Thursday, June 5, 2014

California Wilderness: A Return to Self

Toward the end of each California Wilderness program, each student has the opportunity to do a "solo"-- a span of several days spent in solitude. Lily Westphal writes about her solo experience, and how time alone helped strengthen her connection to body, self and nature.
I don't ever want to forget the way I feel today - the way I feel right now. 
I want to scoop it in a jar and drink it when doubt feeds the belly of the beast that tells me No. 
I want so badly to share it and at the same time I'm hesitant to even try and explain. Words might fail its preciousness. But I am really going to try! Maybe my words will draw merely a smudgy idea of this feeling and maybe that is good enough for now. 

Almost two months deep and we are steeped in the beauty of the Yolla Bolly Mountains. Oak and Pine trees sprout upwards on either side of us, holding the Eel River in place. Our footsteps are the first of the human kind to move across this land this year. This wilderness in particular seems playful and mischievous, yet so warm and welcoming. The past four days have been spent on solo. Four days spent with our wild selves in this wild nature. It is amazing to think that before solo I had never been alone for more than a few hours before seeing another person.  It is also amazing to think about how in the people-filled buzz of our front country lives it is possible, and very likely, to live an entire lifetime without really spending good, deep quality time with your person, yourself, alone. 

My spot, my nest, is a series of pools spilling down and down and down and down into more pools of deep turquoise and emerald greens. Big rocks grow from the riverbed and I hop from rock to rock, scrambling in my play, insistent in my search to find the one that fits. Finally settling in, pressed against the warm rock, its curves fit my curves and we are one rock. My soft body against hard body rock, belonging to each other. I belong here. I belong in the slowness and the stillness. I belong here in the raw spaces and with the brightly colored river stones. I belong with the turtles and the frogs that share my pools and the bald eagles that glide through open sky. I belong to this body. This journey, and the four days of solo in particular have been a process of re-learning what it feels like to be inside my body. It has been a journey of reclaiming all of my senses: touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing. 

Being in my solo nest I can hear the chatter of the river deepen into a thick pulse. It is the heartbeat of this place. I plunge into the water- again again again. Sinking heavy and deep into river and self. Shedding with every dunk and plunge, the dead skin. The bits I have collected from here or there. The bits that hold no worth, only weight and yet I carry them with me in my pocket and my heart. Fears, insecurities, worries, selfish thoughts, and dirt - I peel them off. No thank you, not today. I want to keep this newfound lightness with me, because nothing is actually as hard as I once made it out to be in my head. I want to keep this stillness in my busy body and this playfulness in my young female body. I want to feel my own fragility and smallness and celebrate it! 

Since the beginning I have learned to come home, over again, to so many different landscapes. I have learned how important it is to continue to be amazed by things. To surrender to the river and let it move me both physically and emotionally. I have learned about the Old People before me and my mind has been filled by the words of nature philosophers and story tellers. Out here it is easier to hear my wants. The shoulds and the shouldn'ts are silenced. 

Later in the evening I lay wrapped in my down cocoon looking up. I watch sky fade to space, the barrier between me and it is dissolved by starlight. I feel clean, balanced, refreshed, rested, content, sun-loved, and so full of life that part of me is worried about moving in case I spill over. I don't want a single drop of this experience to go to waste. 

-- Lily Westphal


  1. I like natural water so clean

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