|Just me on Bear Creek Trail|
This weekend I went for a long solitary hike on Bear Creek Trail in Briones Regional Park. I heard it was good place for spring wildflower viewing, and I had been longing for a break from the "being stuck inside" times at the end of the rainy season in the Bay Area.
Up late the night before, perhaps a little hungover, a little dreamy and thoughtful, I packed some food and water and headed out. It was misty; what I call "unicorn fog" clung to the hills and the trees on them, thick and eerie like in a fairy tale. On the road out to the trail head, a raptor of some kind came gliding down in front of the car. I thought for an instant that I might hit it. I didn't, and the worry was replaced with the joy of "just having seen that."
There were only a few cars parked at the trail head, and there was no one around when I started down the path. I made sure to sign in at the registry and text a friend to let her know where I was, in case I disappeared or something. I was excited. I'd never been that park, and it was new, and it was all mine. So down the path I walked, taking in the views of the reservoir, moss covered trees, and carpets of teensy flowers.
I wasn't completely present. I was thinking through all the things that were happening in my life, sometimes close to the trail, sometimes floating in that rich and creative imaginary brain space. It wasn't until I was pretty far along, that I actually realized I was alone.
I usually hike with a buddy. Who knows what can happen? A twisted ankle or a wrong turn, God forbid some creepy molestory-type like what happens in every Lifetime movie ever made? Look, I'm not dumb. I'm a lady. I'm pretty small. I do not have any secret super powers. I know I am liberated, but it doesn't make me free.
When I had this realization, I stopped. I felt my foot fall back. Then my foot advanced. I rocked in place for a moment. I felt, I guess, fear: the collective weight of all the possibilities, the bad ones. I felt the wind rise up, and I listened to it flow through the trees and the grasses, and I heard some birds out on the water.
I thought about all the times I wanted true solitude out in nature, and all the times I wanted to stand on my own without any other observers or conversations or interjections, where I could feel exactly and only what I was feeling. I thought about how long I had longed for that and how terrifying it really was, not just the "alone-ness" but also the "being-ness."
With no audience beside myself, was I as authentic, as deep? I was afraid of all of the real contingencies, and of the emotional ones, as well.
|With only flowers to bear witness...|
As I stood on the path halfway between coming and going, I reminded myself that the first part of courage is seeing fear clearly, recognizing how scared you are, and then going forward, whether it's heart first into the forest or heart first into your own heart.
In her book True Refuge, Tara Brach writes "Our undefended heart can fall in love with life over and over every day. We become children of wonder, grateful to be walking on earth, grateful to belong with each other and to all of creation. We find our true refuge in every moment, in every breath. We are happy for no reason."
In that moment, looking clearly at my own fear, I felt, also, the deepest, strongest sense of pure happiness: I was alone, in the woods, and it was all mine, and it was beautiful.
I kept walking.