When we walk into the wilderness, the things we find are our best kept secrets. We find acorns and saplings, orange leaves, and yellow moss. We find springs and giants, mounds of earth wet with dew, and green glades riven through by stony creeks. We find pinecones and feathers, pebbles, and loam. We find the passage of animals, hidden hollows, burrows, and nests. And high up a granite shoulder, we find scattered antlers, bleached bones, weathered deadfall, and white snow. In the lowlands we spot moose tracks amid the muddy wallows, tucked beside a calm and cold lake. And from the waters, we hear the evening song of a dying loon.
As we grow, for many of us, we become blind to some of the things we had once found in the wilderness. But we do discover other things, hidden in the forest undergrowth, or beside a cold creek, while lost into a deep canyon of seemingly no divide. Photo by Christian Collins.
We find these things, our best kept secrets, and treasures, in the wilderness. That is not to surmise that these things are always good or pleasant, although many of them shall be, but they are there nonetheless. Some of these things are evergreens, timber, dampness, blizzards, willows, fields, cliffs and crags, sand and clay, mushrooms and mold, boulders, warrens, ivy, thickets, bowers, desolation, and…and yet, so much more.
As a child, we find the first of these things as our inexperienced eyes wander the wild canvas. We find the trees and the rocks and the tumbling streams, as well as the dens and valleys and quiet draws. These finds are as instrumental to our imagination as anything ever was, or will be; because to these sylvan features, we bring our innocence and love, our curiosity, and, for some, our puzzling pain. If we are lucky, during this time, we will find our friends in the wilderness as well, the beasts and critters of the woodland hearth. And for those who capture these friendships, it is not unheard of that such people will contain their exquisite luck, and vanish from our world entirely.
We grow. It is a nuisance to our kind, perhaps, but like the cottonwoods, we grow. And when this happens, for many of us, we become blind to some of the things we had once found in the wilderness. They are no longer there, or so it seems. But we do discover other things, hidden in the forest undergrowth, or beside a cold creek, while lost into a deep canyon of seemingly no divide. We find our conflicts and struggles, our hopes, and realities. We find our siblings and relatives, our neighbors, and strangers. And to our surprise, if we are truly seeking, we find that somehow, under the dim light of the forest, these people appear better than what we expected. It is a good find, one that we shall hopefully cherish for all of our lives.
We find births, and deaths, relationships, and loss. And for some sad few, during this time, we grow tired of searching for all the things we cannot find, and then, with our own terminal hand, we end our adventure and take our last step into eternity.
In the wilderness, we find the calmness of the Mother, the guidance of the Father. We find the Creator, the Destroyer, the faithful, and the wanderer. We find the colossal depths of the universe, and all the emptiness that lies within. And always, this discovery makes us feel as insignificant as a gentle breeze. But in the wilderness, we also find the broken shell of a robin egg. It is the tiniest of things, but a symbol of triumph and everlasting birth, and with this one find, some of us will once again feel renewed of the spirit.
As we grow older, our eyes begin to fade, and it becomes harder to find all the things in the wilderness. We must make ourselves smaller, like that of the child, and bring our bodies closer to the earth, so we may see again. But now there is wisdom in our vision, or enough pain in our hearts, and with these aspects we are able to find that much of what we once knew to be is now so much more.
We find all the splendid colors contained within the wilderness, and it is a palette just waiting for the artist’s attention. We find the seasons of each of our years, rolled up into a single great tree, a redwood or oak, and this trunk shields us, and brings us the strength and warmth to withstand what little winters we have left. In this wilderness, we find the beauty of the infinitely small, knowing that in such smallness, there lies, too, an infinite will. And during this time, if we are blessed, we find the curious stares and soft hands of our youngest ones. It is a sacred time to be alive, we know, observing with great appreciation these little people, as they now find the first of their things in the wilderness.
In the wilderness, the best kept secrets are all the things we find, throughout all the years of our lives. Mountain meadows and wildflowers; golden rays and darkened groves; brook trout, geese, mammals, and reptiles; stands of wood and knuckles of stone; happiness, joy, laughter, and sorrow. But of these vast treasures and secrets, there is only one thing that surmounts them all. Only one thing, for each and every one of us to find. It is the emerald of the forest, the rarest of gems, and for each of us, there exists but only one. Indeed, very few people will find this thing. But we all look for it, every time we take our steps into the wilderness.
And just what is this single, best kept secret, waiting for us to find? In the wilderness, some of us will find ourselves.
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