The Confines of My Mind

This is a re-post from an old blog of the same name. I wrote it many years ago, and puzzle now as much over how I came to write this the way I did as I do over the themes it purports to explore.

The Confines of My Mind

            Here I am alone, excepting perchance Orion and Cassiopeia in the sky above. I am an island in the tempestuous sea of the wild. I am nearly a mile from another human, a speck of intelligence alien to the vast and rocky Sierran topography. Tonight I prove something; and though it may be of some notice to others, it is an internal battle I face tonight[1].

            Why I set myself against the forces of the wilderness is a larger question, whose answer lies in my very nature. In brief, I felt I could not know myself without the

challenge– like Oedipus exploring the mystery of his birth, ’twas a test perhaps alluring for its very existence. Could I withstand the torrents of nature? This was a query I could not allow to rest.

            I huddle around my humble fire. A solemnity I cannot laugh at sets in; ‘whistling past the graveyard’ is out of the question. This overwhelming blanket of graveness envelops me more tangibly than the approaching darkness, and I realize: this is Nature.

            Around me as well is the cold. It is so cold that I actually bury the embers of my fire and attempt to sleep on top of them. I have no sleeping bag, except the bundles of heather and pine needles I have prepared. Though the potential warmth of my tent beckons, I do not waver. My fortitude surprises me; though I have before braved such nights as these, I have always previously done so surrounded by encouraging comrades.

            My connate curiosity tells me introspection is requisite for growth, and my thoughts turn inward as I attempt to insulate myself from the external punishments I try to endure. In the wilderness it seems almost that I exist only in the confines of my mind as the impersonal breeze howls.

            No one is here to acknowledge my presence.

            Therein, however, lies a certain ironical comfort; I am alone, but I exist all the same. In the wilderness I am a self-defined entity amidst swirling disorder. Though the night roars on, I am still here. Under the stars so numerous, I am only one so small and my existence may be absurd but some solace comes from this. There is no order to this world except what I can set to it, and therefore, whatever I can possibly come up with is better than what I started off with.


* * * * *


            I survive the night. Though I cannot point specifically to one precise moment of epiphany or revelation, I do know that night was significant in ways difficult to explain. What I found that night was that there is beauty all around– not only in the sky above or the animals around but also in the everyday wilderness and the basic, fundamental, impossibly quotidian process of survival. I am reminded of the weakness of one human and the incomparable strength of many united. The experience is a simple reminder of the natural and intrinsic beauty of life, existence, and survival. I will forever appreciate life in both its humbling complexity and lucid simplicity– and finally, finally, I have fulfilled Emerson’s mandate: self-reliance.

            Of a greater pertinence, I realize that I was misguided in my approach to that night; steeling myself for a confrontation with some hostile idea of Nature was not the answer. I learned that attempting to master Nature as if it were some untamed beast is preposterous, for I am as much a part of Nature as any rock, lake, or wolf. To reach a peace with Nature one must first reach a peace with oneself. Whether I could withstand ‘the torrents of nature’ was irrelevant–what ultimately mattered was whether I could master not Nature, but myself.








[1] I underwent this ordeal in hopes of attaining the John Muir badge of the Boy Scouts, which signifies a stronger understanding of Man’s place within nature. The primary requirement is this night alone, without modern conveniences, absent of company from sundown to sunup, in which the Scout must write a poem, climb a tree, eat a loaf of bread (all of it), and brew tea from an indigenous plant (white fir, in my case).


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