A Gift of Freedom
Reflections from a hiking trip in the Nelson Lakes National Park, NZ.
The steady rhythmic crunch and thunk of my ice axe and boots is the only sound in the white silence of first light as I climb steadily towards the ridgeline.
I am focused on placement, secure purchase, rhythm, balance, breathing, the pull of muscles. My body is in tune with my mind and my soul. All are present and vibrantly alive, working a cohesive unit to overcome the fear of the icy void beneath my feet and enjoy the spectacular alpine world through which I am travelling.
It is an awesome experience, one made possible by my Dad. No, he is not with me. Nor has he paid for this but I could not be here in this moment of physical and spiritual oneness unless my Dad had taken me into the mountains as a boy and taught me how to traverse steep snow slopes, handle an ice axe and have confidence in my ability and strength.
If my Dad had not pushed me to face fear until I am master of it I would have turned back yesterday when the cloud was down and the deep soft snow was threatening to avalanche with the screaming wind. But I pressed on, and this morning, while it is still frozen hard I climb out onto the summit of the range and revel in awesome views and the sheer joy of living near the edge of fear yet confident in myself to overcome the challenge I have taken on.
Five days in the mountains in the depths of winter, alone but for the occasional adventurer like myself. Alone in the great leveler of mankind, wilderness, mountains and silence. Only those who accept the challenge wilderness offers and walk in their own company conversing with fear and doubt, pain and exhaustion can experience the ecstasy of freedom.
True freedom, I think, is found within oneself and comes when all the confining trappings that we daily fool ourselves with are stripped away. A wilderness challenge can do this, as can imprisonment and loss. Anytime one finds oneself stripped of everything but courage and faith it is then that one discovers loves ability to conquer fear and so step into the blinding light of true freedom.
My Dad gave me that. Yes I have had to discover it on my own but he opened the door for me and I am grateful beyond words. Grateful for the freedom that he showed me and for his encouragement to pursue it. Although I have often been guilty of bending to others expectations and subjugating my freedom to popular opinion I have maintained an almost underground pursuit of my own individuality that in recent years has become important, urgent even in its desire for expression. It was this urging that led me back again into the mountains. For it was in the mountains that I first found that expression and there in the silence and grandeur of their magnificence I find my true self.
Strangely perhaps it is not just the presence of the mountains in which I find my freedom but in the challenge of walking among them, climbing over them and experiencing the often extreme climatic conditions that one encounters. It is in the secret undiscovered beauty of the chasms and icicles, flowers and birds, fish and game and the wonderful cohesive co-existence of everything that I find the truth about life in all its beauty and harshness.
Life is about discovering freedom. The freedom to decide if you will laugh or cry, rejoice or grieve, conquer or succumb. I find the physical and mental challenges of wilderness provide the doorway into the spiritual or soul where the true me exists and so I go back again and again to this gift from my father.
The landscapes I travel through, be they mature towering beech trees, alpine bogs or snow covered peaks, each is represented or mirrored in the landscapes of the heart. There are seasons of growth and grandness and seasons of cold windswept barrenness. All are part of the eternal essence of humanity just as the changing landscapes of the mountains are part of that eternal wilderness.
It is humbling to stand in the silence of the mountains and feel loved and included whilst acknowledging that actually the mountain has no vested interest in me or my feelings or survival at all. To just be a apart of the oneness that is the world in which we live and pass our existence in is enough, overwhelming, exhilarating yet calming and secure all at once. It is where I feel most at home.
It calls my past into my dreams
The song it sings, calls my name
Come dance with me, come dance again
Old am I, and gone to roost
A missing pack, ice axe and boots
Don’t look for me, I’ve gone to dance
One last time with the mountain stream
I’ll laugh and dance and lie down to sleep
And let the snows cover me deep
There I’ll be gathered to the old mountain men
Who sing the song of the mountain stream.