Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Higher Elevation

I was doing my 2.8-mile power walk around Greenlake yesterday when I overheard a mother pushing a jogging stroller saying she'll be taking her clients to Katmandu. "How high up is the base camp?" says her friend. Another mother at school, recently left her husband for her rock climbing instructor – seems she fell in love while scaling the heights.

What is it about mothers and the attraction of higher elevations? I, for one, started taking my 6- and 8-year-old children hiking in the Cascades this summer. Just a 30 minute drive and a mere 800 foot descent get us far away from any trace of city life. On the way up, as we pause for a water break, we breathe in the verdant terrain. Earth, ferns, salal and fir fill our senses. A flight of bushtits zoom by seeking food on the next branch.

As we get into the groove of climbing, our hearts' pounding and accelerated breathing sing out "we are alive, we are alive" with every step. And if we spy a vole scurry across our path or two slugs mating, time is suspended as we stop to watch with a pure, focused attention that connects us indelibly to our surroundings. A grounding in sight and sound and awareness that rivals any nirvana achieved through silent mediation.

On the drive back home from my walk, I'm just 25 feet above sea level. The mountains float in the fog, layers of misty pinks and slate grays. My mind reaches out and flies across the distance to sit next to a rocky trail and listen to the hush of the forest and the calling of the Stellar Jay. For a moment I reconnect with a higher elevation, before I pull back to the daily routine of all that's necessary to raise happy, healthy children. When I get home, I'll get out my hiking guidebook, perhaps we can get one more day trip in before the snows fly.