September 2003, I was in the midst of 20-day backpacking trip traversing the John Muir Trail, which follows the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains from Yosemite to Mt. Whitney. In the months leading up to this trek I prepared physically and mentally. Although, I had some experience camping and completed many day hikes but never before had I been in a situation where all life sustaining material would be carried in a 40-pound backpack so far away from civilization.
Aside from looking forward to the challenges to mind and body, I eagerly anticipated a rush of the creative inspiration. I packed multiple journals and writing instruments, as I knew I would return from the mountains with volumes of new poetry, story ideas and essays. However, that first evening in the wilderness as I sat on a rock overlooking a lake preparing to write, I could not.
I was overcome with the majesty and awe inducing beauty of my surroundings. Persisting to conjure some reflection I half-heartedly scribbled that I could not find anything to say and did not know why. This exercise repeated itself for the next several days: before breakfast; stopping for lunch and settling into camp in the evening. Eventually, I gave up trying to write and just sat. On a boulder. A log. On the side of a creek.
Often thoughts about the world I left behind would come to mind, but they were fleeting. At that elevation—for most of the trip we were between 5,000 and 10,000 feet—there is not much wildlife to observe. Occasionally, a whistling marmot caught my attention or while staring up at the towering juniper, cedar and pine trees I’d ponder their longevity and despite the tumult of the developed world they endured undisturbed.
The more I came to accept being present in the environment and the moment, I became increasingly aware of a presence much larger than myself and all that was physically apparent. From the clarity of distant constellations in the night’s sky, the pristine lakes, rivers and streams teeming with mineral deposits, to the rugged mountain peaks pushed up by tectonic pressure and carefully sculpted by glaciers many millennia ago, I began to see and feel God.
Not as an otherworldly or supernatural being, but manifest in the world around. God was the grove of Quaking Aspen full of golden leaves and the soothing hot springs which enveloped my body at the conclusion of lengthy a trek. Freed from the cacophony of technology, bills, information and other obligations, I experienced an all-powerful and encompassing God.
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