Listening to a New Soundscape of Life

I thought I’d have all the time in the world out here to think about things I felt needed to be thought about. I thought, mistakenly, that I might even be bored all the time. So far, that has been wrong. My head seems to echo the silence of the world out here. I never really understood the sentiment of sitting still and meditating, but maybe this hiking thing is my meditation. Every day there is a silence that sits soft and stagnant in my head. No conflict, no imaginary conversations, no recall of the most embarrassing moments of my life. There are hours between the hot afternoons that stretch out like a lazy house cat, and the evenings that come abruptly when the sun dips behind whatever mountain, and the temperature drops. In those hours, I am who I am. No influence, no envy, no competition. I’m just a person, on a mountain, walking to an arbitrary place. Why did I choose this place, and what makes me think I will like it there? Why am I so hopeful that I walk on these ridges every day, with silence in my head? Like a pilgrim walking to the Holy Land. They decided it was holy when they decided it was beautiful. And they decided they would walk there when they decided they deserved it.

From Campo to Idyllwild, I’ve had a hard time writing this blog post. Because there is a surprising amount of quiet humming in my head, I didn’t have much to say. And I certainly am not interested in writing “day one: 15 miles.” I’ve had stupid sounds like “You’re so vain” and “Once upon a dream” stuck in my head for hours, and sometimes I even find myself counting and thinking things like “are you fucking kidding me there’s no way that was only 0.1 mile,” over and over again.

In other words, it took 11 days to write this post because my thoughts aren’t profound or original or funny. They’re just reflective of what I experience out here, which is mostly silence. The crunching of sand is a sound I’ve come to love. The sharp sound of tent zippers and Velcro in the morning is a sound I’ve come to loathe. And today, a hummingbird flew inches from my face, and the frantic flutter of its wings reminded me of my mother. I imagined her voice coming out of that hummingbird, asking if I’d applied sunscreen. These small sounds amount to nothing in the loud urban worlds in which we all live and work. But on the trail, these sounds are social cues, gentle reminders, morning alarms, warning signals. The sound of border patrol helicopters overhead while I camp in a creek bed means something, some sentence that doesn’t exist in English. But it’s closest translation might be something like “life’s not fair.”

Somehow, without words, my brain has come to learn a new language. That’s the only way I can explain it. I’ve learned the subtleties and nuances of an ancient tongue. The kind of figure of speech you can only pick up from immersion in a language. The soft lisp of a distant sound might help me measure time. Because one mile isn’t one mile, it’s 20 minutes walking uphill and 15 walking down. And sound carries differently in a canyon than a creek bed.

I have a trail name now: Vesuvius. Because I have a habit of letting my Jetboil erupt up out of the lid and over the side. Maybe one day soon I’ll learn to listen for the hissing sound of boiling water, and turn my propane off for once.

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