Turning

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Autumn arrives in the air all of the sudden
Nodding to me it’s time, she advances

The horizon will darken, trees age in a day
Fruit molds and drops, our garden dies back

Too old to mourn the ending summer, I turn,
Flush red and gold, mature fast as a sapling

When night comes early I am ready to greet her
Shedding my guilt like a snakeskin, or leaves

All fall down, together under a turning sky
We recognize that growth has many faces

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Birthday Backpack to Hannegan Pass

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I try to make it a tradition to backpack on my birthday, to connect with the earth and sky and air and wildlife. We had a lovely campsite up near Hannegan Pass, despite the smoke from the Upper Skagit Complex fires in the North Cascades.

It was incredibly smoky the night we hiked in, but by morning the sky had cleared enough to reveal a lovely view of Ruth Mountain.

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“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.” -Aldo Leopold

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Down in this basin we saw a black bear snacking on mountain ash berries
and lumbering across fallen logs, living without a care.

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This is truly my favorite way to celebrate another year of my life and recognize the inevitable passage of time. Backpacking teaches me about necessity and what really matters. It helps me rediscover the importance and powerful enormity of nature.

We must learn to embrace this and accept that we cannot escape nature’s life cycles.

A Slice of Paradise

I worked hard to challenge my anxiety this weekend– by trying to stay flexible, be practical, open, and treat myself with compassion and understanding.

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It’s exhausting to be anxious and trying not to panic for an entire day. It’s also difficult to explain to others just what’s going on with me. I was rather quiet and withdrawn at times.

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Thankfully I managed to calm myself down and eventually enjoy my time in the lovely North Cascades National Park. As you can see, it was gorgeous.

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I refuse to let fear dictate what I will do and where I will go!

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On the Trail

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Once the initial unease
of stepping out of cell reception
and trading street traffic for open trails
wears off, once the feet become
accustomed to sidestepping roots and stones
and the legs churn out miles smoothly
without rest, once the whirling thoughts
dissipate into a mist of ferns and pines
and stress simmers into the roiling boil
of survival, that is when
the real journey begins.

John Muir Poem

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In August I want to become John Muir, re-
incarnate. To breathe Douglas fir, aspirate
hemlock like oxygen. Subsist on nettles and
wild blackberry, staining fireweed pink
my bloodstream. I will thrive on the cliff-
sides above lakes. I will build my house
over a trickling brook so that it runs through
my living room, where I read crabapple leaves
like novels, veins like my veins. Blood is
just water flowing through us all. This forest
is just one way to understand God. You may
find yourself afraid, but you are not a fraud.
Nature is our equalizer. Think yourself better
and you’ll be quickly corrected. Stoop low
to find false lily-of-the-valley. You are
both worthy and worthless, like soil, like sun.
Don’t let skyscrapers and screens ruin
your eyes. Don’t let the money ruin your mind.

Nature and Healing Anxiety

I grew up outdoors. My parents started taking me hiking and backpacking when I was very young. I began learning to ski at age 4. I have spent many days wandering the Cascades, the Chuckanuts, Yellowstone, Yosemite, and so on. Since I was a child, I have felt comfortable in the wilderness.

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But now, my anxiety has been creeping up. Slowly and then all at once, as they say. The thing about this chronic anxiety (at least, what I’m experiencing) is that it slowly becomes more and more generalized. I used to be somewhat afraid of heights. Now I become anxious while on bridges, in skyscrapers, in planes, atop cliffs, on mountains, and while hiking. I used to be somewhat claustrophobic. Now I become anxious while riding buses, flying in planes, taking elevators, standing in crowds, entering small classrooms, and attending events.

My anxiety ranges from fleeting thoughts such as “This is making me a little nervous” and “What if something bad happens?” to full-on panic attacks, during which I shake uncontrollably, feel that I cannot breathe, experience sweaty palms and a racing heart, and feel disconnected with reality. I understand that a panic attack won’t kill me, but the intense rush of adrenaline is exhausting and the fear can be paralyzing.

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I wish anxiety and fear did not impact my ability to be outdoors. But they have.

There are some things I can do to feel more “safe”: bring along someone I trust, choose an easy destination, venture somewhere familiar, et cetera. But often I engage in the easiest and laziest form of protection: avoidance.

Ironically, I believe with all my heart that nature has healing powers beyond what humans can even hope to understand. The trees, streams, and clouds have always calmed me and eased my mind. And yet, I am avoiding what I love so I feel safe. Where does this fear come from? What am I afraid of? I am addressing these issues in therapy, but I feel unhappy without snowy mountains and alpine lakes to create a backdrop for my summer. Many of my happiest memories have taken place in the wilderness.

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For now, I can continue to face and challenge my fears without inflicting too much stress on myself. I hope I will crave the outdoors for the rest of my life. I won’t let this stop me. The more time I spend in nature, the more comfortable I will become. Right?

This will get better. Right?