“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul”
After more than two months of quarantine – under very strict rules – in my small apartment in Rionegro, Colombia, I long to go for a rugged hike in the mountains or a walk along a sandy beach while listening to the soothing sound of breaking waves. Unfortunately, all non-essential travel is still banned in the region, with checkpoints set up to prevent unnecessary contact between people from different towns. With the healthcare disaster taking place in neighboring Brazil very much on people’s minds, the government of Colombia is taking the transmission of Covid-19 very seriously.
But, hey, I’m not complaining. Compared to the millions around the world who are currently suffering serious illness or feverishly searching for their next meal, I know I’m very lucky. And, while I’m grateful to be in a country where the government is placing the health of citizens first, my spirit needs to fly free for a while.
Despite feeling alone, distracted and at times disoriented, I’ve been finding a degree of solace in the 25,000+ photos on my hard drive which allow me to relive memorable past adventures. Even though I’m not a prolific selfie taker, I must admit that seeing photos of myself surrounded by magical landscapes makes it easier for me to visualize an escape from the reality of the moment.
Discovering the Pacific Northwest
In 1988, I moved to Seattle, a tolerant, diverse city with thriving art and music scenes. While I immediately felt as if I’d found my home, it was what lay just beyond the urban area that fully ticked all the boxes on my best places to live list. Gazing in any direction from one of the city’s seven hills, there were splendid views of snow-capped mountains and glistening water – a true wilderness lovers paradise.
As I always do when arriving in a new place, I read voraciously to learn about the area’s history, particularly stories of the region’s early explorers – miners, mountain climbers and unconventional dreamers. My fifteen years in the region were filled with weekend and holiday hikes and backpacking trips straight out of the many guidebooks published by local hiking experts Bob and Ira Spring, Louise B. Marshall and the Seattle Mountaineers. These local authors were supplemented by the writings of naturalist John Muir and the photos of Ansel Adams, both pioneers in wilderness preservation.
While I’ve traveled far and wide on six continents and lived in half a dozen countries on four of those, it’s difficult to think of a better place to be on a sunny August day than enjoying the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.
Feeling Whole in Nature
Grueling summit hikes in the Cascade Mountains – thundering with the sounds of the range’s innumerable waterfalls – were both physically conditioning and a self-esteem booster. The physical and mental challenges of the Cascade volcano climbs I undertook with experienced local friends – who’d spent years honing their mountaineering skills – were particularly beneficial in building what folks from previous generations would call ‘character.’ Being roped together with other members of a climbing party while traversing steep icy glaciers certainly highlights the importance of mutual human trust and interdependence.
Most of all, the time I spent exploring the majestic flower-covered mountain meadows and the equally rugged and magical Pacific coastline of the Olympic National Park were the times when I felt whole. Backpacking solo to the summit of an isolated peak and imagining that I was the only person on a mountain gave me a sense of peace and oneness with nature that I relished.
Added bonuses on many backpacking trips were eating wild blueberries growing along the trail or waking up to find a family of mountain goats grazing beside my tent. Away from the distractions of civilization, life slows to the rhythm of one’s breath and the sound of the wind blowing through the tall fir trees.
So, off I go on another imagined adventure as I try to forget that I’m sitting on a wooden stool at my kitchen counter trying to make the best of life under government quarantine.