Desolation Wilderness is a large piece of land west of Lake Tahoe and north of Highway 50 that is part of the National Wilderness Preservation System. It is nearly 64,000 acres of subalpine and alpine forest, granitic peaks, and glacially-formed valleys and lakes. It is wild and desolate, and a permit is required to enter the area even for day use.
Lying awake at four o’clock this morning, it struck me that this terrain I am navigating is its own kind of desolation wilderness, and maybe, just maybe, I should have thought ahead, applied for a permit, and at the same time, learned all I could about traversing the area—trails, elevation changes, obstacles, wild animals I might encounter, moon phases (to guage times of light/darkness), etc. I could have talked with some experts, people familiar with the area, googled it, maybe read some travel books. Anything to have had some information ahead of time about entering a wilderness area while carrying a heavy load and leaving behind everything known and comfortable.
All kidding/sarcasm aside, a couple of years ago, in the time period before I actually moved out of our home but knew it was going to happen, when I was so distraught I was having trouble getting out of bed, it came to me that perhaps what I was experiencing was a dark night of the soul. In years past, during one hard time or another, I had innocently tossed the notion about after having read about it in books, but never, not until going through this time, did I even begin to have a clue about how devastating the experience could be. According to Wikipedia, dark night of the soul is a metaphor used to describe a phase in a person’s spiritual life, marked by a sense of loneliness and desolation. I’ve also seen it described as a lengthy and profound absence of light and hope in which you feel profoundly alone, and in which all things that normally aided and inspired you provided no sustenance at all.
Loneliness and feeling profoundly alone. Two states that I am experiencing intensely right now, but am big-time resistant to admit to or to speak of. Somehow I have the idea that to feel lonely is somehow a personal or spiritual failure; that to feel alone, to ever want or need more than myself, means that I’m doing something wrong, or am somehow, in some way, deficient. Is there a stigma about loneliness or is it all in my imagination, my own projection? From where I sit, I can’t honestly say. I only know that in the recent past, alone for three months on Moloka’i, moving up here alone, that when people have asked if I ever felt lonely, I was always pleased (relieved? proud?) that I could honestly answer no.
One of the things that in the past sustained and inspired me was the idea and experience of things mystical; synchronicities, and signs of a great web of connection and interaction between the universe and all of life, suggestions that something much larger, wiser even then we, was in operation. Whenever a red-tailed hawk, my primary totem animal, soared over my car on the highway, I knew that I should slow and listen. When dolphins began coming to me in dreams, I knew it was time to skate to the edge of my terror of swimming in the ocean, and answer their call.
As a kid, I loved butterflies—giant yellow and black tiger swallowtails, especially. The way they danced through the air was magical to me. As an adult, I still love all butterflies, from the biggest to the tiniest, and learned long ago that their “medicine,” their message to us humans, is all about death and rebirth of transformation. Yesterday, walking around the gardens at the Tallac Historic Site in Tahoe, I saw more tiger swallowtails together than I had seen since I was young. Yellow and black, and white and black, with the beautiful bright red and blue spots on the tips of their wings. Sitting gracefully on the bright pink and red flowers, twirling together, circling so closely around me before landing again, I could practically feel them. In another time of my life, it would have been breathtaking. I would have stood in awe, I would have been deeply moved, I would have seen it as a sign…
Yesterday, it was merely a photo op…
Or was it?