Thursday, February 20, 2014

Inoculum

Photo Credit: Sara Chao
I hadn’t showered in days. Traditionally a barefoot girl, my hiking boots had become my new best friends. I had just scaled a mountain peak through tears and sweat, but when I reached the top and felt the stillness and vastness of the world, I knew I’d never seen anything more beautiful.

College was a turning point in my life, but it began with a twelve day backpacking trip in the back country of Yosemite. Through this program, called Inoculum, my college provided an opportunity for a handful of incoming students to earn college credit and explore a beautiful part of the world inaccessible except for one’s own two feet or the back of a horse. Out of the ten students in my group, some were seasoned backpackers and others, like me, had never backpacked a day in their lives.

We adapted to the wilderness, but the true test was how to brave the wilderness within. I realized that I’d put a mask on who I was in high school. On the trail, however, every façade was worn away by the layers of grime under our fingernails. We saw people for who they were as we struggled to put up bear bags, stuffed down mystery pasta that, like every meal, had hidden cashews in the sauce, and in the starlight as we slept. I found that people liked me for who I was, not the makeup I plastered on or the clothes I wore, but simply for me. To remind myself of that, I did not wear makeup for the ensuing freshman year of college. I knew I needed to learn that people should be friends with me for who I was, not what I looked like, or they were not true friends. I needed to learn to be confident in who I was, with all the artifice stripped away.

Halfway through the trip, our group climbed a peak. I allowed my vulnerability to surface, let my fears show up visibly on my face. To our left was the mountain and to our right, a drop to a lake hundreds of feet below. I couldn’t help myself. I began to cry, and my companions rallied around me and helped guide me, but the last two hundred feet, when we were at last roped in, were up to me alone.

That terrifying climb was rewarded with one of the most pristine moments in my life: an awareness of how small I was, and of the incredible beauty of life.

The process of learning to be comfortable in my own skin continued the subsequent day. All through the canyon where we were camped, our guide had selected specific locations for each member on the trip. In these locations, we would spend a solitary 24 hour period, without food or friends. Our locations had specific boundaries so we would not encounter the other students. We were there to encounter ourselves.

A sloping rock became my bedroom; the meadow my living room. I created a home for a day out of wind and sky. And in that time, I journaled about what I wanted my life to look like. I wrote down goals and dreams and my personal tenets for living. And though I’d always been good at being alone, I found that I missed the friends with whom I’d been traveling. I understood that I needed to rely on others instead of simply on myself.

The conclusion of the trip set into motion years of intense growth at college. My life changed in many ways, but I found a still calmness in Yosemite that may elude me when I am submerged in life’s busyness, but that I will never forget.

After I’d scaled a mountain peak, I felt like I could do anything. Yet that potential had simply been unrealized until I was forced to climb through my fears.

As I face the crossroads in my life today, I hold that mountaintop moment in my heart, and remind myself that I can still climb peaks.



Danielle at Sometimes Sweet invited her readers to respond to a writing prompt, similar to those she used to give her high school English class, to write about and then share with others who also were answering the prompt. I love this idea because it gives a sense of community to what can be a lonely pastime or profession, as well as introducing bloggers to others who are also interested in thinking and writing deeply. This is what I wrote in response to the prompt.

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