The following is a brief journal I kept during a solo back-packing trip through the Quilomene Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Washington State from May 1, 2010 to May 7, 2010. I was dropped off northeast of Ellensburg by a good friend, and picked up in Vantage by family a week later. This trip was different from other solo wilderness treks I have taken in that it was a desert environment (technically “High Steppe” geography) and that I had no specific route…just a destination.
As I have indicated before in this blog, I try to make these kinds of trips an annual practice, focusing on connecting with God through solitude, simplicity, and getting in touch with His creation. The words in italics are editorial comments I added while transcribing the hand written journal.
I’m surprised I made it out here at all based on how I felt this morning. The usual panic, fear, and sense of being a fool for engaging in this sort of thing all descended upon me heavily even BEFORE Shea (my ride) arrived to pick me up. I thought this meant that the feelings would not be so bad once I got out here.
Not at all.
Oh, God. I’m such an ass. So judgmental. So arrogant. No one has ever escaped my judging. Here I sit: “alone in my principles” (a reference to a line from the movie “That Thing You Do” spoken by the arrogant song writer in the band). Judging from a distance now. There is no hope for me apart from the grace of Christ. No hope at all.
This “being alone” is still so mysterious to me; so rare. I swing between my pulse racing with anxiety (for some reason I can’t quite identify) to sitting, apparently thoughtless and with no feelings at all, un-able to catch what I was just thinking about…because I was thinking about nothing at all. Those moments are very peaceful.
Found a magical place to camp next to Little Brushy Creek.
Dan, next time you blow through the Lobby at church or don’t answer the phone because you’re avoiding someone you’ve deemed “unlovely”, remember this moment alone as you weep for forgiveness next to Little Brushy Creek.
Alick (my Anam Cara or Spiritual Director) suggested the desert as a destination for this trip, and also said that I should “listen differently”. I’m still not sure what that entails, but I think I have noticed the following, however: Natural sounds (or should I say non-man-made sounds) are much less harsh than man-made sounds. There are no edges to natural sound – nothing sharp to cut your ears. At the same time, they seem to possess the same or similar power as any man-made sound. The Morning Canticle (a song in the Celtic Daily Prayer Morning Office) speaks of Christ as “lowly and meek, yet all-powerful.” It feels like that. Just the simple realization that the wind (which blows almost constantly here) makes no sound at all! The objects it MOVES make the sound (from tree limbs to ear drums). I have never heard a man-made sound like the call of the male Grouse; the deepest, most distinct yet soft-edged jack hammer conceivable.
I’m reminded of how fickle I am.
“If only the weather would stay just like this…”
“If the wind would pick up just a touch or blow from THAT direction, the tent would be cooler.”
“It figures! The ONE PLACE I need to drive a tent peg, and there’s an enormous rock!”
I (we) have a pretty narrow band of tolerance. They say we humans can survive in a broad temperature range, from, what…-40 to +120 degrees F…so about a 160 degree range? Yet the universe sees temperatures in the range of MILLIONS of degrees!?
Resisting. Always resisting what IS instead of resigning to what is.
At its core, it’s just original sin: From moment to moment I want to create my own reality, and resist what God has created/allowed, from the temperature to the surroundings to the placement of rocks! I get a little perturbed when things are not my way and so I resist.
THAT was Francis of Assisi’s gift: He just stopped resisting.
“It is not good for man to be alone.” As I lie here, frightened of this horrific wind storm (estimates are that there were 80 mph gusts that day) and all the potential danger from it, I realize how wonderful it would be to have someone to protect; to be brave for; to re-assure. Right now there is no one, and it is NOT good.
A new fear? Do I fear having to “endure”? My definition: To Endure – Tolerate prolonged suffering, pain, unhappiness or discomfort.”
Yet, “patient endurance attaineth to all things”! (A portion of the Celtic Daily Prayer Mid-Day Office)
This entry was made after the wind storm had passed.
Being out here results in gratitude: for calm winds, food, being able to hear the ticking of my watch. Have my ears cleared? Has the absence of harsh, man-made noise changed my hearing? Maybe no dairy for 3 days has cleared my sinuses J I dunno. But I’m grateful for small things. “God, grant me the ____________ to carry this gratitude back into real life.”
Romans 5:3 “We also rejoice in or sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance character and character, hope.”
I feel like I have this passage surrounded but not subdued. “Hope” has been a key word for months ever since God showed me the nature of “expectations” vs. “hope”. Granted I have spent more time simply being gratified by the fact I have been able to let go of expectations rather than un-packing what it means to hope…but I think I got it. And then on the other side is suffering. All during April, the daily readings in Celtic Daily Prayer were about suffering FOR Christ, LIKE Christ, WITH Christ. Then there was the first 3 days of this trip: The circumstances were fine: weather good, no serious injuries or pain…oh, but the SUFFERING! The internal turmoil has been huge. I wanted out of this so badly that I laid there in this tent during the wind storm, realized I had cellular service, and began formulating all kinds of machinations for how I could call someone to come and get me: feign and illness, an injury, equipment failure…bear attack. But I realized that even if I did find a way out…I’d just have to come back and try again. I had to endure.
Endurance. I’m AFRAID of perseverance. Perseverance is part of the squishy middle of the Romans 5 formula that I still don’t get. Suffering: O.k. Hope I get. But,
1. How does perseverance PRODUCE character?
2. What is character?
3. How does character produce hope?
Oh that night would come and surround me…sweet unconsciousness to wipe away the boredom…alone with the frightening thoughts, alone with the knowledge that God’s presence, prayer and God’s Word do not fill me. To be alone and bored is suffering. To be alone and bored with THAT knowledge is torture.
Today was different. It all came home. It all connected. I got up, but didn’t set out until 8:00 (instead of 6:00) and moved at my “old” pace: strict, 2 mph, stopping every 50 minutes for a 10 minute break. PATIENT endurance. I didn’t just ENDURE. I PATIENTLY endured today.
I realized that I’m a pilgrim – not a hermit. Perhaps to be an anchorite is far too advanced for me. All I know is that while I was moving I was mostly o.k., but not moving FAST, not driven, just walking. My body responded better, my heart and my soul too.
I think I learned this before…years ago. Bone head.
Perseverance. Not getting it “out”, not getting it “done” and then sitting on my hands for hours. It’s more subtle than that. I mean, I hiked from 8:00 till 4:00 (with my breaks) and I’m beat, but I’m done and I’m not even CLOSE to the internal state I was in the other 4 days. I have a blood blister, a rash, extremely sore feet, but I’m pretty damn happy.
This brings me to another learning. Planning is NOT weakness (like the committee in my head claims that it is). Just wandering as opposed to a daily plan and destinations/mileages sounded good.
It’s not good.
Patient endurance attaineth to ALL things, emphasis on “ALL”. Not just the goal, or the destination but one attains the experience, peace, maybe even character?