Free and Wild

“By yourself?” They always ask, as if the thought of camping and exploring by oneself is incomprehensible.

“Yes, by myself,” I reply.

“What about bears?” they ask.

Bears are awesome. Such strength. I respect the bear.

I know that my adventures out in the wild and in the National Parks by myself is not very common, but I have never felt among danger in the parks. To me they are safe places, beautiful sanctuaries, removed from the troubles of human society where the greatest danger to man is the fellow man. Here in the bliss of the wild, wrapped among ponderosa pines, hidden in grand canyons and peaceful deserts, with the company of the rushing river and solace of the moon, gazing at majestic mountains and stretching prairies, here I am at home. Here I find myself closer to the perfection of God. The wilderness has never felt dangerous to me, but to me it is the safest place I can be. It’s a place of healing, where the creator himself locks eyes with his creation and speaks to me.

Alone in the wild has never brought loneliness, because alone in the wild is to truly be in the company of many- the whispering trees, the roaring waters, the howling, the singing, the calling. All together they form an orchestra with one voice pointing me to and drawing me back to the source of all life. Theodore Roosevelt, one of my most admired adventurers said, “The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom.” Freedom waits there to be found in the wilderness, and once you find it, you are free, free to run up mountain sides, slide into ravines, stroll through deserts, venture through caves, admire crashing waves, and ponder canyon depths.

So a better question than “by yourself?” would be “free and wild?” and, yes, I would reply, free and wild.

The National Park system consists of 59 official National Parks, but over 400 park units, which means in addition to those parks which bear the simple title of “National Park” there are also National Historic Parks, National Recreation Areas, National Rivers, Seashores, Lakeshores and a simply an extensive gamut of sites managed by the National Park Service. It is my goal to visit the core 59 National Parks and visit as many other sites I can along the way. As of now I have visited 23 National Parks and because my experiences within these parks has been so extensive, I have decided now is the time to share with you all that I have seen and experienced. In these parks not only can I recount for you many intriguing real life adventures, but I can also share with you my musings and moments of inspiration, all the internal things I found in these places. Because just as great is the wilderness around me, so too my mind is a great  wilderness. The living landscape and the beauty of the physical wilderness around me illuminates and inspires that which grows wild within me.

She sat next to me on the airplane repeatedly puckering her lips and taking selfies with her phone. She had to be somewhere in her 20s. She took out her make up, then attempted to tweak her image to perfection. “So where are you going?” she asked. I shared with her my plans to visit 13 National Parks this summer.

“By yourself?” she questioned me.

“Yes, by myself.”

“In a tent?” she asked, after I shared my camping plans. “You cannot camp in a tent out West. All the snakes and scorpions will get inside while you are sleeping. You have to sleep in a hammock.” I was unphased by her remarks. I knew better. “I’m not worried. I was out West last summer and only encountered a rattlesnake once on a trail. It was no big deal.”

“I’m not scared of rattlesnakes either. I used to pick them up and play with them back home in Tennessee when I was a kid,” she explained. I did not buy this.

“What are your plans?” I inquired.

“First off I’m going to relax by my friend’s pool in Phoenix.” Those were not her exact words, for her words were much more vulgar. I really don’t know why she felt she needed to make amiable conversation into something so repulsive. She then proceeded to tell me of her plans to backpack with her friends into the Grand Canyon and stay two nights.

“Do you know how much water I should bring?” She inquired, then proceeded with: “…I mean, I have a couple of water bottles.”

I’m thinking to myself, you’re telling me it’s too dangerous to sleep in a tent in the desert, yet you are the one who is entertaining the thought that maybe two water bottles will be enough for a two night backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon.

“You’re going to need about a liter or two every hour. You are going to need gallons of water and you should carry a water filter,” I corrected. “You can never have too much water in the desert.”

As she continued to take more pucker faced selfies I thought to myself, this is a prime example of what I hope to get away from on this trip- the vulgar and self absorbed.  This girl’s friends are going to have to carry her out of the Grand Canyon, I thought. I sure hope her friends know what they are doing.

 

I stepped out of Phoenix Sky-Harbor into 106 degrees, which to me felt great. The warmth of the desert in the summertime is such an embracing comforting feel. However, I ran out of space when packing my suitcase, so I was wearing layers and was first burning up before I could enjoyed the dry heat blowing across my skin. My first task was checking out my rental car. I was able to secure a whole month for $600. I chose the Hyundai Accent, because it’s what I drive, and I know it has super great gas milage and is a tough little vehicle. After renting one the previous summer and taking it backcountry on dirt roads in Death Valley, crossing the Mojave Desert, and having it climb up to summits in the Sierra Nevada, I knew it was the vehicle I wanted to partner with for a while.  My first stop with my vehicle was at a Chipotle, to load up on some calories for the adventure ahead. Here in the parking lot I was able to finally shed layers and feel a less suffocating Arizona welcome. Next, I went to Wal-Mart to stock up on water, an essential move. Then, finally, with great anticipation I was off to my first truly notable destination- Saguro National Park.

Check out the account of Saguaro National Park: Land of Killer Bees here: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2017/04/11/saguaro-national-park-land-of-killer-bees/

From the Mountain Top

The rivers and streams below me are so busy. I hear water rush over rocks and fall. But up here, above the forest, in the clouds, on the rocky tops, all their efforts seem trivial.

I observe as the clouds, the mist, the fog below me crawls, rises, and expands. The landscape grows larger. New windows open displaying distant peeks and lowest valleys.

From the depths everything rises. The trees in all directions stretch as high as they can. The mountains point to the sky and roll on their backs, gazing above in wonder. The fog slowly, steadily, in all directions, rises to blend into the white sky- majestically, beautifully, like praise being lifted into heaven.

And what do I see? What do I feel? That all my efforts are but rushing water. Life throws me into a river- all endeavors are to keep the water flowing. But here on the mountain top I find perspective. The landscape of life is much larger than my river and the beauty much greater than what I see.

One day I will leave my river. My spirit will rise like the fog, and the clouds will part ways to reveal a vista complete.

But now I return to the forest, to the water- to the rush and the flow, yet I know I am only below, and above I am a part of something bigger.

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The Canyons in My Life

I looked down over an expanse and saw a whole different world. Perched on its edge, I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I would explore its grand expanse and profound depths. For now, the vista in front of me was so massive and colorful that my mind couldn’t take it all in, but I could admire the thousand shades of color, from rich red, to golden orange, pale brown, and deep purple. I entertained thoughts concerning the world below me, all the different nooks and crannies, all the different river ways, and the solitary towers of rock leaving islands in the sky. I could conjure up stories of adventure in the depths and speculate the history of people living in and passing through the narrows. Canyons are rich for the imagination and profound for inspiration.

At just around sunset I started this hike along the canyon rim at Canyonlands National Park. It had been a full day of hiking many trails and covering many miles. I felt accomplished, but I was getting tired and I wanted time to wind down, so just a leisurely stroll along the canyon rim at sunset seemed perfect.

When I go hiking I always end up taking away more than I can imagine, nothing physical, but rather inspiration, reassurance, and healing. Nature has a way of bringing about these things, and I’ve lived enough life to know that nature itself is not some mystical magical entity, but rather I believe nature is a creation designed purposefully to appeal to man and take him to depths of self actualization and to intimacy with God.  Often times when I go hiking alone, I find it to be the perfect time to pause, reflect, and just be in the presence of God. Out in the solace of His natural beauty, its sometimes easier to hear God speak. I have seen this evident in my own life in many instances, God uses natural beauty to speak to me. The rocks, the trees, the towering mountains, and canyon depths are designed to have meaning. They are symbols.

As I was was hiking along that rim, I was reflecting on my life, trying to pinpoint where exactly in my life I was feeling a corrosive emptiness and deficit, despite my fleeting feelings of accomplishment. I was pouring out to God this discontentment, and feeling of inadequacy. This was something that had plagued me for a while. I felt I was just not doing something right, that I wasn’t living up to my potential, and that my character was lacking something.

While I was feeling these heavy emotions, the sun was hidden behind a cloud and therefore the  countless canyons of Canyonlands were dark, mysterious, and seemingly bottomless. Lines separating the sections of the canyon were blurred from lack of sunlight. In this moment, suddenly it hit me, the realization that my own life has a number of canyons- deep and dark places where light just doesn’t shine, where the lines are blurred. I wasn’t sure exactly what those canyons were and what was the cause of them, but I knew there were dark places in my life where lines that separate truth from lies had been blurred, places that were corrosive that continued to grow deeper and darker. I asked God to show me the canyons in my life.

Canyons are very interesting things in relation to life. They are cavities in the earth’s surface caused by erosion over time. They are huge but can begin forming by something so simple as just a crack. Water eats away and erodes the trivial into something massive. However other times the impetus for formation is the land itself shifting as plates collide and move. And so the dark places in our lives can form very much like canyons. They may start as something trivial on the surface, a seemingly harmless sin, which over time can erode a person’s life. Sometimes those cracks we aren’t even responsible for, but they are caused by the abuse of others which start to erode our very being. Other times these canyons are formed by major life events, with loss or dramatic changes, when we feel the earth is pulled right out from under us.

As I was reflecting on canyons and their relevance to life, inspired by all the metaphors I could apply to life, suddenly the sun broke through an opening in the clouds. Beams of warm yellow light shot down and reached a number of canyons. The beams of light were situated at just the right angle that they illuminated the deepest canyons. And just like that a number of dark and dreary canyons became strikingly beautiful and awesome, no longer dreary and dark but rich in color and light.

At this moment God spoke to me, not in any audible voice but rather more directly, right to my soul. He told me that he can take the canyons in my life and turn them into something beautiful. Tears began to roll down my face in response to the beautiful parallels God was making and hearing His voice, which had seemed absent in my life for quite some time.

My first response was thankfulness, thankful that God met me here, literally out wandering in the desert. Secondly, I began searching my life for canyons. That evening I wasn’t sure of the canyons in my life, but I was ready to face them. I was inspired to seek change in my life and let God illuminate those dark places in my life.

This was a couple months ago when this happened. I have been able to identify some canyons in my life. I know one of my most profound canyons is selfishness, which is a complex and sprawling canyon.  I am still on a quest to find the rest of my canyons, confront them, and let God’s light transform them into something beautiful. I love how God is transformative and resourceful. He doesn’t let bad experiences and choices in life exist without redemption. God uses the dark places in our lives and illuminates them to bring him glory and fulfill his purpose.

If you are reading this I encourage you to take a hike out in nature and talk to God and ask him to show you your own canyons. I am uncertain of all my canyons, but I know God will lead me to them, and he can lead you to yours too.

I encourage you to try this whether you have faith in God or not. Just go out in nature and reflect on the places in life you need to work on to be a better you- the “canyons”. I pray that on your quest to find your canyons that you encounter God, because I’m telling you, there’s nothing more powerful.