Sunday, December 13, 2015


Today my walk up on the Ridgeline took a difficult turn.  It was a cold, rainy day here in Eugene, and I was looking forward to the quiet and solitude that comes to these wooded hills in winter.  Shortly after I got on the trail, the day turned, seamlessly, to a struggle.

First, the late breakfast I ate at the Jiffy Mart did not agree with me.  I found my self fighting down nausea while making the steep climb in the first mile.  It was cold out, and I forgot my warm hat.  In no time, I had a sharp ache in my ear from breathing cold air.  And something in my nose, oddly enough was hurting, I have no idea why.  Some very dark thoughts that have been haunting me came forward.  Lonlieness crept in, and I found myself thinking about aging, my health and all the people I've lost in the last few years.

Mortality seemed to ride on my shoulder and say "you're mine."  Even this was odd.  Usually, when I think of mortality, it is with a sense of wonder.  Today, everything was hard, and the woods were like a dark tunnel.  Whatever my feelings are, I know they will greet me when I go the woods.  I've learned that the thing to do is to take the next step, and the next, and to be in the woods anyway.

On the way down the hill, a magical thing happened.  As I rounded a switchback in the trail, the high wooded ridge I had just come down from came into view.  A heavy mist was falling lazily over the tops of the tall trees, and the rain was sheeting down, pattering on my rain gear.  And a very old, very familiar feeling came over me.

It was the feeling of Having Been Up There.  It's a feeling I first had as a teenager, descending from the first peaks I climbed in the Cascades.  I've felt it many times at the end of a rappel, when my feet touch the ground again after climbing hundreds of feet on a vertical rock wall.  It feels like coming back to the regular world after spending some time in a world apart, a world that is only for the few.  In my expernience, no amount of fear, pain or despair can stand up to this feeling.  And today was true to form.  My struggling faded, and I remembered that my condition is temporary, in all respects.  The woods seemed a little more welcoming, a little more like the life-time home they really are, and have always been for me.

Sitting in my little pub, sipping a beer, I'm at home again.  My breakfast has settled,.  My concerns are still there, but they don't feel like a struggle anymore.

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