A Slice of Life
It's been almost two weeks since we returned from the Superior Hiking Trail. While memory fades a bit, I still carry with me a felt sense of the experience and an eagerness to return to the trail next month. During a meditation, (it was on the morning after my last posting, in which I promised to tell you about the trip) a thought arrived that helped me story the experience in a new way. Here's the story.
It was a challenging hike – lots of roots and rocks, rivers and creeks, valleys and peaks. The gorges were gorgeous – and steep. Climbs were arduous. Descents were tough on old knees. There was an intermittent, occasionally excruciating, pain in the ball of my left foot that mysteriously appeared and disappeared.
We set out amid fields of daisies and blazing orange hawkweed. Ancient cedar groves were followed by an aging birch forest. Later, a long stretch of young spruce crowded the path, caressing our elbows. On the fourth day, after a long stretch of pine and mixed woods, we wandered through miles and multi-generations of maples. On our last night, we were surrounded by old Cedars again, as we immersed ourselves among the boulders in a luxurious, cascading stream, cooling aching feet and weary legs.
We thoroughly enjoyed a couple of beautiful campsites. At our first site, we were surrounded by a fork in the river, sparkling water flowing along two sides of a narrow peninsula – our three tents pitched practically on top of each other. It was amusing that night to hear the harmony of rushing waters and snoring sleepers. We also did our best to enjoy a couple campsites that weren't so beautiful, near water that wasn't so tasty.
On the third morning, we woke around 6 a.m. to the sound of thunder. The dawn was dark. Quickly packing tents and stuffing bags, we got the important stuff in plastic, just as the rain – and breakfast – began. We hiked 8 miles that day in a rhythm of rain that alternated between downpour and drip. For me, it was a refreshing break from the heat and humidity – only a temporary relief as it turned out. The next day was oppressive – like I imagine equatorial tropics – hot, humid, buggy, windless. We hiked in muck, miles of ankle-deep mud. Every now and then, a breeze blessed us, as we ascended along ridges overlooking Lake Superior. The views were spectacular that day. The day before, similar vistas went unseen.
During most of the journey, we were serenaded by birds of various kinds. Joanie and Rosanne told us their names. One evening, Roger and I watched a pair of enormous beavers frolicking in a pond. (I guess you're never too old to have fun.) And they were having great fun, till they noticed us and slapped tales on the water, angrily informing us that we did not belong there. I heard their message, but didn't agree. Sometime during the second day of hiking, I had started feeling like I was part of all this.
On the trek, we encountered all sorts of life: butterflies galore, hundreds of worms wiggling to the surface trying not to drown in the rain, slugs that slimed our tents and cookware, ticks and pretty much every variety of biting insect there is up north. We saw lots of wolf scat, but no wolves. Imbedded in one pile was the hoof of a young deer – a sad story told by its remains.
There were tasty ripe raspberries and wild strawberries along the trail and long patches of immature thimbleberries that hikers will enjoy in a couple weeks, if the bears don't get to them first (the berries, that is). There were varieties of mushrooms, with hues of gold and orange and brown and off-white. One white one I particularly remember looked like a golf ball on a tee. The mushrooms, of course, would not be tasty.
There was up and down, awesome and ordinary, slogging and smooth sailing, enervation and exhilaration, pain and pleasure, breeze and stillness, beauty seen and beauty clouded, berries and butterflies, bugs and slugs, tastiness and toxins, teeming life and end of life.
The trip, I realized, was like one of those pizzas with everything on it, where one slice contains all the ingredients. I could see that all of life was represented in those few days and that our hike reflected the wholeness of life's journey.
What came to me, during that morning meditation after last week's posting, was this thought: Each moment is a slice of life! Like a strand of DNA, containing all the information for an entire organism, all of life is fully present and fully represented in each present moment.
Maybe it is all here now.