This summer I had the opportunity to practice the oft-touted phrase of ‘let go and go with the flow’. My partner, Josh, and I had spent the past few months planning and preparing for a section hike of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). I had a 3-year plan to complete each of the 70-150 mile sections in Washington state by 2020. This year we were planning to hike Rainy Pass in the North Cascades to the northern terminus in Manning Park, BC, Canada. I had been pouring over the maps and trail books, studying campsites and water sources, securing Canada border crossing permits, buying supplies and food, calling ranger stations to discuss conditions and permits. My parents flew into town and had lodging secured at the beginning to drop us off and the end to pick us up. Can you guess where this is going?? Yes, we didn’t get to go. Two days before the start of the hike, the section of trail was closed due to wildfires burning near or on the trail. (If you live in the area, you are probably keenly aware of the devastating season of fires we’ve experienced along with the coinciding poor air quality).
The first night I saw the PCT announcement, I have to admit that I didn’t sleep much, woke up in tears, and cried through most of my work day. I felt both angry and sad, along with a feeling of responsibility for the people who had made plans around our trip (mom, dad, Josh and sister). I was wallowing in the loss of a plan that I had spent so much time and energy perfecting. I was so upset; I could not let go. This trip had been my passion for the summer, preparing for this very section of trail, which was now completely off-limits to me due to circumstances way beyond my control. I also didn’t feel confident planning an entirely new trip at this point with only 2 days to prepare, so the sense of loss was heightened.
Here’s the pattern: attachment to a plan, preparation for the plan, loss of the plan, grief. In Buddhism this is described as ‘samsara’: in figurative terms, a cycle of grief, suffering brought on by impermanence and our own attachments.
I know about this cycle, but it doesn’t make the experience of it it any easier. I had to re-group. I discussed the options with my family and decided to re-do a section of trail that we had done 3 years prior, from Snoqualmie Pass to Stevens Pass. This, in fact, was the only section of trail that you could currently do to completion due to wildfires burning state-wide. Granted, this plan meant that I didn’t get any closer to my 3-year goal of section hiking the WA PCT, but I had to start focusing on the array of positives that came with the new plan: mom could hike 3 days with us, less threat of smoke and fires, revisit a section we loved, get into my favorite alpine lake, etc. I had to focus on the ‘lotus in the mud’. When I focused on what I had lost, it was all grief. When I shifted my mindset, it was more positive. It took a few days to get there, but I was able to see it for what it was. Had we left two days earlier on the section we had planned to do, we would have been in danger, and most likely evacuated by firefighters part-way in.
In what you could see as irony, or perhaps fate, the trail we did hike took our boots through a burn area from 9 years before. This section took on a ghostly beauty. I know that fires (to some extent) are a natural part of a forest ecosystem, in fact some species of pinecone only release their seed under the stress of wildfire. I was in awe of the abundance of wildflowers growing up from the earth. The tree trunks left standing were white and black with char. But the fireweed, a vibrant purple, was thick and thriving. I appreciated the metaphor for my current situation. Things beyond our control often sweep our grand plans away, and we’re left to see the fireweed making its way in the undergrowth.
What are some of your wildfires?
The Obsession with Control
When one understands
The Truth of Impermanence,
One will cease to be obsessed with
I am a lifetime learner and researcher in happy, healthy, fun living.