I went home this weekend to see my dad and stepmom and to escape into nature. It’s been almost a year since I’ve been home to see my parents, because 2020. We’ve chatted on the phone and texted here and there, but there’s something completely different about being together in a familiar setting that highlights the passage of time and its affect on our bodies and minds. When all we experience is a voice over the phone, it’s easy to assume that everything is just as you left it. Hair, skin, energy, health…
And as I witness the aging process in real time, it baffles me to think of my dad as only a couple of years younger than my grandmother when she died. And that in two short decades (at best), my dad won’t be here anymore. He is in the home stretch of his life – unfathomable to me, and equally so to him, I’m sure.
In the best case scenario, I’ll only have an additional 30 years… and then it’s over.
Just like that.
How can something that feels so huge to me be so short? So small? So insignificant?
We are born. We live. We die.
And the process continues.
Birth. Life. Death. Regeneration.
I see it play out in the forest as the leaves change – in the stream as a ravenous copperhead skillfully hunts a school of fish – in the fresh spring water flowing out into the stream to be evaporated, sucked into the sky, crashing again into the soil…. only to revisit the painful drip and filtering to the depths beneath.
And no matter how far we attempt to remove ourselves from this natural process, there is no escape. The kingdoms we build for ourselves will soon be shattered – whether by outside force, our own doing, or the natural process of destruction and regeneration.
It’s the most basic truth in existence. And yet, I seldom consider it. Because both the enormity and uncertainty are just too much for my little brain.
That is, until I find myself crackling down a trail in the Hercules Glade Wilderness in southern Missouri with my bestie, Ivy and my boo, Mike.
It was a gorgeously warm October day, and after an hour’s drive from my parent’s house in Ozark, we arrived at the trailhead. One of those Autumn days where there were plenty of green leaves left on the trees, and once in a while a bright copper orange popped through to take my breath away. I don’t think I uttered a word during the first half hour, because that color palette – the one with all the shades of green and the occasional orange – is close to the top of my “greatest reasons for living” list. No lie. Breathtaking.
Not too far down the path, an overlook emerged with a grand view of the Ozark Mountain foothills. I resisted the urge to pull my phone out to take a picture, and instead paused, breathed, and worked on accepting my smallness and the big-ness of the world around me.
Continuing on, I have to say, there was quite a lot of horse poo. Though I love horses, I don’t particularly love their droppings. We established a routine of yelling “CODE BROWN!” when the line leader happened upon a pile… followed by two consecutive “Oh Shit’s” as we carried on. It was a funny game… the first twelve times.
Ivy helped us choose this particular trail because of water falls promised at the end of the loop, and when we reached the location of the alleged falls, we were disappointed because there just hadn’t been enough rain to fill them. What I quickly realized, however, was that there are many reasons to be excited about dry falls:
- The intricate layering of sediment that formed these giant rocks
- Staring for at least an hour at a copperhead hunting its prey
- Laughing hysterically at the mating walking sticks who had made their love bed on Ivy’s shoe… how they could walk around while copulating still mystifies me.
- Climbing down to the rock bed to fill our water bottles with fresh spring water.
Stopping for a while to explore the surrounding area, we discovered a few primitive campsites, and if we would’ve brought a tent and extra food, we would’ve stayed in this spot all day and through the night.
Sigh. Maybe next time.
The entire hike was a little over seven miles, and it wasn’t until about halfway through the hike back that I started to feel fatigued. And man… when it set in… it set in. I was instantly cranky, irritable, and silently yelling at Mike to slow his roll.
Seriously. Dude can walk FAST.
At least I had a good view, right? 😉
Retracing our steps back to the trailhead, the teal shimmer of my CR-V peeked through the tree branches. Sweet victory.
We had arrived.
And on the drive home, and for the next several days I kept thinking about how big everything is. Nature… the world… the universe… the insane passage of time that has occurred since the beginning (whenever that was…) and how my tiny spec dotted on the grand canvas of existence is so insignificant… yet seems so giant.
And I have to say, most of the time, I just don’t know what to do with it all.
What about you? How do you handle the “big-ness” of the universe vs. your tiny self? How do you make sense of it? Do you think our preoccupation with our own existence is unique to our post-modern western culture? I’d love to know your thoughts.