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Posted on January 10th, 2023

The Soft Core of the Earth – A Summer Reflection

**This is a journal entry from this past summer (2022) I decided might be of interest to readers during these cold winter months**

I’ve just come down off the mountain in my daily quest for solitude and natural bliss somewhere in Ouray County, Colorado. It seems every day I spend out here provides me with endless opportunities to find clarity between the relentless, mental grind of society and our lack of silence in this always-on world. Here, out in the backcountry, these burdens are set aside, and the wilderness serves as repose for my busy life and mind.

“In this clear space between my thought and silence,” wrote Aldous Huxley, in the voice of one of his insightful characters, Susila MacPhail, in the novel Island. The line comes from a handwritten poem stuck in the pages of a book being read by the novel’s protagonist, Will Farnaby. Just as he reads the poem, Susila walks in, and he asks her how one gets there, to the clear space between thought and silence. She responds, “You don’t get there. There comes to you.”

While in my everyday life I find myself endlessly lost in thought and often seeking out opportunities for silence, there is rarely “clear space” to be found. Most of my thoughts in the workaday world are adulterated by interloping ruminations on obligations and distractions, so rarely is the silence pure.

But I always find those sacred moments here in the West. When we start early enough, [Poet] (my dog) and I can avoid seeing people for most of our hikes, something I crave, and something she seems oblivious to, as her primary concern is what to sniff next. The only sounds come from the birds chirping, the roar of the winter run-off down the mountains, and that persistent jingle from her bear bell. The latter fades into the background after a few minutes, and my perception is that of being enveloped in stillness and reverence for Mother Nature as we bathe in the magnificence of her provisions. Fittingly, today’s trail was the “Bridge of Heaven,” and while standing alone, with my dog, at 12,300 feet, it was a feeling as close to the sublime as I imagine could ever be possible.

View from the “Bridge of Heaven” trail, Ouray County, Colorado as photographed by Marco Esquandoles.

Every time we reach the “payoff” of our hikes, whether it’s a peak, a lake, a waterfall, or a field of bountiful wildflowers, my smile is irrepressible, and my feeling of being-at-peace is all-consuming. [Poet] always seems content, usually with a spirited prance from her second wind after a brief respite, a snack, and some water. My descent is often trancelike, and [Poet] trots along contentedly, seemingly basking in the glory of our adventure. It’s a feeling of ethereality.

There’s this recurring dream I used to have when I was a kid where I would be running around in a field in circles until I picked up enough inertia to launch myself into the air and I would soar through the sky. There was no sound, but the aesthetic environment was tranquil and beautiful. I always had a big smile on my face, but just as quickly as the dream would come, it would vanish.

I rarely remember my dreams, so to have had a long-gone recurring one that I still remember so vividly, even some 25+ years later, strikes me as remarkable. I think the dream symbolized a desire for freedom, something that I’ve come to define myself by more and more the older I get. But what is freedom, really?

On my drives out west every summer, I think about why these travels are so important to me, as they don’t come easy. But when I see the Rockies come into view, and certainly when I take that first step onto a trail, I know. Freedom is the ability to pursue your passions, and the willingness to follow through, not allowing trivial distractions or others’ expectations or demands impose on whatever it is you seek.

[Poet] turned 13 on this trip, and I’ve accepted that before I’m ready, there won’t be another summer for us to spend together, so I try to make the most of my time with her while I can. It’s not difficult for me to do. And judging by the way she greets me every morning, with a less-than-delicate paw to the ribcage followed by a rhythmic thump-thump-thump of the tail on the bed, signaling it’s time to hike, I think the feeling is mutual. She’s good company, and I’m lucky to have her in my life.

I’ve found that “there” is both a location – something I do indeed have to travel to – and a state of mind, something that does indeed come to me, but only when I’m basking in the presence of the majestic beauty of the Western United States. [Poet] and I both appreciate the reverent silence of the backcountry where there is plenty of room for thought, and endless country to roam – the “clear space” I crave and we both welcome wholeheartedly with open arms (and paws) every summer. Out here I think I’ve found the waking world equivalent of my dream – fortunately these trips last a little longer than the visions of my slumbers’ past.

Marco Esquandoles
Dog and Boy

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