I've been thinking a lot about composing some nature writings lately. When I was out backpacking last week in Yoho National Park, B.C., I was finally inspired and figured it was the perfect opportunity to sit and write. See below for Nature Writings: pt. I
As I sit at my picnic table at the edge of Lake Yoho, I am watching the sun rise over the mountains and, strangely, feeling like I am missing something. The wind is creeping through the pine trees and huckleberry bushes, the reflection on the lake's surface is barely rippled, my belly is full, I have coffee and family and the only plans we have for the day are to hike to Burgess Pass.... what could possibly be missing?
Even out here, in the wild, I have inevitably given myself a to-do list: read, write, draw, get enough sleep, etc. Although the tasks are simple and mostly enjoyable, they still weigh on me lightly. There is always something on my mind -- a plan to organize the packs for the day, wanting to journal, trying to take care of my knee -- something to do. Always, always.
I've recently realized that this need to organize and plan is not necessarily a bad thing; I get things done. I know exactly where my things are, where I'll be in a month from today, what my workouts for the week are, what I'll cook for dinner. This can be overwhelming for others around me, it can even be overwhelming for myself. But as long as I remain aware of my thoughts and planning tendencies, I can manage to appreciate them and still enjoy the present.
This is why I come outside. Because, out here, the stimulations that are incessant in everyday life in the real world disappear. You realize, with the lack of external input (phones, emails, computers, Instagram, advertisements, news, to-do lists, etc), the only noise comes from within.
Sometimes it's noise that we don't want to hear. It's hard to sit still and be with your thoughts. At least it's hard for me... but the more I do it, and the longer I do it for, the more I start to be okay with them. The more I come to accept the messiness. The more I see through the bull shit, the more I understand myself. The more I like myself. Meditation has really helped me to see more clearly, and to accomplish the aforementioned. I sit every morning with my thoughts, for at least 20 minutes, before going about my day. But then -- I go about my day: making breakfast, listening to NPR, answering emails. I head to the gym, eat lunch, ride my bike around, attend appointments, work out again, do homework, answer more emails, intermittently browse through Instagram + Twitter, spend time with friends and family, eat dinner, check email, try to relax, read, and wind down for sleep. The days are packed full -- there's almost no time to step back and view my thoughts, much less try to understand them. The meditation certainly brings more presence to my daily activities, but living in that tiny open space of complete awareness is not feasible throughout the entirety of every day.
....Until I come outside. Then everything brings me back to where I am -- the sun rising over Yoho Lake, the clouds warping and sprinkling, my legs and lungs burning as I climb through the Rocky Mountain trails. With no distractions, I notice a swarm of questions, imaginations, wonders and worries running through my head. But...that's the best part: I notice. Constantly. I am ever-aware of my mental imperfections, I learn more about what makes up my mind's character. I think, sometimes, of how terrible I am at thinking nothing and staying present. But I come to appreciate that seemingly negative quality -- to understand that it makes me good at many of the things I love. How the searching pushes me -- creatively, ambitiously, daily. To tame and understand this noise is what allows the gratitude.
There are so many things I learn in the wilderness. I learn the names and shapes of many plants: pearly everlasting and false solomon seal, huckleberry bushes and larch trees. The names of peaks and glaciers: Mt. Ennis, Hanbury Glacier, Emerald Glacier, the President Range, Daly and Fairy Glaciers, Takakkaw Falls. I want to take pictures of them all, to document this time so I can look back and remember. And so that I can look back with loved ones and show them what I saw, share with them how it felt to be out here: the awe and grandeur, the lessons and the people I met: Gwyneth, who came to talk with me while I was soaking in Yoho Lake, the little fishies who gnawed at my legs, the obnoxious group of backpackers who hiked their speaker up to the camp site and incessantly played their music very loudly at the campground. I want to have something to hold on to, I want to capture the way it felt.
As I take photographs, I sometimes foresee myself posting them to Instagram, or some other social media outlet. I will be in the middle of snapping a picture, even with my film camera, and I'll realize I'm thinking about how great it would be to post that shot somewhere. Sometimes I'll adjust the frame specifically for posting purposes, though this is rare as I believe a photo framed for the photographers sake carries with it the most beauty, the most genuine feeling of that moment, the most truth. And you can feel this when looking at photos: whether they were taken with genuine presence or with an audience in mind (hence the reason advertising shots can rarely be connected to). Sometimes I even have to take shots specifically for social media purposes -- to fulfill contracts and promote my "personal brand" (icky). I hate this, even though I understand that it's part of my job. BUT...more on the photos not for Insta's sake:
When I realized I have someone else in mind (an audience) while shooting the photo, I tend to start to hate myself a little. This is not the person I want to be -- taking photos to promote myself or show off to others. But this trip has shed a bit of light on this tendency to want to show others: I am a social creature. I want to share my experiences and myself with other people. I want to connect. After all, I believe one of the most gratifying and meaningful pieces of life rests in love. And though I know I cannot make people love me through (excellently composed :P ) photographs, I do know that sharing myself opens up so many doors, establishes a platform for conversation, instills a sense of connection that can lead to meaningful relationships -- to more love in my life and in the lives of others.
The wilderness teaches me something illuminating each time I venture through it. Along with new lessons, nature teaches me the same thing over and over again, every time: how to be kind to myself. With all the distractions in the "real world" there is hardly any time to get to know your thoughts, your self. But, out here, you are forced to. You see things a bit differently, among the trees and mountain peaks. You can approach yourself with more patience, because you realize you have all the time in the world. I suppose the time isn't necessarily what allows the kindness...perhaps it's the stillness. Maybe it's the kindness embodied by nature, the inherent patient calm. Even when it's windy, raining, and you can barely hear yourself breathe, there is still a sense of calm, still space to find awareness and appreciation. And this is why I keep coming back.... It must be part of the reason we all keep coming back. There are many pleasures that I feel guilty about, but this is one pure pleasure that actually makes me feel the opposite of guilt -- it makes me feel whole again, happy, present. If only now I can take this natural self and bring it back to society with me. Maybe I'll bring a rock, to remember. I guess that's why I take the photos...to bring a piece of this stillness back.
adventures to and from, here and there, home and away, around the world--through my eyes, lens, and mind