I read a couple of articles recently about writing with honesty and being true to the essence of one’s self. These aren’t necessarily one and the same. I could write factually, historically, about what has occurred in my life, and likely there is some validity and value in that. I have lived in peculiar times; my personal decades have reflected those changes and challenges. And I have experienced a number of events that have been unusual or dangerous, insufferable yet inspiring, curious and surprisingly sweet. So why not just write about those, the unvarnished truth–put them out there and see how they do?
But usually it is another story that draws me. It is the one recalled by an inner vision, or that simply seeks my attention and pulls me like a magnet. This hideaway of stories is a vast and homely palace where who I am lives, made of bits and pieces of wonderings, snippets of images and visions. It is a place of wonders. It is erected and maintained in my heart and in my dreaming. Call it a writer’s way of being or maybe just a lowly pilgrim’s. But this process of seeking the whole story cracks open much of what I know as truths, at least mine.
So I will tell you a small tale about climbing up a trail in Mt. Hood National Forest to see Mirror Lake.
It was a brilliant day, the sort we have been waiting for all year in the northwest. I had heard about the trail for years. Walking and hiking are like bread for my soul and body–basic, a daily requirement, a tool in my toolkit. But I have a coronary artery disease diagnosis, and even with two stent implants to keep the blood flowing nicely, I wasn’t certain if I could climb this trail for an hour and a half. But it is considered relatively easy , so is popular with families. There is, after all, only a 700 ft. elevation change. And at the end of that trail, there is the reward of a lovely lake and a grand view of Mt. Hood.
These are the facts of this post so far. Now comes the rest.
The heat dallied, then gradually seeped out of the deepening forest but it was quite warm enough. I was good with sandals and jeans rolled up, a light t-shirt. I climbed with Marc, my spouse, and as we pushed forward l sought to turn out all thought and let nature envelop me. In fact, the goal here was to fully empty my mind–and find refuge from stress.
This is the hard part. It has been a rough start of summer, ragged ’round the edges. Many changes in my family and more to come. Some of it has brought pain, the sort that needles me unless I surrender to work or the joys and passions which overflow the flexible parameters of my life. The harder life becomes, the harder I tend to work, as though I can tame it, put all the unruly things back into their corners. Or smooth out the creases with a strong and steady hand. And in the midst of the work, find solace and release. I have great energy and will but sometimes it seems small match for this adventure we call human life.
I kept on. The trail curved and steepened. I was breathing harder, so paused. Beads of sweat had sprung up on my forehead and neck. I studied others who passed. They looked cool, relaxed. Nearby was a stream which swirled and tumbled, its music buoyant. I examined soft moss that clung to logs crisscrossing the water, then started again.
Each step brought air that was thinner in my lungs, to my brain. My breathing was labored. Perspiration snaked its way down my chest and back; it was as though tears fell from my pores while my eyes stayed clear. My heart, at moments syncopated, began to settle, and beat well if quickly. Clusters of people came and went with their enthusiastic children and lively dogs. How far could it be to the top?
I let many pass, in need of more communion with nature. I was closer to that vivid moment when all falls away and life becomes again harmonious, within and without. Treetops shimmered in the swish and sigh of breezes. Looking up, I felt dizzy with warmth and pleasure. My mind began to recalibrate. My soul sat up.
The ascent went on like that for me, climbing as long as I could, the sweat dampening my skin but my breathing steadier. Then a long pause. My legs were heavier but moving as demanded, and my arms swung so that I fell into the rhythm of it, feet sure, knees a bit cranky but doing their job well. And the forest kept beguiling me with its perfumes and beauties and odd asides. We admired plants, bugs, berries; watched ground squirrels scamper; wondered over cougars and bears. We were moving into the wilderness, though well-travelled by humans there. I kept on, heart shifting smoothly, lungs filling with redolent, clean air. I was well challenged, more attuned. Heartbeats took oxygen to blood and brain; my senses sharpened.
We were nearing the top. Light spilled into shadows. The trees encroached less, patches of sky were more often visible. We gazed out over Zig Zag Valley, an exquisite scene. Such heavenly blueness, like an infinite cape.
When we arrived at Mirror Lake I heard, then saw, adults and children splashing and laughing. They were relieved and happy to be cooled by an alpine lake, with sunshine hot and golden on their backs. I felt that feeling I always have when seeing a body of water like this: a great dash of joy, a familiar peace.
It reminds me of childhood summers in northern Michigan where only good things were allowed if at all possible, like boating and swimming and laying in a chaise lounge and reading all day. Sitting around a fire and roasting marshmallows. Listening to birds and catching fireflies.
There was a feeling of being brave back then, and of life so rich with possibilities. And even when the bad times came (which they did, as they do, with a vengeance), there was that muscular power to my belief that all could be overcome. Endured. Healed. It was the feeling of an ancient and eternal love made visible in sky and water, in the mellifluous sounds of life. Way back then, as a child, it made its way into the cells of this body, the synapses of this brain so that I am, unapologetically, a believer. In the supreme design. In God alive. Here. Now.
Mirror Lake may not be the most breathtaking lake I have ever seen. But imperial Mt. Hood reigns if you walk to a grassy spot on one side of it. There, in the brazen mountain sunshine, is the reflective quality that gives the lake its name. I like how it spreads gently among forest and rocks. As we sat in the shade my mind was clarified. The sharp stings of my difficulties had left no poison behind. I was small here at the top of the trail, and yet had my place.
How can I forget that the pain I hold too close slips away when my heart opens wide? I was given gratitude at the top of this trail, in the center of a summer day. This is much of the truth, the real story that sooner or later finds me.