Ranger Kathryn's Arches

March 26, 2011

Horseshoe Canyon: Getting into the natural rhythms

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 12:17 pm
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Know what I really want to find? Mountain lion tracks.

Tom Brown, Jr., (in Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Nature Observation and Tracking) describes our everyday frenzied/distracted lives as “a little like walking around wearing sunglasses; after a while the world looks a little duller and darker than it really is. Gradually we come to accept the dullness as normal until we take the glasses off and realize, sometimes with a shock of surprise, just how bright and beautiful the world really is.”

I’ve finished eight days at Horseshoe Canyon. I’m “taking off the sunglasses” and getting to know myself better: my body, my mind, my spirit, my will. It is a slow process of learning to pay attention to small things that, in civilization, I glossed over.

I’ve no watch out here. I go to sleep when I’m tired, wake up when I’m refreshed, begin my patrols after breakfast, and try to be out of the canyon by late afternoon. This kind of living without deadlines, without artificial constraints, has a wonderful effect on me. I’m sleeping better and longer. I’m eating foods that nourish me instead of fill me. I’m asking lots of good questions about my surroundings. My body is responding quickly to the intense exercise regimen and I already take fewer rests on the uphill hike out. It feels so, so good. The best part, however, may be the cobweb-clearing that is taking place in my mind.

“Mental purification occurs quite naturally during an extended stay in the wilderness. Like a fountain of clear water, nature keeps pouring into our muddied cup, finally washing away the bothersome elements until we see clearly enough to feel a connection with the environment.”  — Tom Brown, Jr.

Does time in nature help clarify your thoughts and desires? Describe its impact on you.

The purpose of solitude

Definitely solitudinous. Canyonlands NP, Needles district, three minutes before sunset

I get back to my trailer before 5 pm daily — kick my boots off, fix a bite of supper, read a little, get comfortable… and know that I have five or six hours until bedtime. This is when all my practice living alone comes in handy. I do NOT need to be entertained… but these evenings can get long. It’s an invitation to welcome solitude and look for the gifts it can bring.

“In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me — naked, vulnerable, weak, broken — nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness…”  (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart)

Sunrise at Arches NP -- just me and this gorgeous pinnacle.

Out here in the stillness, looking inward comes much more readily. Soberingly, I find myself face to face with a person I don’t always enjoy being with. She can be selfish, lazy, judgmental, and egotistical… for starters. It is far easier to look at her positives — joyful, passionate, curious, ebullient. Solitude helps me come to a more balanced and accurate understanding of who I am… and then look toward who I want to become.

Nouwen describes “the danger of living the whole of our life as one long defense against the reality of our condition.” Daily, restlessly, I try to convince myself that I’m much more ______ [insert any positive adjective here: wise, virtuous, kind, etc] than I really am. Gratefully, piece by piece, solitude dismantles that illusion.

Do you embrace, or avoid, solitude? Why?

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