December 22, 2016
On this winter solstice, I’ve found myself meditating on what a tremendous gift our natural world is.
This August, I hiked up one of Mt. Mitchell’s main trails to the summit. I had arrived there several times before by bike and a couple by car, but this was the first time powered by just my own two feet. Mt. Mitchell is the crown of the Black Mountains and the highest point east of the Mississippi. With my 50th birthday a couple months away, I found myself magnetically drawn to this place. It was not the first time I would climb that majestic peak this fall.
While milling around among the crowds of people who had driven to the top just so they could take photos for Facebook, I spotted a side trail and followed it down the back of the mountain. As it meandered over rocky terrain away from the crowds, at some magical point I realized I was surrounded by the kind of silence that is defined by the absence of human noise. I was still under that dense spruce-fir canopy, but this kind of silence opened up space all around me. I had been craving this, without realizing it until that moment. I kept going. Soon I caught the faint, tantalizing sound of running water. I would have to venture off the trail to find it, and that’s exactly what I was going to do.
The sound got louder as I crouched and pushed aside branches. Louder still. Finally, the woods opened, and my ears were filled with the glorious chaos of a majestic crashing waterfall. Soaked with sweat from 10 miles of hard hiking, I looked down and saw my clothes as an outrageous burden, the only remaining obstacle between my soul and the perfect alignment with nature I had been closing in on all day. I left them in a pile. I stepped carefully over mossy rocks that had existed for millions of years only to find their way to those exact spots. What similarly mysterious forces smoothed my rough edges and brought me here to take note of them in this moment? I felt exhilaration as I slipped into that cold mountain stream. One day I might try to find my way back to this spot, but I knew without a doubt that this moment was as utterly unique as it was perfect. And that it was a gift for me alone.