Colors blind the eye. Sounds deafen the ear. Flavors numb the taste. Thoughts weaken the mind. Desires wither the heart.
The Master observes the world but trusts his inner vision. He allows things to come and go. His heart is open as the sky.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 12
Traveling North, threading my way midway between the paved-over urban communities and the many Woodlands, I was about to make a right turn, East. To a land that can only be described as Magical.
The terrain changed from golden rolling hills and densely planted fields to Forests.
The roads shifted from their North-South Axis into the Serpentine. Slithering along in ever-repeating S-shaped fractals, undulating upward and downward as the terrain became more and more mountainous.
It’s hard to paint of picture of how the coniferous forest just popped up from nowhere. But there you were, facing Incense Cedar, Sierra Juniper, Pine, Hemlock, Fir, and Yew.
Intermixed with these cone-bearing, needled-leaved Souls stood Birch, Alder, Dogwood, Laurel, Maple, Oak, Poplar, Black Cottonwood, Willow and the Quaking Aspen. A thriving, diverse Universe that puts us humans in our tiny place.
A bit of perspective on just how small we all really are.
And as I climbed in elevation on those roads without shoulders or guardrails, looking into those endless valleys, the Northern landscape suddenly turned black and barren. The result of a wildfire having scoured a portion of the gorge-lands. Bleak and ever so reminding of how acting recklessly with Coyote’s stolen gift from the Gods could devastate such an expanse of habitat for all of the many Medicines of the Forest.
But rebirth was beginning to reclaim all that was lost. Being born from the ashes. As we can be in our own lifetimes, if we’d only set fire to all that unnecessarily burdens us. Artificially self-generated and perpetuated boulders and boundaries that can be cast aside, returned to the ash-pile, freeing our Minds. Our Bodies. Our Souls. And if you can’t do that consciously on your own intention just drive through that “Tunnel.” “Wawona Tunnel.”
A corridor to another space and time.
And when you emerge, it takes your breath away. Completely. And you no longer need oxygen to sustain you.
The “Valley.” Yosemite in all its grandeur.
Sure, you’ve seen pictures, even my own with this post. But the first-hand experience is totally different. Hypnotizing. Intoxicating.
Touching, tasting, hearing, smelling – you can feel it in every pore all at once. Like a simultaneous explosion of awe and love. Sight is something altogether different when our senses are flooded with such vastness. Such majesty.
A place where you can hear Colors. Taste the Air. Bathe in distant Waterfalls. Trace, by touch, the oblique and climbing Mountain Slopes. Traverse the expansive Woodlands through your Mind’s Eye. Speak, without sound, to the Bear and share in its introspection.
A cross-threading of neural pathways. Electrifying every cell in your Brain.
And all while standing still. In silence.
If there was anything that could convey the underlying transcendent Unity of all Truths, that Perennial Philosophy, the Quintessence of all Spirituality, it is Yosemite.
“Ahwahnee,” or “Mouth,” as it was called by the mixed renegade members from the Southern Miwok and Paiute Tribes because the Valley Walls appeared to be an open Bear’s mouth. They called themselves the “Ahwahnechee,” or dwellers of Ahwahnee.
“Yohhe’meti,” as known to the Central Miwok Tribe, translates to “Those who Kill,” and referred to the Yosemite People, the Ahwahnechee, who were greatly feared by the surrounding tribes.
Ultimately, as a result of mistranslations of Yohhe’meti and the phonetically similar Miwok word “Uzumate” meaning Grizzly Bear, the U.S. Military named the valley “Yosemite” – “Grizzly Bear.”
And before I leave word translation, I should mention that the word “Wawona,” that is borne by that tunnel, came from the Miwok Tribe’s word “Who-Who’nau.” Which refers to the hoot of the Owl. Considered to be the Guardian Spirit of the Giant Sequoia Trees. A Spirit I’m very familiar with.
It was here, in the former land of the Grizzly, that I’d embark on a few “jaunts.”* My base would be a tent awaiting for me on the Valley Floor.
Now the word “jaunt” implies ease, and it was easy making the drive to Glacier Point. Looking out over or down from this vantage point, one can see Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Half Dome and another dozen or more major rock formations.
It looked as though you could simply reach out and touch those waterfalls. Feel those cold, clear waters between your fingers. The distances miniaturized in the expansive landscape view. But the hikes up to those falls, would not be a mere “jaunt.”
In fact, while the hike up to the top of Yosemite Falls was on switch backs, it’s essentially straight up. One of the hardest three and a half miles I ever trekked with a total elevation gain of 3900 feet.
I guess I was sandwiched in the middle of the hikers that day. Between a mixed-aged group leaving me in their dust, and groups of “youngsters” in their 20s and 30s who were in my dust. Seeing the pain in their faces, and hearing their labored breathing when taking breaks, many wisely turned back.
Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. Reach, and it can’t be grasped.
Above, it isn’t bright. Below, it isn’t dark. Seamless, unnamable, it returns to the realm of nothing. Form that includes all forms, image without an image, subtle, beyond all conception.
Approach it and there is no beginning; follow it and there is no end. You can’t know it, but you can be it, at ease in your own life. Just realize where you come from; this is the essence of wisdom.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 14
Each day in this wonderland, I was visited by my brothers and sisters Deer, a never ceasing reminder of the Medicine of Gentleness that I was receiving throughout my days on the road. One morning, five juvenile bucks took their time crossing the road in front of me, by a pedestrian crosswalk no less, giving me ample time to enjoy their company.
The number five, in numerology, represents being versatile and actively awaiting change. And, indeed, change was manifesting. A change in myself and my direction.
It wouldn’t be long before this group disbanded, the males all seeking solitude intermixed with brief encounters with the matriarchal doe clans. I too was seeking solitude, and it can be found even if standing among a million faces.
Adding to the Deer’s Medicine of Gentleness was the Medicine of Introspection I previously mentioned. I saw its representatives here during my hikes – two Black Bears. They had obviously been out from their hibernation for some time and had duly brought their weight class back up from Winter’s rest. If you want to feel the insignificance of your own power, get close to a bear.
I embarked upon a new adventure daily, and my first major hike was to climb up to the top of Vernal Falls and then on to Nevada Falls. I got off to an early start, but found myself rapidly enveloped in a sea of people.
Yet the further we climbed, as with all of my hikes here, the less people made the journey. But there were some that were prepared to travel even further. Past Nevada Falls to make the hike up Half Dome, an adventure I wasn’t physically prepared to take on this trip.
Now I’m not sure if my words can convey the majesty of the views there, but looking down into the Valley from on top of these falls was simply incredible. Water, one of the four major elementals that gives rise to all life, was truly in its raw form. Not hampered by human interference, these rushing waters continued to carve that Valley, much like the glaciers of ancient times.
Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it.
The soft overcomes the hard; the gentle overcomes the rigid. Everyone knows this is true, but few can put it into practice.
Therefore, the Master remains serene in the midst of sorrow. Evil cannot enter his heart. Because he has given up helping, he is people’s greatest help.
True words seem paradoxical.
Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, Chapter 78
There’s something very satisfying about making a high climb and then looking down. An exhilaration which might explain the addiction I have to such activities. This exhilaration is also contagious, spreading to all around and feeding into an even greater high for everyone “present.”
Present in Awareness.
Once I passed Vernal Falls and reached the top of Nevada Falls, I violated one of my steadfast rules. I always spot a turn-around point. A place on the trail where my gut tells me is unsafe to cross. I usually detect some sort of sign marking that point. It could be a Butterfly, or a falling leaf, or just a shadow, or movement in my peripheral vision. But there is always a clear line of demarcation in my mind where I just know it’s time to stop.
As I prepared to do just that, stop and turn around, I decided to take a just a few more steps on the trail that leads up to Half Dome. A huge mistake on my part as I tripped on a rock concealed by loose dirt and fell.
I shifted to my left to avoid my right shoulder instinctively because of rotator cuff tears and landed square on my left side. On all of my previous injuries from my fall in the Canyon.
But if there is one thing positive to be said about pain, it’s that it forces you into the here and now. It brings you into the realm of immediate experience and pulls you out of the dream state of mind.**
It was during my descent that I met some real hikers, much younger men carrying 60-pound packs. They had stayed in the Wilderness for 4 days and hiked some 70 miles in the Sierras. My hike that day was ten miles with my 14 pound day-pack, and that was sufficient for me.
There was, however, something of import that I did begin to feel on these ten miles. Perhaps more significant than what those other hikers experienced. I’m not sure if it was in the way I walked. The spring in my step. My bountiful strides. The way I held my head up. Smiled more. Greeted everyone with the shining in my eyes.
Or was it simply the Wondrous Souls I was meeting along the way.
Whatever it was radiating off of me, the people I was meeting were all receptive — looking and responding to me differently than others had in years past. I felt a glimmering kind of kindness. Of appreciation. Of Love. Love of others and love of self. Love of Nature and all that surrounded us.
Being on the road, on the trail, seems to be, for me at least, what brings out that shine. And I was rebounding from some years of trauma in both my personal and career lives. This constant motion in Nature was the Medicine. And I was receiving just the dose I needed.
I was healing, but it was a different kind of healing. It was a healing of the Soul. And I believe that when our Souls are whole, we radiate unconditional love. And unconditional love, from any source is an all powerful healer of any ailment.
Needing a more restful day before tackling Yosemite Falls, I headed North to Luken Lake,
and Tuolumne Meadows.
Such contrasting landscapes make you feel as if you are constantly being transported to different worlds.
I spent my early mornings and my evenings along the Merced River. A perfect place for peaceful meditation.
And when the day came to ascend Yosemite Falls, I felt prepared for the inner battle that would take place. The fight to maintain stamina. To use will power when physical strength began to fail. And I would need it.***
The views on the hike up were amazing.
And they keep getting better as you reach the top to see Yosemite Creek, where it takes its mammoth 2,425 foot plunge to the Valley below.
There are signs at the top of the Falls to remind people to stay away from the edge as there are “No Second Chances.” Actually, this is not a bad statement to keep in mind as we face each day.
We can never reclaim the time that’s passed.
Being a wordsmith, I didn’t really expect that I would run out of words to describe this place of healing, and there is just too much to relay with words, or in a single blog post, so I will leave you with a few more pics . . .
“As the soft yield of water cleaves obstinate stone, so to yield with life solves the insolvable.
To yield, I have learned, is to come back again.”
-Lao Tzu Chapter 43
All my words and pics are copyrighted and cannot be used in any manner without express permission of the author – Me 🙂
Quotes: All quotes from Lao Tzu and his Tao Te Ching came from the Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao.
Photos: All of my photos are captioned with the exception of the feature photo – that being an old bridge over the Merced River. And the final pic, which is of Vernal Falls.
The imagery and metaphors associated with “Bridges” and “Falls” are just too numerous to list, so have a little fun with your imagination and think about how those analogies and metaphors fit into this story or perhaps your story. 🙂
* The reason I say the former land of the Grizzly, is that Grizzly bears were totally eradicated from California by 1924. When the European Alien Immigrants arrived it was estimated that 10,000 Grizzlies occupied the territory that came to be present day California. It didn’t take long for them to murder them all. See The California Grizzly .
** My Previous injuries from the Canyon. For those of you who missed some previous posts of mine, I took a little spill down some unforgiving rocks while in the Grand Canyon before I arrived at Yosemite. In short, the worst of it was five cracked or severely-bruised left ribs. When I left Yosemite, I had the opportunity to go swimming and when I tried to swim underwater my rib cage would start collapsing from the pressure. It took a few months to totally heal, but I couldn’t let that stop me from enjoying new adventures. 🙂
*** Stamina is the Medicine of the Elk, something that I plan to address more in a future post.
Moving On – The Medicine of the Deer by Harold Stearley
I was unlacing my boots at the end of a long day. As I zig-zagged the laces in reverse to free them from their hooks down towards my ankles, I could feel the heat escaping, the pressure lifting.
Loosening the remaining half of the laces that extended through the half dozen grommets to the boot’s toe, I then lifted them, one at a time, off my feet and let them drop to the floor with an oh-so familiar thud.
My right ankle throbbed.
Ten hours on the road wasn’t that bad because I love being in motion, but I was in Bear country now. Absolutely everything had to be emptied out of my car and carried to my room. And I had packed for four months. More than I needed on a daily basis, but I was prepared. As were the Bears.
Bears are smart.
They’ll tear up a car trying to get to a cooler, even if it’s empty. Nothing that emits an odor can be left behind. Leave a tube of sunscreen in the glove compartment and you’ll awaken to one ugly mess of an automobile.
So, I took a short break from writing after my most recent experience in having my words ripped off. That sounds funny, almost literal, as though the page I had written upon had been torn from my journal and pasted into another’s. I suppose that’s as literal a vision as it gets here in this digital world. One of mysterious computer languages. Encrypted hieroglyphics. Translated. Captured.
As of the day of this writing, I had actually begun working on another travel story but my mind was pulled in multiple different directions.
I don’t remember where I heard this expression. Or perhaps I never did. It may have sprung into the recesses of my mind. From a dream. A whisper from the wind. An echo from the stars. But I use it sparingly. With depth of heart. For it holds several meanings to me.
I’ve been writing about that urge to roam. To travel freely. Unencumbered. To experience the world through the lens of constant motion.
My first post in this series introduced the terms “Dromomania” and “Drapetomania,” which placed this desire squarely in the medical model for disease. The word “disease” itself has been defined as: “a condition of the living animal or plant body, or of one of its parts, that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms” that is “not simply a direct result of physical injury.” A disease has also been said to be “a particular quality, habit, or disposition regarded as adversely affecting a person or group of people.”*
And there are four main types of disease: infectious, deficiency, hereditary, and physiological diseases. Diseases can be communicable or non-communicable, and when we have absolutely no idea what causes one, we call it “idiopathic.”
And let’s not forget mental or psychogenic diseases.
In fact, the suffix “mania,” in dromomania and drapetomania, arguably places the old terminology squarely in that category of mental illness.
So, is the compulsion to flee, to explore, to wander the world, a mental disorder? And what are those so-afflicted fleeing from?
We’ve all heard the stories of Cortez conquering the Aztecs and Pizzaro conquering the Incas, but we often only hear the stories of those who are regarded as conquerors. The victors. Even if their acts were entirely atrocious and inhumane.
I often write about my travels and the things I experience while traveling. The adventure of it. 😊 Particularly getting back to Nature and hiking in the wilderness. Something I do whenever possible. And the urge to travel, or to continue traveling once on the road, is always at the surface.
Lingering, like a Tiger ready to pounce on its prey.
Frankly, I like that feeling. For it drives me to drive. Gives me reason and purpose. An impetus to greet Grandfather Sun each day.
International Women’s Day was yesterday. To honor it last year, I made a post about my daughter. Today, I’ll honor my mother.
My mom grew up on a farm in southern Michigan. The closest “big town” was Sylvania, Ohio. As soon as she could, she left the farm and found work in Toledo. While there, she also sold War Bonds for WWII and was a “War Bond Captain.”
Intro: I wrote this story back in 1993, describing some of my time on the road between 1978 and 1980. I had packed up and bugged out after a little run-in with the law.
Something sparked the memory, and I dug out a copy of the publication it appeared in at the time – “Out Your Backdoor.”
I found it fun to look back at my writing style then. Not that much different from today.
I was trying to break into freelance writing and looking for small publications that would pick up an article – payment was usually a couple copies of the newsletter, magazine, or journal, or whatever print media it might have been.