I don’t know much, but I do know that nature heals. It heals me, at least. I’ve had one of the loneliest summers of my life. That’s not to say it’s been bad — it hasn’t, far from it — but I’ve held my loneliness deep inside me through these last few months. There were days when it spilled over. Sometimes that meant tears, sometimes it meant desperate phone calls to my mom or a friend, sometimes it meant reading an entire novel in a day. Sometimes it meant curling up with my favorite poetry collection by Mary Oliver, who speaks words I can never quite muster, getting some of the loneliness out. Or maybe just holding the loneliness in a nicer, kinder place.
I spent an afternoon in July in Boulder, Colorado, hiking an unknown trail at an altitude I’d just discovered and with elevation gains that left my legs and lungs screaming. Not only was I lonely – I was also very much alone. I rarely passed anyone on the trail. As I walked I focused on my breathing. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. I focused on what I could see and hear: trees thick with leaves, birds, the crackling of leaves signifying an unseen animal, the stream that curled around and below the trail, the sound of my boots on the rocks.
When I reached the top there were a lot of people. It’s a popular hike that leads to a beautiful arch in the style of Arches National Park with a stunning view of Boulder and Denver from the top. I snaked through the small groups and claimed a spot at the edge. I made a chipmunk friend and a couple of human ones. And then I left.
I didn’t write much in my journal about this day. There weren’t many words I could use to describe the weight that was lifted. The things that left me and the things that came. “I felt the layers of loneliness peeling from me like old skin. I cried more than once and I remember knowing, at least for a little while, that I have a place in this world.” As a little girl my sacred space was a nook in my favorite tree in our backyard together with a small stack of books. That hasn’t changed.
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled—
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing—
that the light is everything—that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and falling. And I do.
-Mary Oliver, “The Ponds”
(This is the beginning of a series of posts about my time in Colorado and Utah with a dear college friend. Day 1 was spent solo-adventuring in Boulder while Katie worked. I sat in the sunlight with a coffee and sweet potato muffin. I bought incense at a beautiful store around the corner. I took a nap. I hiked the Flatirons. And then I met Katie and her husband for a beautiful dinner before we left on our four-day road trip. Road trip posts coming soon.)