By Day Five of the hike, as you may recall, we were deep into our movement to Mt. Whitney. The day before we had fought our way down through brush and and rain; the morning was a slow movement upward before lunch, followed by a quicker move upward.
The hike after lunch saw us begin to stretch out over the trail. I suppose, in retrospect, this was not a big concern to our guides: the trail was clear, we had a known destination, and the big push would be the following day, when we scaled Mt. Whitney. We marched along in our clusters as we began to string ourselves out based on speed and drive.
And then, after lunch, it started to rain.
The rain that day was not the rain of the previous day, a steady slow drizzle that invaded every crack and seam and pooled water on the crown of my hat. Instead it was the on-again/off-again intensity of a shower, something that I am much more familiar with thanks to life in New Home. It was a cold rain but not overwhelmingly in its intensity.
I hiked through the trees and along the edge of meadows as the rain increased and decreased in its intensity, broken up by the trees that sheltered the trail. At some points I simply stopped and stepped into the cover of a tree as the rain intensified. For some reason this was not something we had done previously on the hike; we had to simply walk through the rain. In this case I was on my own with a limited time table; why, I thought, get even more wet?
The silence of the High Sierras was deafening at the best of times. Absent were the sounds of insects and birds that fill the lower lands. Occasionally one would hear one, but it was a rather rare experience which frankly surprised me: after all, this is a place where people are very much absent by and large. Would wildlife not thrive?
Apparently not; I walked alone in the dripping rain and light wind with only the crunch of my shoes and my hiking poles to break the silence.
The rain sputtered in and out and finally fell to an almost inaudible patter, and I was now alone in a wet and uniquely barren wasteland punctuated with green and brown. I stopped to just drink in the silence and and the landscape, something that I had been less than diligent about doing more frequently - being part of a group on a hike does not often leave such opportunities as you are part of a line moving forward and if you stop, the line stops. I stood along the trail with granite sand and dust beneath my feet and boulders on every side and the sequoias around me, tall sentinels seemingly of another age dripping with wet sky as they have for thousands of year.
And then, for one brief instant, I was utterly lost to myself.
In that moment there was no separation between me and the world around me. I was not a person walking through the landscape, I was part of the landscape: the rocks beneath my feet running to the roots of the earth, the trees striving to reach the sky for light and the depths for water, the very air around me, dripping with water that meant life and renewal for all of this. For that moment there was simply no time, just the sense of one ageless moment.
And then, just like that, it was gone. I was again a hiker, moving through the wilderness to which I was a foreigner.
I knew enough from reading about such moments experienced by others that to try to recreate the moment would be as foolish as it was useless. They come and go at their own discretion; we are but helpless to accept the experience.
What was it? I suspect Christian mystics like St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection would say it was a moment of union with God. I am not so arrogant to presume such an event would ever happen to me (although perhaps it was). The easier term for me is actually from Buddhist thought: satori, or the moment of enlightenment. But perhaps if satori is actually realizing one's place in God's creation, that might very well work.
Not that I was enlightened at all, of course: One could almost feel the thought coming - and then it was gone. But, perhaps, that is enlightenment.