Alexander M Wolff



Cathartic Journey Through Nature

31 Mar 2018

I knew that spilled coffee wasn’t the source. My feelings were poignant, yet deep and utterly mysterious to me. Tracing their origins revealed connections to darker moments, which reminded me that adversity is much deeper than a puddle of coffee. Adversity is a pit that develops between the throat and the stomach when news arrives that an admired friend has ended their life. Adversity stretches over the fabric of time, when a family member cannot be saved from a series of poor decisions. Adversity plows through a soul, when we fail the one we love the most, and when they fail us. Nonetheless, the world has little time or patience to lend when emotional debris piles up. Daily life continues, with or without us, so we push our emotions aside to keep pace.


I see this logjam on the Merced River as a metaphor for the emotions we hold back to keep daily life flowing smoothly.

I see this logjam on the Merced River as a metaphor for the emotions we hold back to keep daily life flowing smoothly.


We all experience adversity, that is both certain and out of our control, but how we handle it defines us. The scale of our challenges, and our ensuing emotions, will vary. Thus, we need multiple outlets. Pushing emotions aside is a temporary solution, one that cannot be maintained indefinitely. On the other hand, finding a source of significant relief can take time, and is a deeply personal process. While there are as many solutions as there are individuals on this earth, one of my personal favorites is journeying on foot through the mountains. The combination of physical exertion, dramatic vistas, and quiet reflection helps cleanse my soul.


This scene, in Toiyabe National Forest, seems like the perfect spot to hop off the road and start a journey into the natural world.

This scene, in Toiyabe National Forest, seems like the perfect spot to hop off the road and start a journey into the natural world.


During these journeys, I move between grand vistas and quiet sanctuaries, finding moments of peace along the way. At times I stumble upon a place so vividly beautiful that I forget to see. My eyes dance about, I struggle to focus on any one element, or to meditate on what makes the scene so exquisite. Nevertheless, I am elated by witnessing profound beauty, and my mind is temporarily relieved from the burden of past emotions.


he peace and beauty reflected in Mirror Lake are elements that I often seek in nature.

The peace and beauty reflected in Mirror Lake are elements that I often seek in nature.


As I continue on, my thoughts drift back to those scenes. I recognize and appreciate their beauty more deeply after losing them. I also realize that Nature, in all its forms, is dynamic. Thus, beauty and peace are transient. A calm, reflective pool becomes a babbling river, warm-colored leaves drop to the cold, forest floor, and we pass through the days of our lives. Like the water, I pass through pools and rapids on my journey. I am not defined by those moments, but they are a part of my voyage. Even in the presence of sorrow, or joy, I move quietly ahead.


The gradient of motion in the Merced River reminds me that beauty and peace are transient, and thus we must seek them out.

The gradient of motion in the Merced River reminds me that beauty and peace are transient, and thus we must seek them out.


After meditating on the transience of beauty, and the motion of my own life, I make an effort to focus my attention. I strive to view my environment from a novel perspective. I wish beauty, peace, and positive emotions would announce themselves, but I often find I must create them. This is not profound, we excelled at this when we were children. Many of us lose this ability as we grow up though. Responsibilities pile higher and deeper, and it is tough to bring our imagination along for the ride. Regaining a childlike perspective, and approaching familiar objects with an open mind, brings novel and interesting aspects of everyday life into view. Somehow, the mundane becomes ethereal.


An abstract frame of a frosty morning along Green Creek, in the Eastern Sierras, highlights ethereal beauty that often goes overlooked.

An abstract frame of a frosty morning along Green Creek, in the Eastern Sierras, highlights ethereal beauty that often goes overlooked.


Applying my newfound appreciation drives further change in my behavior. Like Cheryl Strayed, “I put myself in the way of beauty.” For example, I have grown to love the subtle magnificence of the blue hour. This period of time is a subset of twilight, which occurs while the sun is still below the horizon. The clarity and peace of the morning blue hour is unmatched. While I struggle to crawl out of my warm sleeping bag before the sun rises, I feel the reward is worth the effort.


The subtle beginnings of alpenglow in the Eastern Sierras are the reward for rising early.

The subtle beginnings of alpenglow in the Eastern Sierras are the reward for rising early.


Rising early is a ritual I can bring home to daily life, as is mindful appreciation. Coupling these skills with the knowledge that healing is a never-ending process, I am able to keep putting one foot in front of the other. At the end of each journey, I find that I have healed some fraction of my wounds. My mind and my spirit are refreshed, and I am ready to return to the structure of daily life. I welcome little comforts, like a cup of good coffee, and can even accept the occasional spill. While there is a certain sadness that accompanies the end of any great journey, I rest easy knowing that as long as we preserve these sanctuaries, I can return again in the future.


Looking back down the path the path to Mirror Lake in Yosemite Valley.

Looking back down the path reveals that structure and clarity are increasing with each step forward.


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© 2018 Alexander M Wolff