"The Blessed Company of the Saints in Light."
Sometimes I just need people.
I have spent many nights alone in a tent. I'm not asking for pity when I say this. There is something really, really remarkable about traveling alone in the Wilderness. I admit that it took me some time to get used to it, but now I want it.
At the same time, I find it deeply challenging. I don't sleep well in backcountry places, alone. Like Jacob, I wrestle in my sleep, waking, watching, wondering. There are some stories I could tell about dreams, dreams of bears of cougars and me.
So traveling with others is still my preferred pattern. I like group dynamics. I like to see how we do when the buffers of comfort fade just a bit. Personally, I become more transparent in a group, especially after 3 or 4 days on the trail together. Truth is, after some days on the trail, it's harder to hide. Privacy becomes far less important or possible. Our traveling companions know us, and yet there is this gracious space that happens, with others. I can feel free, and open, and yet honor my quiet self. That's not a combination of feelings we have too often.
For many, many years my traveling groups have been made up of young people. High School students. They are remarkable folk to travel with. Many of them have not spent more than one or two nights in the Wild. When I travel with them I notice how traveling with others creates a kind of community that is remarkably unique. It is certainly not "fake." After 5 or 6 days together we pretty much know too much about each other. Honesty floats to the surface. So does kindness. Yes, it does.
In the last two years I have also travelled with others (older) who have become my friends. These are my colleagues--a group of honest, talented, careful clergy--who think that there is something good and renewing in traveling together through the Wilderness. A year ago, in early October, we traveled through the frost and snow of early Winter in the Central Cascades. A few weeks ago we reunited, but this time in the Paria Wilderness to walk, for five days, through North America's longest and deepest slot canyon. We did hope for sun and warmth.
But, Wilderness alone is clarifying. Wilderness gone wild is even more than that, and even better.
This trip included an unexpected flash flood, cutting off our route and our water source. We were forced to high ground for two days, watching a rising, brown, angry river come toward us. And so we hunkered down. We worried and wondered. And we cared. That was, simply put, the deeply amazing part. We were so low on water, and we knew we had 21 miles of river hiking ahead of us, once the river dropped, but we remained open, caring, kind, attentive to each other. Honestly, I found this amazing. We could have focused on ourselves. We just didn't.
Good, kind people are everywhere. They are saints. And they are yet hard to find. I found them deep in the Wild Wilderness. I think they can be often found there. Let's go find them.