Coming back.

Smile, breathe, and go slowly.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

I know that I must not be the only one who finds it hard to "come back" to the world after being immersed in the wilderness for any length of time.  As I plod down the final few miles to my car, I start to feel that familiar sense of anxiety.  When I'm gone for a full day, or even on just an overnight trip, I sometimes don't take my phone off airplane mode for hours after I return to civilization - I just simply cannot bear to do it.  After a lengthy trip, I can go a full day or more without turning my phone back on.  I'm not sure what bothers me so much - I hate the instant notifications, the false urgency and being bombarded by what really amounts to "brain junk food".  Yes, I've laughed at dumb YouTube videos of a person in T-rex costume, and yes, it's funny, but no - it doesn't enrich my life.  

En route Lookout Mountain - the lookout is on the bump in the middle of the photo, obscured by trees.

En route Lookout Mountain - the lookout is on the bump in the middle of the photo, obscured by trees.

I'm lucky enough to have a husband that loves to get out as much as I do.  I can't remember the last time that we had a weekend where we didn't do something or go somewhere.  A few months ago, we decided to try our luck at securing the Lookout Mountain fire lookout for the night.  Many fire lookouts in Washington State are available for free on a first come first served basis for backpackers.  Over the past decade I've been fortunate enough to sleep in the Three Fingers Lookout, the Hidden Lake Peak lookout and the Park Butte Lookout.  Would our luck hold for lookout #4?  

Thar she blows.  

Thar she blows.  

A few years ago, I completely deleted Facebook and Instagram.  I LOVED IT.  I loved every second of it.  Unfortunately, I love writing.  And my absolute genuine love of writing and sharing my adventures completely supercedes my complete intolerance for social media. Trying to write a blog without having any social media outlets is almost impossible, unless you are already famous (which, I am not).  Also, my mom likes looking at my photos.  

Over the past few years,  I gradually "eeked" my way back into the social media world, but I still find it SO WEIRD.  Is it just me that finds it weird?  Fifteen years ago when I was in college, my life was just fine and I DIDN'T know that one of my friends is currently at the dentist office and having a filling.  I never had to worry about being "vague-booked" when a friend posts something like, "Uggggghhh... I can't take this anymore", because if you had wanted me to know what was bothering you, you would have called me and told me in person with your voice.  

Score!  The lookout is ours!

Score!  The lookout is ours!

The wilderness has a certain, "simple complexity" about it that I find completely magical.  On any given hike or climb, I can be scared, tired, energized, happy and anxious - but it feels natural.  The things I'm worried about are legitimate things to worry about (i.e. falling rocks).  If I feel anxious, it's usually warranted (i.e. route-finding).  If I feel happy, it's always genuine (i.e. on the summit of a peak).  When I'm on a backpacking trip or on a hike, I never think about anything even remotely related to social media.  I never think about posting photos to Facebook or Instagram.  The joy I get from taking photos and capturing memories is in the moment itself.  My phone becomes merely a heavy alarm clock.  My photographs are taken on a camera, and are meant to be keepsakes of my experience.  The wilderness sends its notifications in the form of raindrops, sunbeams and wind.  I'm not bombarded with the latest horrible news.  I'm not drenched in political drama.  I'm not comparing my life to anybody else.  My brain calms down - my anxiety melts away.  There is no false sense of urgency.  The wilderness can be dangerous and complicated - but it's manageable, and my brain processes it in a way that is natural and organic, not synthetic and manipulated.  There is a calm in the complexity out there that is so soothing, I can literally feel the hum of the earth lulling me to sleep.

Room with a view.  

Room with a view.  

My job can be stressful at times. There are things that I've seen at work that I wish I could "un-see".  While I do not consider myself an "escapist" (i.e. I do process the incidents that I have been involved in, under the supervision of a counselor), I do find that being constantly bombarded by drama and negativity does not help my cause.  Watching television does not help my cause, nor does alcohol or engorging myself with cake.  Sometimes, even listening to the radio (especially that horribly annoying ad from Jimmy John's sandwich shop) bothers me - it's just too noisy.  When I'm outside in the middle of nowhere there is noise, sometimes lots of it, but it's never overwhelming.  Wind, birds, rockfall, thunder and rain - these are noises that gently prod my senses.  Sometimes they alarm me, other times they delight me.  Either way, they soothe my eardrums with their voices.

Lookout Mountain lookout at sunset with Mt. Baker in the distance.  

Lookout Mountain lookout at sunset with Mt. Baker in the distance.  

Sometimes I wish we could go back to the days when cell phones weren't "smart", and when people called each other on a land line.  Sometimes I wish we could go back to the days when we actually visited each other in person, instead of "poking" each other on Facebook.  But I do try to be a realist, and I know that unless I completely move off the grid into a yurt, that's probably not going to happen.  And there are benefits to social media - sharing photos with my family, encouraging others to explore and adventure, and connecting with like-minded people about the things that I love.  I am so thankful that I was born and raised in such a way that I'm not addicted to social media - that I absolutely love putting away my phone for 2 weeks at a time.  I'm so fortunate that I have the ability to make those "breaks" happen - and I'm so blessed that I have the opportunity to actually go somewhere amazing and struggle with "coming back" from being immersed in beauty.  Because, ultimately - when I break it down, this is what I struggle with:

  • being physically fit and healthy
  • hiking into some of the most beautiful places on earth
  • experiencing a sense of calm and peace that many people will never know
  • having to leave that amazing place
  • calm, refreshed spirit is bombarded with way too much information, too quickly
  • time to go hiking again!

What a beautiful problem to have!

It sounds silly, but sometimes when I'm in the mountains, I have a recurring thought: "When I'm back at home, this place will still be here.  This place exists, whether I'm here or not."  I don't know why I like that thought, but I do.  I like to think back to places that I've been and wonder, "What's happening there at this exact moment?".  Are there rocks tumbling down a slope?  Is there wind on the summit?  Is a deer crossing the meadow?  In those moments of visualization, I try to close my eyes and imagine those places - to piece them together from my own memory of being there.  Sometimes, just knowing that those places exist, and that I've been lucky enough to see them, is enough.  

Painting the sky gold.  

Painting the sky gold.