Having just returned to Virginia from Phoenix, and perhaps because I was missing the Pacific ocean this summer, I found myself pining for water. With nothing pressing on my schedule I decided to spend the weekend hiking some of the waterfall trails in the Shenandoah National Park. The park is only 21 miles from my front door and in the seven years I’ve lived here I hadn’t yet visited. That’s pretty unusual since when I drive to the West every summer (except this one) I visit and hike at least a few National Parks.
After a little research based on the length and difficulty of the trails, the equipment I had, the weather, and the characteristics of each of the falls I came up with a short list and off I went. I did these hikes alone and there’s nothing like some extended solitude in environments like these to bring some things to the surface and bring one’s life into some focus. I can’t compete with Thoreau, but on my little weekend outing I had a number of thoughts, most not so profound, some were simply reiterations of things I already know but up to the surface they came, some new insights on old insights, and some that were simply the blinding flash of the obvious that needed to make a reappearance under new contexts.
So here in no certain order are six things I thought about on my weekend hiking the waterfall trails in the Shenandoah National Park.
A pass to get into the park costs $15 and can be used for up to a week. An annual pass for the one park is $30. It can be signed and used by two people either of whom can use the pass to bring as many people into the park as will fit in the car. An annual pass for ALL the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands costs $80. This is ridiculous, and the best bargain on the planet.
Our Sentient Relatives
I saw more bears in three days than I ever have in my life outside of a zoo. Deer, birds, squirrels, hedgehogs, raccoons, snakes, centipedes, fish, crawfish, frogs, salamanders. I was on their turf. I worry for them and all animals and for their well-being.
Time is eternal and time is short. One gets a sense of the ages, of the eons since the forces forged these rocks and cliffs. Not since going to Arches National Park in Utah have I had as profound a sense of epochs. The water flows year after year, age after age and it has no concern for anything but gravity. Time is eternal. My time however, is incredibly short. There is not a moment to waste and way too many things I want to do before my clock ultimately runs out. There will be no neat and tidy conclusion. The water will flow still and not be concerned about my end of days.
Love is paramount. Love of self, love of family and lover, love of friends, love of others, love of all sentient beings. If a genie appeared and offered a life of love at the price of never writing another note of music I would take that deal in a heartbeat. On the second day of hikes on the return, I prayed aloud. I prayed to the heavens, to the universe, to all the atoms, to any forces, energies, ancestors, beings, entities that love me and care about my well-being if there be any. I prayed for a long time aloud. I prayed about love, its call on my life, my willingness and ability to answer it, to live up to my own standards, for clarity, for good choices, for kindness, strength, patience. I prayed for true and genuine, passionate love, Rumi’s love, Scott Peck’s love, Erich Fromm’s love.
Did it do any good? Do I expect those prayers to be “answered?” I don’t know. I only know it didn’t hurt and I think there is value in speaking things. It moves ideas into the physical realm and into focus. Something shifts, sometimes powerfully, internally at least when I speak my thoughts and intentions. I know that when I speak thus it may just be a baby step towards manifestation, but at least it’s that. Who among us would not wish for any increase in the manifestation of love?
I’m amazed at how plants grow out of the sheer barrenness of rock, in what seems the most infertile of environs. That is a real will to live. They search for cracks, for openings, reaching for light, water, food. The rocks won’t stop them. They can do it. So can I. So can you.
Letting My Foolish Heart Be Itself
The day I started the hikes I happened upon a video of Paulo Coelho talking about the sense of uselessness we all feel from time to time. What he said about it bounced around in my head, especially as it related to what I wrote above about time and the water’s concerns.
“A river is trying to follow its journey, from the spring to the sea. If we can use a river to navigate, to do something else, it is our attitude towards the river, but the river itself is not concerned about that. A river is a river, a tree is a tree, a human being is a human being. Be yourself, you are beautiful. You are beautiful because as I said before, you are giving a good example. By giving a good example, you spread joy, and by spreading joy you can change the world. You can change your family, you can change your neighborhood, you can change even your country. […] This is my way of being myself, and by consequence, I’m useful and so are you, if you are yourself.
I had also just happened to read an article by Dr. Robert Lusson on the sense that some people have at being “…done at fifty or feeling tired, anxious, and unaccomplished at sixty, sick and lonely at seventy, or overlooked and invisible at eighty and beyond.” This is the same sense of uselessness I surmised Coelho was talking about and Lusson offers this:
This is the time for great deeds and great love, to get out on the tightrope, start towards the other side or fall on your face. It really does not matter. Old clichés endure because they carry truth; it is not the destination, it is the journey! If you’re on your own and you meet that perfect face, one that reminds you of your vital sexual being-ness, go for it! Even if you are rejected, I guarantee you will feel empowered for the effort. If you come up with the next great gadget, build it, and don’t get stopped up with worry over not having enough gas to get your idea across town. If you break down along the way in your old jalopy, fine. You will be in the perfect spot to be picked up by your next new friend, or investor, in a shiny new Tesla. Make a fool of yourself in love and in life, whenever and wherever you can. Why? It’s simply, more FUN!
He concludes with this: “As George Eliot, who had to pretend to be a man to get her work published, apocryphally said: ‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.'” Indeed. It is never too late. A river is a river, a tree is a tree, a human being is a human being. I must be myself, my foolish self.