We drove higher and higher. 4,000 feet, 6,000 feet and we lost track I’m sure at about 10,000. We had been waiting to see the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, where some of the oldest trees in the world have dug their roots. Can you imagine the sights these trees have seen? Probably not many of the things we do every day. Not the same people watching or signs of civilization that reside closer to sea level. But I believe they’ve seen the mountains grow, the winds change the shape of the rocks, their tree brethren fall beneath their own shade and birds build families only to watch them grow old and fly on.
We reached a view point and looked across the valley to see that it felt like we were parallel to some of the tops of the Eastern Sierras. There was a path of jagged rocks that converged on to a peak and atop sat a bench to sit and overlook what seemed like the entire world below you. Are you ready? We said to each other without speaking. Swiftly and simultaneously, we hopped from our respective sides of the car, threw on more layers as if we were quick change artists and without a word of what we felt, both started sprinting and screaming at the top of our lungs, trying to playfully out howl the whistles of the wind until we reached the peak. Panting, keeled over we had just charged what we felt like the top of the world, half warrior style, half bird with arms outstretched, cawing echoes that couldn’t even send because the wind brushed them aside like little flies on its shoulder.
There’s something about being at the top of a mountain. There’s something about sending signs of your existence into the universe and listening to the evidence fade into nothingness. Just a few weeks ago, I was on Santa Cruz Island with a group of six eighth graders and two coworkers for my job as an outdoor educator and naturalist. It was the last night of the trip, 7:30 pm and the sun had finally started to show itself after three gloomy days. We were set to meet Victoria, our leader in all her long dreaded power, for a drum stalk on the beach and we decided to meet her there using the only trail we had yet to explore around Scorpion Cove.
We gathered our belongings and began back tracking towards the trail, away from the beach and into a jagged canyon whose formations gave clues of ancient and magnificent waterfalls. The trail began to switch back at what seemed the center of the island, facing us back towards the beach and we looked up towards a path whose ascent seemed to reach into the heavens. Climbing, our legs began to damn us as our minds saw no end in sight, but our hearts pushed us quicker as the sun’s descent transformed the light and shadows with every step we took.
I could not stop moving, feeling more and more energized, my heart and breath pulsating from exertion and excitement as the sky turned from blue to pink to gold. It had been months since my last march to the top of the world. Months since I had last conquered a mountain that I hadn’t already hiked tens of times and here we were crossing six, each one reminding me why to keep exploring new places.
The first peak shined gold as rays of the sun gleamed through each wish on the giant dandelions that glittered the peak. Called Wild Salsify, the field of golden orbs reminded me of my own heart and soul in that moment, large, glowing and prepared to spread its wishes out into the world and universe with one exaltation of the lips or breath of the wind.
We followed the wishes I had freed from their roots to the second and tallest peak. There was the ocean on all sides. I was struck by the idea that I was in a national park in the middle of the Pacific. Like the stars we would see later that night and howl our instincts into after we drum beat our way to the beach, like seeing the tops of the snowy Sierras parallel your stance, there’s something about realizing the power of the ocean by which you are surrounded that makes you feel small. And I yelled. Again. “Yeeehooooooo.” Here I am. It bounced maybe once but was quickly lost in the skies, reminding me even more how small we are in the world, let alone the universe. I am one being, on one mountain, in one ocean, in one world, in one galaxy, in one universe. Here I am and here is what I have to give: a moment of pure, raw expression of self. It is what we can best offer this world. A speck in the grand scheme, a short life in the expanse of time, who am I to not scream with every ounce of my being and give everything to all that I have? This breath on this mountain in this present moment.