I’ve been house-sitting for my mom for the last couple weeks, and if that isn’t an adventure in itself, I don’t know what is! She has a hobby farm on the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana, and I was under the mistaken impression that it would be sort of like a little vacation to stay here for a couple weeks, work my full-time job via computer, and occasionally commune with the farm animals. Instead, it’s been a full time job, on top of my existing full time job. I found I was getting further and further behind on both the farm chores and my paying job, and getting more stressed by the minute.
So when an old high school friend who lives nearby called me up and asked if I wanted to help out with shuttling some folks to the starting point of a bike ride about 40 minutes away up in Sun Canyon, and spend some time hiking while I waited for them, I said “Heck, yes!”
(I realize you might think that I would focus on getting caught up on work and chores, instead of heading for the hills, but that’s not how I roll.)
The day started a little hazy and cool, which was perfect for my bike riding friends, who planned to do a 12 mile route that started with 2 miles of a serious uphill grade. Sun Canyon is an epically beautiful place, surrounded by sheer rock walls with a deep river running through the center of it. There are a few passes out through the canyon walls, where elk migrate seasonally. Mountain sheep are common residents, as are black and grizzly bears. My friend Sarah mentioned as we were waiting for the rest of the bikers to arrive, that at her ranch just down the road, they were having a pretty serious bear problem this week.
After making sure all the bikers arrived and made it to the top of the first big hill, I headed out to Sawmill Flat to do some hiking while I waited for them to finish their ride. Sawmill Flat is so called because there used to be a small sawmill located here, which milled local trees. As you drive out across the prairie here, you see hundreds of miles of “jack fences” made from the timber from this old sawmill. There is no remnant I could see of the old sawmill though, just this very old two-track road up into the pass.
I drove up into the trees until I came to a small creek crossing. My dog, Corrie, and I got out and hiked from there, up along a trail that follows the sidehill of that hill you see on the left. That trail is part of the elk migration route, where they pass through to the Wildlife Management Area on the other side of the more distant hill. The trail was steep and sometimes shale-covered, but otherwise really good and easy to follow.
I occasionally worried about how we were in the country of large and sometimes aggressive animals. Where I live in Washington state, there are cougars, but they are quite shy. The only realistically dangerous animal where I live is a deer. But here in Montana, I can easily name a handful of things that I would rather not run into on the trail with my non-savvy dog. People around here always hike with at least high-powered bear spray, and usually with a gun. I had none of those things, but I had a hard time maintaining any sense of concern. Mostly what I noticed was the wildflowers.
And at some point, as I was trying to set up the perfect angle for a wildflower picture, I noticed that something felt a little strange – but in a good way. Pausing to check in with my body system, I realized that my face was relaxed. Like, every muscle in my face had lost the tension I’ve been holding there without realizing it for weeks (or, let’s be honest, for months). I hadn’t even realized my facial muscles were tensed all that time, until this moment, snapping a photo of a random purple flower when I became aware of the unaccustomed ease. Even with the hovering threat of predators, and knowing I needed to get back home soon to do the evening chores, I stood there in this mountainside completely relaxed in a way I hadn’t realized I needed, listening to bees buzz by and something that sounded like a Swainson’s Thrush but wasn’t, just being completely present for a moment in a relaxed and connected moment.
I think this is the moment that people are looking for when the meditate, but I have not ever found that sitting still will get me here. An adventure, however small, is what I need every time to bring me back to my senses and into my body where I can find that still center around which everything else hums.