Photo: Moss covered pines in Plumas National Forest, CA.
There is no hypocrisy in nature. All that exists within it is raw and honest, primal and instinctual. Everything there has a purpose, a reason for being. It is the great circle where one lives and one gives for the other. An intertwining balance of life and death. Survival of the fittest, sacrifice by the weakest. Uncomplicated. It simply is what it is. We as humans complicate nature when we interfere with and attempt to control and tame its wildness. If we could refrain for a bit from our greedy rape of its resources and just sit and listen, we would surely find many valuable lessons in the silence. Lessons that have to do with our survival as a species. Lessons that teach us how fragile, precarious, dependent and intertwined we are with the natural environment that surrounds us.
The one positive thing that came out of my caustic childhood was the opportunity to grow up in a small town surrounded by the beautiful granite peaks of the Sierras, pristine glacial fed lakes and endless open space. I believe strongly that nature is what kept me grounded and provided me the strength to endure the Hell I faced on a daily basis. I still turn to it often to this day as a sanity check and pressure valve release from the noise and ugliness that I find in the City and at times in humankind. It brings me back to the basics, the important intricacies and realities of our existence here on earth. It balances my need for silence, fresh air and contemplation of soul. Without the ability to be held on occasion within its embrace, I fear I may end up as one of those vacant old women who pushes a shopping cart stuffed full with my belongings down an alleyway with no particular destination in mind. Another human lost to this polluted cesspool we call civilization. Though necessary for one’s financial security, there are times I would much rather flee the insanity and live with my dog and my hand axe in a little cabin in the woods.
We recently took a week-long camping trip into the Plumas National Forest. The place we camp is considered a “rough camp” with just 5 sites, no water or electricity hook-ups or other man-made amenities with the exception of a small outhouse. It is a beautiful, raw area where few people choose to journey. We own a small tent trailer that provides us with a bit of comfort one step up from sleeping in a tent on the ground. It has a small kitchen area that runs on propane and we use a small solar panel to recharge the 12 volt battery that provides us with light. Days there are filled with visual magnificence. Everywhere you turn are wildflowers, evergreens that reach towards the heavens and a brilliant blue sky full of clean, breathable air.
Sunset brings with it a tangible transition. The air begins to chill, the birds and chipmunks hurry about to get in their last meal before dark and the shadows from the trees become long and mixed in with the last bit of filtered sunlight. When the sun begins its descent all sounds become strangely amplified. A branch broken by a grazing deer echoes through the forest in decibel of 10. A slight breeze blowing through the treetops sounds often like a hurricane. Small movements in the shadows loom larger than life. The smell of a campfire wafts on the breeze from somewhere high up on the mountain. In this place without noise pollution the senses are on alert and suddenly alive. There are no noisy cars, loud music, clattering trains, screaming people, or wailing sirens to drown out that which is. Suddenly displaced from the noise of the world that
masks even the beating of one’s own heart, we come face to face with our own raw truth. We can actually begin to hear the thoughts inside our minds.
As the sky turns to black, the heavens above become dotted with millions of stars which reveal how small we truly are in comparison to the rest of our vast universe. Darkness begins its chill and we turn into our tent trailer for the night. Thin canvas walls and zero degree sleeping bags are the only things that separate us from the impending cold and creatures that will prowl the night. Curled snugly into our bags we begin our descent into sleep. And then it happens. Nature’s chorus of reality penetrates the air. The sound of that great circle of life breaks the dark silence; the distressed cries of one animal being sacrificed so that the other might live. It’s pain-filled cry speaks at first of terror then gives way to a defeated whimper and secedes back into peaceful silence.
The first few nights those cries stir in us a strange sadness and place a bit of fear into our hearts. By the third we begin to relax into acceptance and understanding and transition into a marginal space of peace. Nature has revealed itself to us in a pure sense, without hypocrisy. We have been given the gift of nature’s raw honesty. The tables have been turned. We do not control that which surrounds us. We are merely guests in her presence, mere plebes at her mercy. If she wanted to she could in an instant chew us up and spit us out into unrecognizable pieces of our former human shells. For this we gain a deep respect. She has once again leveled the playing field and reminded us that our city selves, lost in the noisy sea of self-centered humanity, are but a ploy. Our true selves, the souls that stand in amazement at the natural wonders of our world, have the power to stand up and preserve her beauty for our children to enjoy.
On our last day we leave her presence as if we leave a new-found lover. We are renewed yet we long for more. Saddened to point our car down the mountain towards the crowded streets of our reality we are left with one certainty. We will soon return to her embrace, to breathe her clean air, bask in her silence, listen to the beating of our own hearts and stay alert as eager students for the lessons she has yet to teach us.