Last week marked a first for me: a solo hike through a desert wash miles away from, well, much of anything.
I have traveled this path numerous times, but always in the company of friends, the space filled with our laughter and chatter. This time was different. It was just me, an insignificant speck beneath canyon walls thrust toward a wakening sky.
This solo-ness was at once magical and slightly unnerving. Not because of the stillness and shadow, or the chill of morning. Or even the harrowing cry of a hawk. In fact, I savored that crisp morning air – the kind with a bite that when inhaled creates a kind of melding. Me and the outdoors unified, my breath an invisible string connected to emerging blue sky, scarred rock and slumber-weary birds.
Even the sinister shadow painting one side of the canyon in gray proved dauntless. It was just me and the beat of wings as a Cooper’s hawk rushed overhead and the sun crawled up the backside of the mountains. I have to admit: it was a bit of a rush.
The tinge of uneasiness occurred, however, when I approached the narrower portion of the canyon walls. At the same time, the dense underbrush closed in around me. (I mean, this is mountain lion country… and those bushes were dense and tall.)
This is when my aloneness – and my imagination – started to run rampant. In my head: if there were something in those bushes, I wouldn’t know it. Would I have time to react? I touch my gun for reassurance then I look up and see an old mine shaft (the perfect hole for a lion?).
Then a noise. What was that? Me spinning around and yelling, “Hello.” Then the delightful and unexpected response: my voice echoing about the canyon walls and rushing right back to me. Finally, a smile on my face, a sense of calm as I reassure myself that this is a magical moment, not a fearful one … and then true enjoyment as the sun begins to fill the wash with its warmth and illumination. Funny how a little change in perspective — the sun, in this case — can alter our mindset and make us feel more secure (and how being with one other person can provide a sense of security in isolated terrain).
I continued along my two-mile hike, the only sounds my hiking stick digging into sand and my own breathing. As the sun finally crested the mountains, I was then greeted by the stair-step trill of the canyon wren, the scratchy birdsong of virdens and the hiss of cactus wrens. I snapped numerous photos (and recounted how much I miss my hiking partner, who moved away a few years ago). But without her departure, I realized, maybe I’d never have done this. And that would have been a shame.
I suspect other solo hikes may pale in comparison to this one, mostly because it was a first, complete with heightened senses and awe. In the future I’ll likely be more self-assured, maybe less aware, senses snuffed. For this ‘first,’ I will always be grateful.
For Writers, for Everyone: My hike was the perfect reminder of the power of ‘mind over matter,’ and the way we can talk ourselves into something (fear) or out of it. As writers, don’t we do the same thing? We let our anxiety – and sometimes fear – paralyze us. We worry about the future, what it may hold in such a complex publishing industry, instead of seeing, appreciating and accepting what’s right in front of us.
Would you consider a solo hike or some other activity that challenged your emotions? What positive things do you think might happen? To your writing? To your growth as a person? Have you ever been that alone in nature? How did it feel?