There it was. Right beneath the towering pine. Plenty of room for my tent, my chair, my person, my soul. I kicked the pine cones away, one by one at first, but that took longer than expected. So I decided to gather three, four, or more in my hands at once. They pricked and poked me, forcing me to quickly sit them near the bushes. I brushed away the big sticks and ensured no hard rocks bulged from the ground. The earth tilted a bit in the wrong direction but there wasn’t much I could do about that. The space was cleared well enough at this point.
My tent unfolded and popped into place with relative ease. My small, black chair took ground beneath the lone branch protruding from the lower trunk of the pine. A branch intent on knocking me into awareness at every turn. Over the course of three days, my body would become a master of the bob and weave as I made my way countless times from my chair to my tent and back again.
As the sun ascended on this first day and pushed the temperatures higher, my body grew heavy with sleep. I crawled into my tent and sprawled across my yellow sleeping bag. Parts of my body baked in strips of sunlight while others took reprieve in the growing shade. The glaring sun eventually moved to the south side of the pine to give way for a comfortable midday siesta.
I slept away what remained of the morning knowing very well I had the time, although soon enough even sleep wouldn’t keep me from the challenges ahead. My body would be rested, and I’d be forced to face my solitude. Three days and three nights alone in northern New Mexico without the comfort of food, books, electronics, or my beloved journal. “No problem,” was my original thought.
My time on solo surprised me. What I thought would be easy was hard. What I thought would be hard was, in fact, hard. At every turn, I felt deeply challenged. It was only soon after I arrived that I longed for it to be over. A resistance that reared its head time and time again. One I danced with until my fasted body couldn’t tolerate it anymore. Then I scrambled about with the growing hunger in my belly and the slow lethargy in my bones. Food was the only thing on my mind.
When it all came to an end I knew I’d look back over the experience with the bright eyes of retrospective optimism. A consistent and reliable quality of mine. After all, there were profound moments. There were lessons and learnings. There were beautiful ceremonies and rituals. There was a deep connection with nature. There was plenty of time to reflect on my life path and my relationships. And there was time to trim the hedges. Literally.
Before leaving basecamp, our leaders gave a handful of us hedge clippers. We were encouraged to clear the trails if they needed it. I strung the orange handles through the strap on the side of my pack, grateful to have at least one solid task for my three days away. A task I sequestered away, saving for the right moment, to use as an insurance policy in hard times. A good distraction. Something that would take up time.
I decided to use the clippers on the second day. By midmorning, I had already greeted the sun and the directions, completed the new exercises we learned, tidied my tent, groomed myself, sunbathed, drank plenty of water, contemplated the mysteries of life, and swatted away one thousand mosquitos. I felt well enough so I bared some skin and got to work.
Specifically, I was directed to clear the trail to the rocky overlook. “It’s probably overgrown,” she had said as she handed me the clippers. At my camp, I stood in the shade of the pine tree with the clippers in hand. I surveyed the site. “Trail to the rocky overlook,” I thought to myself, as I spied five different trails into the brush. Each trail demanded exploration.
One took me behind a large bush. Two descended over and down the other side of the ridge behind the site. The remaining two trails took me to the edge of the ridge. One ended abruptly at the brush line but gave way to a view of the valley below. The other meandered for a bit with three separate rocky spots. Spots where one might “overlook.”
I walked along the trail pushing back bushes and stepping on plants. At each spot, I paused. I meandered up, sat down, and looked out. I thought, “Is this it? Is this the one?”. Then I continued to the next one. I arrived at the end of the trail where a large rock jutted from the earth towards the valley. A wild branching juniper shaded most of the rock. Uncertain about this one, my feet found their way across the stones to where I carefully rested on its slanted surface.
From here, I could see the entire valley below and the peaks to the south, beyond which were the plains. With the juniper at my back and the wall of pines along the ridge itself, I couldn’t see much else. I wasn’t very happy with this overlook. I wanted something more. Something like a nearly 360-degree view. But all I could see was straight in front of me. The south. My inability to see elsewhere left me achingly curious to know what was there. I found myself doubtful this rock was the one. Surely there was a better view, a better rocky overlook.
I spent a good portion of time walking up and down the trail re-testing each site. There weren’t any signs or arrows or branches pointing to the right spot. The trails were so overgrown I wasn’t even sure if this was the one or if I had missed it altogether. I went back one last time to the end of the trail and looked at the being that stuck out from the earth.
There were no other trails here. This was the end. There were no other large rocks quite like this one. Between the bushes and trees, the view wasn’t what I wanted but it was what we had. And this was enough. I took my clippers to the start of the trail and trimmed my way to the slanted slab of stone resting beneath the juniper tree. I proudly walked back to my camp and looked back. I tilted my head to the right and eyed the entrance. A clean, clear trailhead to the rocky overlook.
I laid the clippers beneath my pine tree, took a long sip of water, and wiped away the sweat. With my hands on my hips, I looked around my campsite. I took a deep breath and eyed my watch: 12:30 pm. Perfect. Plenty of time for the rest of the day.