I am awake, uncertain of what provoked it but my eyes are open and I look up at our orange tarp shielding our hammock from the morning dew. The light of day is still just creeping in, softly waking up the world around me. I peer over the edge of the hammock, gasping slightly as my eyes catch the glowing mountain ridges in the distance, the vibrant pinks and oranges lining the crest, like icing atop cupcakes, all various shapes and sizes. I smile to myself. It is a lovely morning, and I am in a wild place. I slowly unzip my side of the sleeping bag, pulling my legs out and over the edge of the hammock, rocking it softly but not enough to wake up Ale. I tuck the sleeping bag around him, he rolls over in his sleep paying little attention to my dawn exit.
I slip on my boots, grab my yoga mat and run up to the mountain ridge just above the quiet hidden grove where we’ve strung our hammock for the night. The sun has still not risen above the ridges to my left, and as I trot along I steal glances at the vibrant hues painting the horizon as the day unfolds. I reach a small flat ledge overlooking the deep river gorge where we had set top ropes to climb the day before. The flat ledge is nearly level, wide enough to stretch out easily, just long enough for my mat to lie flat without taking me too close to the edge. Oh what a lovely little spot! I had spotted it yesterday as we wrapped up our climbing session and were hiking out along the ridge. I remember thinking, ah, the perfect spot for a sunrise yoga session! I drop down on my mat, my legs folded, hands rested atop my knees. I breathe deeply, eyes closed, then opened, and I smile, drinking in the expansive views of far reaching green valleys and wild places as far as my eye can see. In the midst of this vast place, I feel small, but far from insignificant, I actually feel quite significant, filled with gratitude for this moment, this place, this morning and this life.
There is something pretty magic about being in a place that has the power to make you feel small. Perhaps this is what pulls me to wild places, but it is almost indescribable how precious these places feel when you are in their midst. Whether it is amongst the enchanting giants in the Redwood National Parks, the incredible granite towers and massive waterfalls of the Yosemite Valley, the breathtaking scale of the glaciers of Alaska or the vast wilderness dotted with volcanos and waterfalls I’ve been most recently exploring here in Chile, these places all take hold of your senses, captivating your mind and heart in the rawness of their sheer existence. The vastness of these places make you feel utterly present. In the daylight, you enter the groves, dance beneath the waterfalls, climb the granite slaps, paddle out to the vast walls of ice and often catch yourself simply staring with wonder at the greatness of these places. In the darkness of night, your breath is again stolen as you look up to a sky like none possibly witnessed amidst the neighborhoods and cities most of us call home.
When we lived in California, we had some pretty incredibly awe-inspiring places right at our fingertips, and we made it a point to play in them. I would return from a weekend spent amidst the redwoods feeling as though I had taken a two week meditation retreat. Three days in Yosemite would have me buzzing for at least a week and those massive glaciers in Alaska had my head in the clouds for a good month or so. As we currently wander across Chile, through the countless deep river valleys and winding dirt roads with massive volcanos on our horizon, I find myself constantly in a state of gratitude to be lucky enough to explore this place.
Places like this ignite my soul. They drive my creative process and inspire me with wonder, they bring peace and quiet to the noise of the ever-present distractions that taunt us constantly in this digital age. When I choose to go back into the woods, to hike the steep path up to the ridge, to put my fingers and toes to the cold rock walls, to paddle down a river or into an ocean, to coast down a snowy powder bowl in the falling snow- each and every time I am reminded of the natural order of things, of the simplicity of the existence of life.
In this day and age, it is easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of society’s priorities. We set incredibly unnatural expectations for one another- companies must show profitability every single quarter, professionals are expected to constantly climb corporate ladders with no moments of rest, with no opportunities to stop, to look around and perhaps walk another path for a while. The expectation of constant growth and lack of opportunity to rest and reflect is overwhelming. Parents are expected to raise wholesome well-rounded children while they themselves are struggling to feel like half the person they were before taking on all this responsibility of life. Pressures of debt and rising prices, higher taxes and lower wages all weigh heavily on the need to constantly be earning more money rather than more experiences.
In nature, all of those pressures dissolve. The purpose of existence is simple, it just is. Everything experiences cycles of life, trees lose their leaves which fall to the ground and feed the soil and ecosystem below, they rest in the winter in order to be vibrant and productive in the spring and summer. The rivers swell with the rain and retreat with the draught. The snow falls softly, gathers, melts and feeds the soil, rivers and creeks surrounding. Everything is interconnected, and even though it is functioning independently it is all supporting the life surrounding it in some significant way. It is an incredibly complex system, and yet it functions so simply. It just is. Going into these places and witnessing this simplicity, it can be a powerful reminder for us to remember that we are also part of this ecosystem, that we are intimately connected with the natural order of things and with one another. We gain so much from this acknowledgement, and it can inspire personal fulfillment while challenging us to radically shift our societal priorities. Who knows what solutions to the massive challenges we face could be discovered if more of us, both leading and following, were filled with awe by nature a little more often. If more of us were willing to seek those awe-inspiring places, and to let ourselves feel small within their vastness, yet significant within their presence.
Today, we hit the road and head to Northern Patagonia and I am simply bubbling with anticipation. There is a childlike glee that has taken hold of me as Patagonia has lived in my dreams almost as a mythical creature all these years; and while this is just a brief encounter I hope that it is the first of many adventures there. Either way, I know that inspiration awaits, to both motivate and to challenge- and I can’t wait to see what ideas are borne in the midst of this next wild place.