The Ed Abbey Memorial Backpacking Trip IV

A little introduction…

This is my “trip journal” while walking the Pacific Crest Trail from Beldon, Calif. at HWY 70 to HWY 36 at St. Bernard’s Lodge (48 miles or so) with my friends Joshua and Allan. You can read my first entry here, my second entry here, and my third entry here.

Still Day Three
7/25/10 (written 7/29/10)

…We braved a long, steep embankment full of switchbacks that promised us spranged ankles or, even better, deadly free-falls with only short missteps. The darkness, becoming darker and darker every minute, didn’t help much either. So, at around 23 miles into our day three (10 miles past our goal), we sat down to rest on the trail, unsure of where we were. Anxious that we had taken the wrong trail, fearful of injuries, exhausted and in pain, we came to a 2-1 vote to stay put for the night. I didn’t want to camp there (the lone dissentor), but the other two did. In the end, I decided to listen to their judgment of the situation instead of mine, partly because of the same risks that in all honesty even I feared and also partly because I often put myself impulsively beyond good sense in order to salvage a gain, only to find a greater crisis as my consequence.

Before I go into too many details, though, I’ll share the psalm (Salmos 27) that I prayed and memorized prior to the night’s arrival. I walked with this Hebrew scripture, memorizing it, while keeping in mind a Wendell Berry-ism that has always seemed true: “The Bible is best read outdoors.” The background for many of the stories and visions and voices of the Bible come from fields, mountains, trees, animals, wind, sea, and flowers. Without that immersed understanding of our sacred story in the world, we might simply miss the opportunity to actually hear the writer’s communication, powerful and inspired as it is.

Ok. Back to Salmos 27.

Salmos 27

Jehová es mi luz y mi salvación;
¿de quién temeré? Jehová es la fortaleza
de mi vida; ¿de quién he de atemorizarme?

Cuando se juntaron contro mí los malignos,
mis angustiadores y mis enemigos, para comer
mis carnes, ellos tropezaron y cayeron.

Aunque un ejercito acampe contra mí, no
temerá mi corazón; aunque contra mí se
levante guerra, yo estaré confiado.

Una cosa he demandado a Jehová; esta
buscaré; que esté yo en la casa de
Jehová todos los días de mi vida, para
contemplar la hermosura de Jehová y
para inquirir en su templo.

Porque el me esconderá en su taburnáculo en
el día del mal; me ocultará en lo reservado
de su morada; sobre una roca me pondré
en alto.

Luego levantaré mi cabeza sobre mis
enemigos que me rodean; y sacrificaré en
su taburnáculo sacrificios de júbilo; cantaré
y intonaré alabanzas a Jehová.

Oye, oh Jehová, mi voz con que a ti clamo;
ten miserdicordia de mi, y redimeme.

Ha dicho mi corazón de ti: Buscad mi rostro.
Tu rostro buscaré, oh Dios; no escondes tu
rostro de mi. No apartes con ira a tu siervo;
mi ayuda has sido. No me dejes, ni me desemp-
ares, Dios de mi salvación.

Aunque me dejaron mi padre y mi madre, con todo,
Jehová me recogerá.

No me dejes en la voluntad de mis enemigos,
porque se levantaron contra mí testigos falsos;
y los que respiran crueldad.

Hubiera desmayado yo, si no creyese que
verá la bondad de Jehová en la tierra de
los vivientes.

Aguarda a Jehová; esfuérzate y alientese
tu corazón, si, espera a Jehová.

Those last two stanzas sum up my posture of dependence and trust that night alone on the ledge. My two friends were in and out of sleep, one more so than the other (which incidentally became confusing because his snoring very naturally resembled animal growls). So, as I alone waited for the bear noises in the woods to subside (I’m pretty sure it was a bear), the sun to rise, and my heart to stop beating up in my throat I decided to repeat another line from the psalm, over and over again: “yo estaré confiado,” which roughly translated means “I will trust” or more literally “I will be confident.” Of course I said this while taking deep guttural breaths in an effort to calm my body and muster some sort of spiritual courage (versus outright panic).

I didn’t feel at home on the trail that night. Maybe that was because we arrived in the dark and couldn’t get the lay of the land. What we could see was not very hospitable. We were not welcomed by the usual campsite setting (stream, flat ground, birds chirping, flowers, luscious trees), but only by a desolate-looking steep hillside with long fallen trees, unknown whereabouts, lots of loose dirt and dusty trail, a low moon blocked by the remaining giant trees (including no stars and sky), loneliness (or solitude, depending on who’s telling you), crazed night creatures (a bat in Allan’s sleeping bag!), and only a steep shelf along the path to sleep on. In other words, I finally realized, after two nights on the trail, that we were guests out here and not necessarily invited guests, but imposed ones.

Between my intervals of heart-pounding “headlamp security” (where I shined the light all around us every 5 minutes or so) and the empty feeling of exposure and helplessness, my prayers became direct, daring, and filled with an unknown trust. The salmo, it seemed, had risen through me into the night and created a well of suffering, which became a bodily form of worship for me amidst the fear and weakness, perhaps a prelude to the dawn that resurrected for us in the morning. On a secondary level, I guess my night-time fears also served as an alarm system for the rest of the group, a watchman, if you will. And just like other areas of life, it wasn’t the end of being watchful when morning arrived. It did, however, signal an arrival into new beginnings back at home and there on the trail: my walk, my silence, my prayers, my marriage, my son, my profession, my stuff, my friends, my family…my life. Another dark night and a “bon voyage” into the cup-of-everyday.