All the while we were setting up camp, Forrest and I were riding a mountain-high, just buzzing with the happy sweetness that comes from the rootbeer-scent of Jeffry Pine, the whisper-sound of wind in tree limbs, and the breath-stopping sight of Clarkia and other wildflowers.
I grilled up a breakfast scramble for us, and one of the rangers stopped by to make sure we were getting settled ok.
Princeton, the ranger, was a really nice and funny guy. He told me stories about this old woman who lived all alone up in a hidden corner of the park where she brewed herbal remedies for all types of ailments.
All the travel tired out Aya, so after a quick shower to wash the smoke out of her hair, she took an afternoon nap on an old log. I smiled seeing her sleeping there, thinking she looked as peaceful as a child.
Later, Forrest showed her the clouds. I couldn’t tell which of them was happier–Forrest to be the one to point out to her the clouds or Aya to have Forrest showing them to her.
It just felt amazing–so free and so completely full of joy–to be out there under the pines.
Early the next morning, before anyone else awoke, I headed out. I just wanted time to run on my own, follow the bird calls and chase the wind, and follow any old path I wanted.
There were birds everywhere!
I followed the birds through meadows.
Bald eagles and red-tailed hawks soared above every open spot!
I found an overgrown trail, and since I was alone, I didn’t have to check to make sure that everybody was up for exploring it. I was up for exploring, and that’s all that mattered!
I came out into the most amazing clearing, way high up in the mountain, in a meadow ringed with wildflowers.
I thought of the herbalist the ranger had told me about. Oh, what a life! I could so imagine spending my life up here, alone, learning the secrets of the wild plants, taming my own wild heart, befriending the eagles and the nuthatches, chasing the dragonflies and the swallowtails.
I pulled out my herbalist book and learned a few more recipes.
I felt like I’d finally found my calling. I could find someplace like this, way out in the wilderness, and I could become a wildcrafter, creating healing potions for all sorts of ills, restoring balance to body, mind, and soul. In that type of solitary life, who knew what kinds of wisdom I might learn? I might learn to communicate with my wild cousins the turtles, squirrels, foxes, bears, and sparrows. I might learn to predict the weather based on when the leaves turned or the berries ripened. I might learn to understand deep mysteries, those mysteries within us that we glimpse clearly only during solitude.
While I was spinning these dreams, I heard someone approach. It was the herbalist herself!
We became friends. Like me, she loves the outdoors. She’s a loner, and she’s also a little insane. She told me, “Insane is just a label. It’s what they call those of us who have the sight, who hear the voices of Elicanto and Flarn, who can tell stories to ourselves to help us understand the mysteries of life, who amuse ourselves with our own conversation.”
We walked together back to her cottage. “It helps to be what they call ‘insane,'” she said, “if one wants to live this life. It’s not for everyone. It’s not for those whose gifts lie in the contributions they make to the lives of other people.”
While I was studying the plants in her garden, my phone rang. Cell phone reception up here? I guess nowhere is isolated anymore.
It was Dr. Jasmine.
Dr. Jasmine said she just wanted to check up on me, make sure I was doing ok.
“Word’s out that you’re a little love-lorn, my dear. Are you sure you’re ok?”
I told her I was so happy! I was here in the mountains and it was glorious and I thought I’d discovered what I wanted to do next with my life and I had never been better!
“Well, ok,” she said, “because I thought maybe you were missing Elder.”
Elder! Why does everybody always bring up Elder? Even if they’re not mentioning his name, they’re digging around at romance somehow! Can’t a girl just be alone in the wild for a little while and forget all that?
I swallowed. “I do miss him. But it’s not the end of the world, right? I mean, I can miss him, and I can still have all my life, and I can still enjoy what I enjoy and experience what I experience whether he’s here or not, right?”
“Of course, dear,” she said. “Romance is not everything. It is just one part of life. And, though many try to hang onto it, even after the dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin have faded, it is ephemeral. Like everything beautiful in life. Like life itself.”
“That’s right. And it’s not even an essential part of life, it’s just one part.”
“Of course,” she replied. “It’s one delicious part. And just because it is fleeting, or not always there when one wants it, that doesn’t mean that one gives up on it, right? Like the experience of music, the transitory experience of romance brings such sweet joy. One wouldn’t want to deny it should the opportunity ever arise, right?”
“Argh,” I answered, “what are you saying?”
“I’m just saying, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!”
I got off the phone and walked to the edge of the canyon.
The rainbow in the waterfall is ephemeral. If I were to return tomorrow, a different rainbow would be there, or none at all. That doesn’t keep me from enjoying this rainbow, or keep me from seeking tomorrow’s.
Evening was coming on. Aya and Forrest would be wondering where I was. I bid good-bye to my new friend, the herbalist, and thanked her for her words and her time. I wound my way back through twisted trails and came upon the lower falls just as the evening sun was shining on them. Princeton, the ranger, walked the shore.
Watching him walk through the stillness and movement, I could admit to myself that this is a temporary visit here, not my new home, that this temporary high will fade, too, to be replaced by other highs and other lows and long stretches of prairie in between the two. Life is composed of all sorts of feelings, ephemeral and lasting, and our ways take us all sorts of places, temporary and permanent, as we wander any old path, discovering for ourselves that it’s the path we’re on at the moment that is “our path.”