It was the day after a massive rain storm, and the mere fact that the sun was out at all was a magical milestone. Like a sunflower I beamed, the fibers of my soul spindling outward toward the clawing rays of light. I thirsted for sunshine, and feeling heartened, I grabbed a bucket and shovel, deciding that I would begin my first vegetation project. My search for saplings brought me zigzagging beyond the Guyot campsite boundaries, deeper into the woods. Trees seemingly as old as time grew crooked along the slope, their winding roots formulating earthen hallows, enrobed in deep-velvet moss that twinkled star-like from yesterday’s rain. Constellations of spider-webs lay hammocked between the dark nooks of the roots and the tiniest of white flowers freckled the forest floor. I felt like I was treading lightly across a fairy world.
Then, a twinkle of light burst into my peripheral and I stopped; somewhere up ahead, a light kept flashing, not unlike a firefly. At first I couldn’t place it. I set my bucket and shovel down, feeling beckoned by this glistening, intermittent glow, and I was drawn to the base of a pine. I was pretty convinced, of course, that I was about to prove the existence of fairies, as I knelt down to brush aside the heavy layer of pine needles. I uprooted the object and inspected it, surprised: it was the shard of a mirror. I wiped away the thin layer of crusty dirt from its surface and my own, dirty caretaker face came into view. I decided then and there that this was a message from the wild: the mountains intended to show me who I really was. This was back in June, when I first began my caretaking escapade.
During a more difficult time period of my life, I went to an intuitive energy healer hoping to achieve some sort of insight that I hadn’t seemed to be capable of acquiring on my own.
“You need to climb a mountain,” this healer told me after some time of quiet employment of reiki skills. I am not sure that, at the time, I really paid much heed to her advice. But some time later, a series of strangely coincidental, interrelated events led me to accept a position as a backcountry campsite caretaker with the AMC.
.I can’t quite place when or how it happened, but living in the mountains has, finally, prompted what feels like my truth birth into the world. It has been a transformation of subtleties—nothing permits oneself to become so well-acquainted with her own soul as extended time in the wilderness where forced reflection is an inescapable task, an often uncomfortable chore to be dutifully endured. There are the moments of frenzied insanity when you’ve seen far too much of yourself; there are the dreadful realizations of your own insecurities, your own jealousies, your amplified fatal flaws that reveal themselves beneath the insurmountable microscope of self-examination in the shadow of the peaks that surround you. A reflection of ugliness in the midst of so much beauty.
But the mountains don’t just abandon you after they show you these ugly things. In their tough-love fashion, they throw at you you’re least attractive reflections not to defeat you and crush you but to present to you the rare opportunity to See—to truly, whole-heartedly See, and acknowledge, and accept, and finally, the opportunity to change, if you are a willing disciple. You must be desirous of whittling away the things you’ve allowed to conquer you: your regrets, your miseries, your gaping wounds that you’ve neglected to treat because you couldn’t release your death grip upon the culprits that caused them in the first place. The mountains presents to you the challenge of conquering these things in turn, in order to achieve deeply-sought liberation. The mountains prepares you by casting boulders in your path, by stringing you along slippery terrain, by funneling thunder and lightning directly overhead and dumping copious amounts of rain upon your domain, luring you with the promise of a crystal-clear, 360 degree view of the world or of yourself, if you so wish.
The mountains offer this challenge, but it is up to the individual to accept it, to subdue the ego and dive into the role of the humbled. Pride and defense must first subside in the face of the mighty wilderness—once this dirty layer is wiped clean off the shard of a mirror, you can finally see who you really are.
As my caretaking season is coming to an end, I am overcome with the standard, bittersweet excitement of departure. My gratitude and renewed love for the wilderness is overwhelming, and I’ve decided to hold onto my little jagged mirror, in case I ever begin to forget the lessons I’ve been faced with this season.
Thanks to all of those who have followed my adventures this summer, and to all of the awesome visitors I had the chance to chat with at Guyot, and to all of my amazing coworkers!
Stay tuned for future topics (And, I’ll still be at Guyot this coming Columbus Day Weekend.)