I’ve seen the sun scare boulders out of trees – rocks out of cliffs where shadows rested darkly. That very spotlight shines within. It’s memory dripping into the false consciousness we call wisdom. I can feel that mental geography now:

As the hours climbed, I descended the mountain downswell, its wave of branches and creeks that broke atop roots and scree. This route was necessary to avoid an alpine snowstorm, though two hours after teasing my path through aspen thickets, I scarcely believed my safety. Twice I lost my footing: crashing feet-first onto an eroded slope, then face-long across a pine bough. When 1500 vertical feet of elevation vanished from my map, I was justifiably proud: I could still stand upright. But the process overwhelmed the product. Bushwhacking had returned me and endangered me all the same.

I’ve found waterfalls and sunsets while bushwhacking. I’ve felt sunstroke and strain. Testing sagebrush and poison oak, all varieties of week-long injuries have scratched the skin. It’s to say, the rewards and dangers are always disproportionate. Any prescient observer could foretell that my self-awareness changes nothing – I’ll continue blazing down unrepentant hills until I cannot. Unwinding earthly tinsel is less important than forging unyielding self-trust. I’m more than interested and more than agitated; I feel compelled. There’s an odd coupling of anxiety and assuredness that accompanies my bushwhacking. For a trail is a fact: it will end. In the overgrowth, I can lack certainty. That uncertainty propels me forward, into nature’s enormity.

Disorder is our eventual promise, and when the mind’s bearings slip towards entropy, such rapid muddiness unsettles even the most secure beliefs. To feel compelled to bushwhack – immersion into astounding tangles, away from the straight and narrow – demonstrates a subconscious desire for disorder. My confidence must be certain, my abilities as well. Therefore, my ethics encourage my uncertainty, as my worldview compresses compassion between experience and unattachment. Bushwhacking affirms a disentanglement from norms and prioritizes the senses: it is not certain, it is uncertain.

A tight filigree of redwoods is a foolish place on a moonless morne. Canopy of needles cancels dim stars. Headlamp is a jester’s guidance, painting one light, leaving the truth dark. Typically, I choose a rolling grassland for its nightly shimmer. This alternative would prove ghastly indeed: my shadow would nearly overturn me.

Between the trees is a creek. And after the trespassing, but before the water, a stump declares the crossing. By day, the marker is clear. By night…

I misconstrued a slightly earlier remnant for my familiar crossing guard, and leapt the creek unprotected by gradient. The hill steepened and heightened; I crouched and balanced. Pebbles scattered like roiling cats – ten then fifteen then thirty feet down, down to the streambed – then, so nearly, did I. In a long instant short of warning, the ground fell, I fell, scrappling for purchase, like a wooden toy thrown in the incinerator. Nobody knew my exact location, no less could I avoid the shale and granite shards below. It was a chute of eternal consequence and simple luck saved me. I wedged into a looping root, hanging above the rocks, a furtive refugee from the dirt above my head that now swam below. Disbelief and confusion constitute any sudden decline – battlefield, business, or decision. My new dimensions: perpendicular to ground and hill, loose-footed, isolated by accident, yet unhurt. Timid and timorously my arms took hold where my consciousness ran. I jumped to a tree and shimmied a trunk. I broke neither neck nor legs, nor did I drown nor become buried. I can thank no one for my bushwhacking but myself.

[Photo: “Black Oaks & Lichen”, Reeva Harrison, reevaharrison.com]


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