampy meadows, and up and down all those ridges again? I laid in the sun, watching the ravens spiral upward. Before I had time to reach any logical conclusions, I fell into a dreamless sleep.
I woke to the sound of a raven cwonking overhead. I rose a bit and began to stretch out my body; this stiff machine trying to find it’s way back into movement. I looked at the time, looked at the sky, looked at the meadow below me and I smiled to myself. Shouldering my pack, I turned back the way I’d come four hours earlier. I felt satisfied, but also longing for something else.
“Okay”, I said aloud, to myself and no one at all. “Guide me”.
My rig and I rumbled out of the mountains of Northern California, building great clouds of dust, back end sliding across the washboard sections, slowing as I passed the farms and little towns. I crossed back into Oregon; an arbitrarily drawn line that attempts to separate the Siskiyou mountains, a range more mysterious and unyielding than I had ever dreamed.
By afternoon, I found myself on the banks of the North Umpqua River. I removed my shoes and eased my feet and legs into the clear water. I rubbed at the most stubborn dirt marks with my toes and closed my eyes. Cedars and firs lined the banks, leaning inward. I tried to fall all the way into the sensation of the water, the sound of it all around me; temperature, texture, subtle variations. As the light began to leave the canyon, and shadows grew long over the river, a spotted owl swooped across the creek beside me and we spent a few moments regarding each other softly. Fishermen cast silently, their graceful arching lines flattening gently against the surface of the water upon contact; drifting, floating. Carrying my shoes, I walked barefoot back up the trail, dust rising in gentle clouds around the tops of my feet.
When I reached the trailhead where I’d left my car, I could only make out a faint reflection on its windows in the darkness of the canyon’s early dusk. I crawled into the back of my car, stretched my body out across the top of my sleeping bag, and closed my eyes. The swooping owl, the graceful casts of the fishermen, the cwonking ravens, the drooping conifers swaying, the slab of marble streaked with serpentinite, the breezes that touched my skin.
A friend once told me that in order to keep a memory, you have to hold it in your heart, clear away old memories to give it space, allow it room to settle and rest. I breathe deeply into this one; my breath rises and falls until sleep overtakes me, and finally, I dream.