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You are here: Home Resources E-Newsletter Archive Winter 2010, Issue VIII Gratitude for Gaining the Eyes to See

Gratitude for Gaining the Eyes to See

A story from the field by Kirt Hodges, the 2010 Program Coordinator for the Solo Crossing.

By Kirt Hodges, Program Coordinator

“The love of wilderness is more than a hunger for what is always beyond reach; it is also an expression of loyalty to the Earth...the only home we shall ever know, the only paradise we ever need – if only we had the eyes to see.”

--Edward Abbey

When I was working as the Programs Director at the Vertical World climbing gym in Seattle, there was one particular poster on the gym walls that always resonated with me.  It was a photo of a woman poised high on a ruddy-colored rock wall, with a quote written next to her that read, “I do not conquer that which is my partner.”  This poster struck me as a refreshing perspective in the culture of climbing, a field littered with language like “peak-bagging” and “face-bossing.”

I felt a sense of irritation rise in me when I heard those words, but I kept it to myself as we continued on the trail.  We trudged slowly up the mountain on our big climb of a trail day toward the Low Divide, a glorious mountain pass of small lakes, alpine parks, and steep craggy walls leading to white mountaintops.  As we climbed toward the Divide, the tree canopy began yielding glimpses of distant snowy summits, to our awe and exclamation.  The foreground, too, burst more vividly with each step as columbine, tiger and avalanche lilies, paintbrush, shooting stars, and an assortment of other alpine flowers hemmed-in the narrow trail.  First one, then another, and another...participants, in their excitement, began grabbing for flowers, stuffing them behind their ears, and pressing them in their journals.  I felt that same irritation rise and grow at this sight, but still, I kept it largely to myself as I worked to put the right words to my feelings and waited for the right moment to speak them.

I looked around at the youth in my care, and I knew we were finally on the same page: nobody had conquered this lake by swimming in it, nor had anyone “poned” any mountain to reach this lake; it was a gift of a moment within a gift of a place, presented to us in subtlety by the Powers That Be.  It held the sudden feeling of a homecoming.  While it was the first time any one of our crew had placed a foot on this site, it yielded a clearly familiar feeling underfoot. 

“Wow, I want to stay here forever,” one of the girls said to no one in particular, standing nearly waist-deep in alpine lakewater as her gaze scanned about the scenery in doe-eyed circles.  What had escaped our little tribe in the exhiliration of the river crossing or the giddy excitement of the mountain flank full of wildflowers was the plain truth of our enchanted evening: a personal knowing of our wild, native home.

“From whom or what did you take the flowers you picked this afternoon – from what purpose did you remove them when they became your adornment or your souvenir?  Who really conquered what at the river crossing this morning?  To whom – and to how many – do we owe thanks and gratitude for the moment we shared swimming in the lake this evening?…”  It took no effort for the questions to come flowing forward at our evening council that night.  With candles before us, honoring the Directions and gently illuminating our faces, and with the unveiled heavens shining over our heads with the sharpness and clarity of crystal, there was certainly no heavy hand involved in pulling out the strong, heartfelt responses from the voices of the circle.  

With tear-stained faces, full bellies, and exhausted bodies, we released the Directions as we blew out our candles on the way to bed, seeing truly that we were held deeply in the only paradise we would ever need, our Grandmother Earth.

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