2011 was a heck of a year. By November, I was exhausted physically, mentally & spiritually. By mid December, I was wondering how I would get through each day. One of the most common things I ask people to do during herbal consultations is… “give yourself a break when you need it.” Time for a break.
Winter is a time for hibernation. It is the cycle of Earth, and we are of the Earth. Why, then, I wonder every year, do we gear up our activity beginning in November? This year’s energy seemed even more frenetic to me than most…
I often take the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day off. It is an appropriate time to rest, and less is going on in the business world than usual.
Despite tight finances- a sign of our times it seems- I decided to take a solo retreat to Natural Bridge, VA. My plan was to rest, hike, meditate and refresh. Well… not quite solo I suppose. My sweet terrier Aengus McKee came along with absolute unbridled delight. And a new highway-cone-orange vest. And his Christmas present- a purple squeaky cow. He is a most cheerful traveler and hiker, quite the athlete. Wonder how he came to be mine… Or I to be his…
I won’t bore you with a day-by-day dialogue of my 4 day trip. I’ll get straight to the good stuff. Or the top, as the case may be. Wednesday, December 28th dawned bright, clear and cold. Aengus and I were packed, fed and ready to go by 10am, after it had warmed up a bit. Our destination? Devil’s Marbleyard, a 8.3 mile loop in the Jefferson National Forest. Details and a map can be found where I found them- HikingUpward.com, a most excellent hiking site for the Mid Atlantic area.
We drove a few miles to the trail head, and got right to it. Despite the chilly temperature (weatherman said windchill would keep it feeling like 30 degrees all day), the sun was out and the air was dry. Soon I was working up a sweat.
The first 2 miles were a constant ascent. I panted my way up, past and over lovely creeks to the marbleyard. Quite impressive, with boulders as large as trucks in places. Look at the right edge, near the top of the photo. That’s a man in a blue jacket- that small dark spot.. Good frame of reference. To the right of this huge pile of boulders is a very steep, rocky trail, bordered on the right by a stream. Lovely. Exhausting. Aengus and I climbed sometimes straight up, hand over hand. Once with him tucked against my chest because he couldn’t quite make it over a wet, slippery rock.
At the top of the marbleyard, the trail continued steeply upward. It is at this point that a handsome hound dog, decked out in a GPS & radio collar, joined us on the trail. This dog was very calm, with a quiet serenity in his brown eyes. He did little of the typical dog thing- no excited jumping about or greeting of Aengus. He simply approached me, gazed up at me with steady eyes, and waited as I reached out to pat his head. Once through that formaility, he turned and led the way up the trail, staying just within sight and stopping to look back and patiently wait for us, for about a mile. Finally, he slipped away into the woods and I met nobody else- two or four legged- for the rest of my hike.
Finally, I reached the top of the ridge where the AT and Gunthers Trail intersect. Tired & sweaty, I stopped to rest a moment at this open junction. A fire ring and some downed logs surrounding the ring showed that backpackers camp in this clearing. A handy sign pointed to the AT trail ———> to the right and Gunther’s Trail <————- to the left.
Only… I couldn’t FIND my trail, Gunther’s trail. The AT trail, to the right, was clearly there. To the left, there appeared to be a trail, past the camp. But it disappeared into the undergrowth, never to reappear. Aengus and I crashed through the leaves and stumbled over rocks, hoping the trail would reappear. No trail. My printed map indicated that it was an unmarked trail (meaning no blazes on trees as a guide) and I became worried. What if I lost sight of the clearing? I could get lost. Should I give up on my journey and simply back track down? Was I just being silly and the trail was close by? Three times I returned to the trail sign at the clearing, three times I set off leftward, as the sign indicated, hoping to find the trail. Finally, frustrated and tired, I sat down on a log in the camp.
My mind was in an uproar. My body was tired and sweaty. My dog was annoyed. Aengus is an “onward” kinda guy, and my inability to decide ‘which way’ didn’t sit well with him. His motto might be “I’ll rest when I’m dead”. I got quiet. I went inward. I soothed the mad voices of my ego-brain into reluctant silence. I asked for Guidance.
It occurred to me that this was an exact illustration of my recent life. Climb, pant, sweat, crash onward, lose my Path. Crash some more. Become frustrated. Back track. Ego-mind screaming “What the heck am I doing wrong where is the @#%&* PATH! It should be RIGHT HERE!” And then finally, finally, surrendering the reins of my Ride to a Higher Power.
“Help me to see the path” I quietly asked as I turned inward, into the pool of connectedness and knowledge. I stood and surveyed the clearing with softly opened eyes. “Help me to see the path” I asked again. I felt drawn to look again at the topographic map stuffed in my coat pocket. I looked at it calmly. An awareness opened within me. The path does not appear to be going along the ridge, as the pointing arrow indicates. It appears to cross a gently downward sloping area first. I turned slowly in a circle. The only ground that looked to be gently sloping was BEHIND the sign. Not to the left. Not to the right. I walked behind the sign, then a little further, a little more. And there it was. I saw it come into focus, like magic. It was clear, no question, that this was the trail. I laughed and gave thanks to my Guidance. And started down my path (and Path) again.
I spent the rest of this magnificent hike in deep meditation and communication with my Guidance, and in pure awe of the beauty of our planet. As I surrendered to the quiet power of Gaia, my ego-mind became quiet and my heart was opened. In this place of surrender, I received answers to many of the questions that had been worrying me of late. If you like, for a moment, quiet your mind, take a slow deep breath, soften your heart, and join me for these last few miles… I’ll meet you in the Field, friend.