From Yandara to Yellowstone, Mexico to Montana, wilderness occupies my heart. With the definition of wilderness as ‘an empty or pathless area or region’, wilderness becomes a metaphor for life. My path through each of life’s stages is uncharted. No trail markers guide my way, though I can see faint trails where others have walked before. But do I follow blindly or do I carve my own trail? That is one question that I can unhesitatingly answer.
Other questions require more consideration: Do I surrender to age’s changes or do I fight to maintain? Do I pull back or step forward? Herein lies my inner wilderness travel. Finding the balance in the yin and yang of life is where grace resides. My pathless area is a quest to experience grace. The heart wins out over the head in this quest. I search out mental/emotional/spiritual paths even as I travel the physical realm of Yellowstone’s wilderness.
Recently Jane and I spent a weekend exploring the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone. We woke early, drove the road searching for wildlife and enjoying the snow scenes. Bison, moose, coyote, goldeneye and dipper graced us with their presence as we drove slowly, drinking tea and coffee. happy to be alive. Ski trails beckoned and the rest of the day we spent happily gliding tracked and untracked powder.
We first skied the Bannock Trail, a beautiful flattish backcountry non-groomed trail near Yellowstone’s Northeast Entrance. Plenty of snow and following old ski tracks led us along the Soda Butte Creek and through spruce/fir forest to the town of Silver Gate. We wove in and out of sun, in and out of views of Republic Peak, cruising past squirrel, marten, ermine and moose tracks. A dinner of hot soup and wine capped off the day. One could consider the Bannock a yin trail—it is in shadow, lower in elevation, more of a cruise for experienced skiers. Calm and quiet, the Bannock lends itself to inner contemplation as I glide along.
We decided to balance our yin ski with a more yang experience, and we chose to ski up toward Republic Peak. Yang energy is more energetic, active and heating. Today was surely that. We had forgotten our climbing skins, so it was work—warm work—to ski up to the mine, and then even more work to climb through the forest once we got to the trailhead. We worked hard, and were rewarded for our efforts by views of the surrounding peaks as we cruised through forest and meadows. Planning to make a loop, we turned off the old trail and broke up to our knees through deep powder before a controlled flying descent. Dinner in Cooke City capped our day and we were both ready to turn out lights early.
The Tower Fall/Chittenden ski trail beckoned us as we began the drive home. Each trail is unique and today was a contrast to our previous two days. We skied 5.5 miles up a groomed road, following wolf tracks. A pack of perhaps 7 wolves had used the groomed road the night before, and we followed their tracks as we worked up the road. We found their entry onto the road in a jumbled pile of tracks and looked off to the side. In the sage we spotted a pair of large antlers, then a red rib cage. Our wolf pack had made a kill maybe a day earlier. We stopped for a few moments to look then continued on our way. Perhaps a fox or coyote or ermine was still making use of the carcass, and we did not want to disturb anyone’s meal.
I am now on day 30 of a 40 day Sadhana, which I began upon returning home from my second visit to Yandara, the yoga academy in Baja Mexico. Sadhana is a daily spiritual practice. Not religious, it is really a relationship with myself. Each day I wake, heat water for tea and lemon, start the day’s fire, and move to my mat. Each person’s Sadhana is different, for a daily practice reflects the person’s needs, immediate circumstances, and desires. My daily practice consists of a meditation and yoga with a short journaling session afterward. I have found that I prefer to wake before light (this time of year, that is easy) and get to my mat before sunrise, before phone calls, before other distractions pull me away. Sadhana is also a good reason to limit alcohol and to put my head to the pillow at an earlier hour than I might. I can see the direct results of staying up too late, or imbibing that extra glass of wine after dinner. Today being January 1, I am feeling the effects of a late night, one that I don’t want to repeat anytime soon!
While subtle, this Sadhana is slowly but surely changing my life internally. I embarked on this wilderness travel to move forward in my yoga training, but I am seeing that it is so much more than just an assignment to get through. A morning ritual is giving form to my retired life, purpose to my mornings. I have no trail map for the meditation and poses, no trail map for the breathing exercises. In this, I must follow my intuition, allow my heart to lead and hope for the best—sort of a coddiwomple (“to travel in a purposeful manner towards a vague destination”), as I purposefully sit and move, yet not quite knowing where it’s all taking me.
My wish for us all in this 2019 new year, is that we coddiwomple happily along our personal and physical wilderness trails and that we enjoy the experience without too much desire to reach the destination.
“Finding yourself is not really how it works. You aren’t a 10 dollar bill in last year’s winter coat pocket. You are also not lost. Your true self is right there, buried under cultural conditioning, other people’s opinions, and inaccurate conclusions you drew as a kid that became your beliefs about who you are. Finding yourself is actually returning to yourself. An unlearning, an excavation, a remembering who you were before the world got its hands on you.” Emily McDowell