A few weeks ago, I set off early morning to hike Cascade. It was midweek early morning, which as it turned out, gave me the hike almost entirely to myself. Being the athletic type with fitness goals I had historically approached a hike as a way of getting fit with a view to go as fast as possible; and being the analytical type I have a bad habit of spending too much time in my head while forgetting to actually look through my eyes. Having realized this may be leaving some – as yet undefined – “pleasurable hiking experience” on the table, I resolved this time to slow down, look around, and fully take in the experience.
As I started to climb, a battle began between my emotion and intellect.
“Dude, smell them pine trees” said the first, and I did.
“Woo-hoo, I am Officially Enjoying Nature!” then crowed the second.
“No, stop thinking about enjoying stuff, just be passive and observe….”
“Yes but what is the meaning of enjoyment, really?…”
“Stop talking already! Look at the trees, dammit!”
And so on, a relentless and circular tussle which occupied me the entire 2 miles to the open rocks at the base of the summit.
The weather that day was warm and humid with a chance of afternoon storms and as I emerged above the tree line, winds started to buffet me around. They were strong enough to focus my attention on securely clambering over the bare rocks and finally my mind started to quiet. At the summit I was completely alone, and I could see for miles. I took the requisite 46er pics then sat down to soak it all in. The wind was relentless. It whipped me on and on until I could not tell which one was taking my breath away, the wind or the view. An almighty, all-encompassing rush of energy focused into my heart and lungs, as if Mother Nature herself were baring her soul and driving it into me until I was one with the peaks, the clouds, and the tiny plants among the rocks that bowed to the wind yet somehow ruled it all. I felt so joyous, humble and afraid that I scrambled back down to the tree line, fighting back tears of I don’t know what or why.
As I descended, this literal force of nature re-formed itself into a mental state of openness and wonder that – finally – bound my intellect to my emotion in quiet contentment.