Hiking down from St Mary’s Peak that towers high on the eastern flank of the immense Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness of Montana and Idaho, my steps slowed as the evening light glowed through forests of whitebark pine and then lower down, lodgepole pine. Higher up, the sun shone upon the amber needles of alpine larch in full fall display.
Light filtered through the trees to illuminate huckleberry leaves flaming with fall colors. Light fell on green moss cloaking a tree limb. A shaft of light captured the burnt sienna richness of lodgepole pine needles of a dying tree.
Looking upwards, the everywhere light shone upon the white and twisted limbs of a long dead whitebark pine. Life. Death. The turn of seasons captured in fall leaves. Sunlight turned my attention toward only a few of the cast of characters in a forest where every square foot emanates some worthy detail.
Where the light cast its spotlight, I paused to look closely at that particular huckleberry leaf, to note its veins of life and the crenelated edges of the oval shape so simple and elegant in a shaft of light.
Nature can be so rich in its tapestry that the effect can be numbing. I walk through a forest with appreciation, yet I miss much of the plot. It takes the spotlights of the late sun to draw my attention to the few lead characters on the stage.
I pause to touch a rough lichen etching circles on granite and wonder about this fungi and algae in their cooperative dance to form lichen—or as I remember from nature lessons long ago: “Algae & fungi took a lichen to each other.”
As I saunter down the mountain, I find I sometimes zoom away from the evening light in the forest on the mountain to go inward where thoughts can be busy and chaotic. The “to do” lists mingle with the “where am I going in life” ponderings, and the news of Pope Francis in the United States and whether we can solve climate change, and a bit of local gossip too.
Imagine then, those shafts of light shining through the dappled clutter of the mind to illuminate what we’re meant to see at that moment. What I realize is that walking in a wild forest after ascending a peak with views into jagged wilderness where the mountains cradle shining lakes in trailless basins that my mind is much more open and ready to accept the dazzle of sunlight upon a very few thoughts. And those thoughts might be the ones that matter the most.
Walking through the forest, my senses attune to what’s around me and focus on the brilliant sunlit details. My mind converges with this forest and light, and thoughts? They are present and sharply tuned. Those sun rays pierce right to my heart, so every thought is the one that’s tied most closely to its’ rhythm.
Yet, if not, I at least can filter through the mind branches and settle upon a few strands and be present with them. There may be no answers, yet like the light upon the highest summits or the tiny huckleberry leaves or the needles of one tree, a simplicity emerges and a wash of relief too. Life. Within the complexity, it’s lovely to dwell for awhile in the essence of this great gift.