perspective

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It was kind of funny…

I’d walked the same stretch of trail only 6 days before but it was completely unrecognizable. And not for the first time I wondered why… Was it because I was going in the opposite direction? Was it because the time of day was different? Was it because my pack was lighter on my back and my body was more comfortable with it after 6 days on the move? Was it because I had changed so drastically over that time that how I viewed the world was no longer the same? Was it, as is most likely, a combination of all of these factors?

Of course. Of course the trail would look different. Of course I had changed.

When I had walked it before, I had been heading South, climbing away from Tuolumne Meadows. Each step was a fight against gravity pushing against my heavy pack. Each step was working muscles that hadn’t been tested since the last backpacking trip. The terrain was headed towards thinning groves of trees and the barren expanse of the pass fourteen hundred feet above. The morning’s coolness soon gave way to the heat of a humid thunderstorm laden afternoon. The threat of the unknown, the potential obstacles, the hard fought miles, the aches, the pains, and all the other struggles of a multi-day trip lay ahead and weighed down every forward movement.

When I returned, I was trekking North, descending from Tuolumne Pass and returning to the shade and comfort of the ancient trees at the lower elevations. The morning cool had held sway over the stretch of trail above tree-line and then the afternoon’s warmth was kept at bay under the expansive canopy. My pack had been relieved of my share of the week’s meals. My muscles had hardened. My body had grown accustomed to the weight strapped across my hips and held securely to my frame over my shoulders. Gravity had become my friend. It helped my feet move forward and press down as each step went downhill from the last. I had survived the previous days, the aches, the pains, the struggles. All that was left was the final miles that would return me to the car and civilization.

Still, it was the same stretch of trail. The same trees. The same rocks. The same winding path. The same major landmarks. It should have looked familiar. Shouldn’t it? That’s where the source of confusion comes from. My mind was thrown off that it knew I’d walked those miles before but didn’t recognize them. It expected to and it riled at the disconnect, sending me warnings and demanding that I pay attention rather than relax and enjoy the beauty around me.

Because I’d felt that sensation before I was able to push it aside and still enjoy the final steps of my trip. It did make me wonder, however, how often we have similar perspective shifts in our day-to-day lives that cause us to worry. Those times we break from our routines, even only by a little bit, and our brains are thrown into overdrive… Driving familiar streets at a different time of day? Visiting a different neighborhood store than normal? Wearing a different style to a routine function?

What else? When have you felt a bit of that fight-or-flight response kick in when there was really no reason for it, when an almost routine, almost normal situation made you pause because it felt wrong, felt scary, felt funny?

I’m not really sure what the point of this post is. I was struck by the oddness of the situation on the trail and it made my mind wander a bit so now I’m sharing with you and maybe it will make your mind wander a bit too.

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every journey is different

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The stone-stepped path works its way toward the pass and then beyond, far out of sight but never out of mind. The destination is known and yet it is different for all who take the journey. Some find beauty. Some find strength. Some find what they were missing. Some find and so on and so on and so on… Like the rocks that line the trail and mark the passage of miles, the possibilities are beyond counting. And that is just the trail itself. There are even more possibilities for those who step off the well-worn paths and find their own way.

and then

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A breeze tugged at the hem of his robes.  He was aware of the slight play in his attire, as he was aware of everything around him, but it held no true interest or concern.  He simply catalogued the wind speed, should he have need to factor it into a spell later, and moved on.  There were miles yet to cover before the sun set on the day and the miles already covered had not been kind.

Puffs of dust lifted away from each footfall and then settled before the next step was taken.  It wasn’t the only sign of his passing, but these marks in the trail were the most obvious.  Not that he expected to be followed, or cared if he was, but he was still mindful of the evidence he left behind.  There were tricks and spells he could use to hide his back trail, but he was in too much of a hurry to bother.

The sun lowered itself upon the horizon, spreading the last of its warmth and glow in shrinking patterns and shapes.  He marked the stretching shadows.  He marked the settling chill.  He marked the changing colors in the sky above.  Each of these could be a factor if his magic was called upon.  Still, he progressed steadily forward.

When the moon decided to slip free from hiding, he would stop for the night and use its muted glow to make a hasty camp and eat.  He would trust his wards, woven into the fabric of the clothes he wore, to protect his short sleep and then in the morning, before the sun had begun to climb free of the opposite horizon, in its chase after the moon, he would journey on.

His destination waited two days ahead of him.  There would be a fight.  Blood would be spilled.  Hopefully not his own, but one could never be certain of these things before they had actually happened.  Still, even uncertain of the outcome, he must go.  He owed it to those who had gone before him.  He owed it to himself.

Thinking of the looming battle stirred emotions best left in check until his journey was over.  Electricity crackled from his clenched hands and fire roared briefly in his eyes.  Closing their lids, but not stopping his forward steps, he took a deep soothing breath and when he opened his eyes again the fire had gone.  He tucked his rage away, saving it to unleash when he arrived and faced his tormentors.  The fire rightfully belonged to them and they would see it in due time.

a new quest begins

The night crowed, sharp and crackling, and the following silence yawned menacingly.  It wasn’t only that the darkness could produce such sounds, but the opposite and distinct nature of them that was truly terrifying.  Pulling the hood closer around his face to keep it from catching in the breeze and exposing the sensitive flesh below, the man stepped away from the pool of light around his front door.  There were things out there, beyond his sight, that he needed to fear, but there were also things that feared him justifiably.  Even apex predators could be prey in the right circumstances.  It was the manner of the world.

 

The eyes of the night weighed upon the man, a burden he reluctantly shouldered, as he carefully walked the dirt path.  The intelligence behind those vibrant pupils marked his progress with trepidation and hunger.  He noted their distance and appetite, preparing for the inevitable.  Some would come, he knew.  Some always did.  His journey was worth the risk of battle, though.  The success of his mission was more important than any injury he might sustain from the beasts in the darkness.

 

A low growl hanging in the air, punctuated by the harsh snap of a grounded branch, were not enough to cause the man to change his calculated pace.  Each step along the path had to be taken with the utmost care to avoid entanglements with the vines and bushes that ventured over the edge of the hard-packed surface.  Hurrying would embolden those hunting him and make it harder to defend himself when they sprang at him.  The nearness of the danger, however, weighed on him and he shouldered the added burden with a grunt.  It was one more thing to carry along with his concerns, his provisions, the necessity of his task, the treacherous conditions, and the oppressive darkness.

 

The breeze stilled in anticipation and the air grew acrid with the stench of decay.  The man stalled his progress and steadied his feet, balanced in his stance and senses.  He felt the small shift in the air around him, instantaneously giving him the speed and direction of the attack, and brought his staff up to deflect the assault before the creature could sink its claws in him.  The crack of impact thundered against his ears, but he didn’t care as an approving smile spread across his lips.  The beast had been sent tumbling back into the darkness and the man had come through completely unscathed.

 

He began walking again.  There were still miles to go that night and his purpose could not be unduly delayed.  A single victory was meaningless against the adversary he faced, but the load he carried somehow felt lighter all the same.  The man knew that each subsequent victory would reduce the heavy weight from his heart and mind, and each step brought him closer to saving the one he loved.

what is it for you?

Image Credit: Studded Hearts

The light flashed across the slick blacktop, blinding for an instant before sliding away on its ever revolving path.  It would strike me three more times before I passed it by.  Four moments of sightless travel on a rain soaked journey through the darkness.  Is it faith, experience, or naiveté that carries me through those moments fearlessly?

The boy child from the equator has woken grumpy from his years-long nap.  The tantrum he shall unleash will cause mudslides, spinouts, fallen limbs and trees.  There will be damage and chaos, though he will take no delight in that aspect of it.  The child is too immature to know anything beyond whatever emotion currently holds sway.  My journey will intersect with his fussiness several times in the coming days and months.  Is it faith, experience, or naiveté that allows me to face each new drive without fear?

The future beckons from the horizon.  The world spins towards it but will never catch it.  The unknowns, the mysteries, the triumphs and the tragedies all remain elusively hidden just beyond our sight.  I will never know what twists and turns are waiting for me, but I venture out anyway. Is it faith, experience, or naiveté that fuels my fear free actions?

Or, is it something else?  A sense of responsibility?  A need to please those around me?  An ideal I’m striving for?

We face countless decisions each day that dictate the urgency with which we travel our unique paths and how close we allow those paths to veer towards danger.  And most of those decisions we make without actually giving any weighty thought to: driving cars, the food we eat and drink, sitting at computers eight hours a day, etc…  There is inherent risk in all of it.

So, what is it that allows us to so callously ignore these dangers every day?  Is it faith?  Is it experience?  Is it naiveté?  What is it for you?