SHANE'S HIKING JOURNAL - OCTOBER 15-17, 2005
Fair warning should be given at this point that there are some photos on this page where you can see my rear end. If you think that's a problem, then you should leave this page and go read Storming the Gates of Eden instead and then get back to me.
Well, it has been quite awhile since I have been able to get outdoors for any period of time to do any serious walking. With Madeline coming along, and so much to do, I just haven't had the time. All of our vacations this year have been canceled due to illness or natural disasters (hurricanes), and so no relief was had on any level. Hurricane Katrina wasn't any help.
We were fortunate enough this weekend to finally go to Navarre Beach, Florida and stay with my in-laws. The house is finally repaired enough to stay in after Ivan and Dennis did their damage.
I've decided to log my hiking reports here, because they are germane to walking, and I haven't had anything to report here for some time.
All said this weekend, I walked between 14 and 18 miles of the Florida Trail along Navarre Beach and Gulf Islands National Seashore. The beach house is right on the shore, and therefore right on the trail because the trail runs along the shore. I have to walk about a mile down the beach to get to GINS from where we stay.
I didn't actually do much walking on Saturday, and rather spent some time with Virginia on the beach playing in the sand. Those pictures and parts of the trip report not covered here are contained in the Navarre Beach Diaries section.
SUNDAY - EARLY MORNING
All of the photographs on this page were all taken by the light of the full moon on Sunday night, and not actually on Sunday morning. I don't like to carry much on beach walks, but I pulled the camera out on Sunday night to do some experimenting. I used a Sony MVC-CD300 with full manual settings. Aperture at 2.8, and a shutter of 8 seconds, and then level adjustments in Photoshop. Nothing has been added to them. The images are just as they appear, even the Sky Spirit shot with the spirit evident. I'm pretty happy with the photographs, and I've used them as illustrations for a few things, but don't think that I have someone following me around with a camera, because I don't. I use a tripod and a timer for all the shots. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. All of this took quite a bit of setup, and plenty of trial and error. I'm pretty happy with the results, especially the ones with the constellation Orion in them. If anybody wants high resolution versions, just use the form at the bottom of the page to tell me what you want, and be sure to provide your email address.
I go to sleep Saturday night with the sound of the sun in my ears. I have had a lot of sun today, and I like the feeling. My expectation is to sleep late, but at 3:00 AM, I come wide awake. Madeline is sleeping in her port-a-crib, breathing lightly, and Virginia is pressed hard against me and sound asleep. I'm not sure why she tries to actually sleep under me when we let her sleep in the bed with us, but that's what it seems like. Andrea is snoring lightly, and the ceiling fan whirrs overhead in the darkness. Despite all of this, I can hear the sea.
It calls me by a name only it knows, and I am powerless to resist this call.
I arise lightly, and clothed only in the night, I go down to see what the sea could possibly want with me in the middle of the night. Having done this more than a few times, though, I have a pretty good idea. As I go out the door, a stanza from Far Places by Martha Hunter comes to me, "On a night such as this, I keep a tryst with old desires that unappeased persist..."
As I go down, I walk between worlds and fade from the world of man, and arrive in The Place With No Name. There is only now. I am alone with the world, and beyond any compassion. There is only the ground below me, only the sky above me, and I wear no masks. I am a ghost among ghosts.
I have sung the Song of Ages, but I go down now to listen to the Song of the Sea. This is a voice, and a language, far above words.
"Here I am."
"Huuuuussssssshhhhhhh....." <BE QUIET>
I kneel on the beach, not as an act of worship, but in the tradition of my clan. The moon is bright, and I can see the beach and the water and the entire universe stretched out before me on an indescribable canvas. I reach out with my feelings, and as time slows, I can hear the waves, the wind, the song of the whale-dream, and the sound of the planets and the sound of the stars. The planet holds me up to the stars, and the wind caresses me lightly. The Voice of the Universe can be heard in this place, if you know how to listen.
Letters have no meaning by themselves, but when strung into words they express many ideas. The alphabet of the universe is not mere letters, but trees, and grass, and mountains, and rivers, and stars, and moons, and suns. With this alphabet is written a powerful Scripture. As small squiggles of ink on paper express any idea, the Alphabets of Nature compose that Volume of Scripture known as The Universe. Even the smallest grain of sand proclaims the sacred laws. All things - animate and inanimate - preach eloquently and incessantly. They cannot pause in their orations. You cannot hear it through your ears, but you can hear it through your eyes. You can hear it through your mind's eyes, and your heart's eyes, and through the eyes of your soul and the eyes of your spirit. You cannot hear it through your knowledge, or logic, or intellect, or perception, or even through your metaphysics. You must observe, not calculate, sympathize, not analyze, divine, not define. You must go directly to the Soul of Creation with your innermost consciousness. The falling leaves and the blooming flowers reveal to us this holy law.
Tonight, Virginia and I were outside watching the sunset. She said to me, "Daddy, why is the sunset so beautiful?"
And I told her, "It is so beautiful, because it isn't something you can keep. It's something that you see, and your heart goes out because you know that soon it will be done, and you will never see it again. Tomorrow you may see another, but this one will be lost forever. The sunset means the end of this day, a day we will never see again. It is beautiful because it is a moment of our lives in which we give thanks."
Then she said to me, "Oh, daddy, I think it's beautiful because of all the colors."
"Perhaps, my child, perhaps."
"Thank you, sunset.", she says.
Will Yeats comes to mind:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping
Than you can understand.
"Ye who seek for purity and peace, go to Nature. She will give you more than ye ask. Ye who long for strength and perseverance, go to Nature. She will train and strengthen you. Ye who aspire after an ideal, go to Nature. She will help you in its realization. Ye who yearn after Enlightenment, go to Nature. She will never fail to grant your request."
Sit with me now, and take a deep breath, relax, and listen.
After some time, I slip into the sea and let the waves rock me gently as the stars slide slowly across the sky. The jealous moon beams brightly, and for a time all is right in the world. Orion rises, and I dance a prayer as the Sky Spirits sing for me.
After this, I walk back to the world of men and slip back into bed next to Virginia, who tries to bury herself under me again. We snuggle soundly until the sun sings into the sky, and we rise early to wish him a good morning.
On Sunday, I decide to have a walk down to The Park as I call it, which is the Gulf Islands National Seashore - or at least that part of it that is on Opal Beach. I have to walk about a mile down the beach to get to GINS from where we stay, and from that point, it's about 14 miles as a crow files to Pensacola.
The beach is badly eroded, and I actually have to walk under some of the houses that used to be more than 100 yards from the water. As I get closer to GINS, I walk under a house that is now *in* the water and leaning badly. While I am under it, I think, "Gee, maybe I shouldn't be walking under here..."
Well....you see these two houses here? These are two of them that I walked under. Kenny Wilder posted this one up on www.pensacolanewsjournal.com on October 23 - eight days after I was there. While it's hard to see, both houses are leaning pretty badly. Pay attention to the one on the left...
Kenny posted this picture on October 25! Notice anything?
The poor house finally gave up and sat down on the
beach. Very sad. Fortunately, nobody was under it at the
That house above on the left side of the picture is the last house before The Park. It wasn't the last house, but it is now...
Here's another shot, a little closer. I don't think
that next house has long to go either.
These houses used to be about 100 yards from the water, and now they're IN the water. Very sad.
Even though the beach is littered with debris from wrecked buildings - including glass, sharp tile, sheet metal, broken concrete, nails of every description, and various kinds of roofing material - I am barefoot. Carefully walking west, I come to the invisible line where the 'private' section of beach ends, and the 'national' part of the beach starts. The road in is blocked, and in truth, it's totally washed out, so even if it weren't blocked, a car wouldn't get far.
Despite it being the weekend, there are few people about. Most of the houses are still damaged from the storms, and a few people are on the beach, but not as many as I would normally expect. I can only see two people actually inside the park, and I have a really good view of the beach for a very long way. As I get closer to the two people that I can see, they resolve into two gentlemen sunbathing in beach chairs about 100 yards into the park.
As I walk along, the flies start to really bother me, and I keep slapping them and killing them. Rami once said that things like this were gurus that were provided to teach us a lesson. I hope that he is wrong, because if he's right, I am killing a lot of my gurus sent to teach me valuable lessons, which means I'm developing some really bad karma. I don't really think about what I look like, but to an observer, I am walking along and hitting myself in various parts of my body from time to time. I must look remarkably insane...
I have to tell that part because it explains what happens next. One of the sunbathing gentlemen - who I haven't really been paying attention to - shouts out, "Are you OK?" I have been planning to just pass them by and not disturb their relaxation, but now that I have been spoken to, courtesy dictates that I stop for a moment and exchange pleasantries. I tend to dislike that sort of thing, and I was hoping to avoid it. I leave the shoreline, and walking up the beach towards them, I say, "I'm doing fine except for these pesky flies." One of the gentlemen says, "Here, use some of this oil. They hate this stuff." Being much obliged, I sprayed some on and spread it around. They ask me where I was from, and when I tell them 'New Orleans', they kindly asked about our situation, and we had a nice chat. Much better than the usual drivel about the weather and such. They are very genuine people.
I should note, I suppose, that both of these gentlemen were sunbathing nude, and I think at first they thought I might be shocked or something, but then I ask, "Is it OK to go nude down this section?", and they reply, "Well, there isn't anybody out here until you hit Pensacola." Fair enough.
I thank them again for the oil, and decide to keep walking. Once I get far enough, the only footprints are mine. Being alone, I strip off my suit and tuck it into the loops of my hat and keep going. I couldn't go very far or spend very much time because I had to get back and make dinner, so I only walked a little way and then came back around. I had another chat with the gentlemen and proceeded back to the beach house where I made some of the best burgers I have ever made in my life.
We have to return home Monday afternoon, so time is precious. Andrea says that I can have about two hours, and I am torn between taking a nap and taking a walk. I consider it for a little bit, and then decide on both - but should I nap before my walk or after? Thinking about that, I decide to walk first. If I die on the walk, the missed nap will be no great loss, but if I die in my sleep, then I will eternally regret not having that last time in the sun. I bought a bottle of that oil that the flies hate so much and coat myself in it and take the bottle with me.
I follow the same path as previous, and I keep walking until there isn't another person in front of me until Pensacola - about 14 miles away. The only footprints on the beach are mine. I look behind me, and I'm 1/4 mile into the park and nobody can see me even with a good pair of binoculars. The park is entirely mine. With this realization, I remove my (rather skimpy to begin with) bathing suit, apply some extra oil, and bury my hat, my bathing suit, and the bottle of oil in the sand. I will have no civilization on this walk.
I suppose that this is a leap of faith. Someone may have out-walked me earlier in the day and will catch me at some point on their return - or someone will walk out while I'm walking back. If someone comes upon me, I'll just smile, wave, and keep walking. I'm not here to harm anyone, and it isn't like someone could call the police to come, and even if they were called, I don't think one could come out here in a hurry. I would be long gone by the time a policeman got here to threaten me with violence for being happy...
I stand up and make sure that I know exactly where to find my kit when I return, and then I keep walking west. There isn't much debris here from the storms. The beach is eroded, and there are a few chunks of demolished blacktop here and there, but they are easy to avoid. When I come across a bit of metal or a brick, I pick it up and throw it high on the beach. Sooner or later, someone will come around and clean up those things. When I come across a bit of broken glass, I pick it up and hurl it far into the water. Folks who have never seen sea glass will think that's dangerous, but the water will tumble the glass in the sand and smooth the edges quickly. A piece of glass thrown up onto the beach would stay sharp until someone found it with their foot, and so it's better to let the waves have it and take the edges off. I suppose that now I can say I've done trail work on the Florida Trail. I wonder how much trail work gets done by nude volunteers? Not many, I suspect.
I keep following the edge of the water, the waves lapping at my feet. The day is hot, and the sun is bright, and the light breeze tickles me all over. It's pretty much paradise.
As I walk along, I am happy. Happier than most people are in this lifetime. I remember well the lesson, "In the previous ages, children did not cry. They did not cry because the Earth Mother cradled them, and the Great Spirit sang to their souls. The Earth Mother and the Great Spirit have not forgotten this, but the children no longer go to them."
I go out into nature, because nature is my religion. The wilderness is my Bible. It doesn't have chapters and verses. It has trees and fish and animals. The sky is my father, and the earth is my mother, and all the living things with feet or wings or roots are my brothers and my sisters. My walk is a prayer. Every step a chant. Every moment a chance to come to the place where wild horses thunder wild and free across the plains of my soul. A true walk turns my heart into the drum of the Universe, and causes it to beat in time with eternity. My skin, my muscles, my bones, and all my sinews are made from the ashes of our ancestors, and they cry out and reveal ancient secrets if you know how to listen. You cannot experience this truly while wearing any kind of mask to hide behind. The freedom of being human, without shame, amidst the vast creation in the presence of the Universe is a way to restore the lost wisdom of the heart of the Earth. It is a way of returning to the truth of all the Universe, of all peoples, of all our relations. It is a way - and perhaps the way - to be what you are.
Walking is a simple prayer. I do not think that a prayer is something that you say, I think that a prayer is something you are. A number of trips ago, in Black Creek, the river daughter gave me a double handful of gravel and a lesson. I became a walking altar. I came home and began the lesson I was given. To everyone I knew, I gave one of the pebbles and said, "I want you to know that I am thankful for you." Some wanted to know what it was, and I said, "It is an ordinary piece of gravel." Some got it and some didn't. Some were touched, and some weren't. Knowing or not, though, they all became walking altars. Not just sacred beings, but sacred places in their own selves. Holy, Holy, Holy, is this, and I am thankful, thankful, thankful.
There is only one way to pray this prayer. You must know yourself. I know myself quite well, and I'm reasonably certain that I'm a fruitcake, so it's all good, eh?
Since few people have frequented this beach after hurricane Dennis, there is an entire seashell collection scattered along my path. In places, the waves wash them up onto the gentle slope of the shore. As the wave retreats, the shells tumble back down and clink against one another making a kind of musical laughter that makes all the parts of me happy. I cannot help but to walk along with a grin plastered on my face. My pace is leisurely, but under the sun I start to sweat, and I wade out into the waves and sit in the water to cool off and let the motion of the ocean rock me to and fro. The water is absolutely clear, and as the water gets deeper it becomes a glowing emerald color that I have never been able to capture on film. I breathe to the rhythm of the waves and listen to their music as they wash onto the shore.
"Huuuuuuusssssshhhhhhhh!" <BE QUIET!>
"Too much of this", I think, "and I'll fall asleep and drown."
I am a little thirsty, but I don't have any water with me. I didn't carry any, not wanting to be burdened by anything heavy, and I don't even have any buried with my hat. Alas.
I keep walking west, ignoring my thirst, continually curious to see what may lay around the next curve of shoreline or hill of sand. There aren't many dunes left, but there are some, and I have some hope that the area might recover before the next large storm flattens it all again. Neither side in this war seems to be in a particular hurry. The wind blows the sand around gently and when it thinks the sand castles it has built are large enough, the wind comes in and knocks them all flat again. The wind has been playing this game for longer than men have walked the earth, and I think that it will continue to play long after we are no more and have turned into the dust that the wind piles into castles.
After awhile, I come to a long shallow bar running out into the water, with a long flat stretch of beach in front of it. The waves lay down ever so gently over the distance, and there are many seashells massed on the shore. The place is too inviting to pass up, and since I have to stop and turn around sooner or later, I decide to spend some time here. There is a tidal pool just west of the sandbar where the water is perfectly calm, and then past that is a place where the waves again wash seashells across the sounding board of the beach and tumble them down so that they make their laughing music that makes me so happy.
I begin to collect driftwood and shells and arrange them in the middle of the beach in a huge flat spot. I collect dozens and dozens of amazing things and arrange them as they tell me to into an altar in the tradition of my mother-in-law. Someone has recently told me that we should use the word 'shrine' in place of 'altar', and I suppose I will have to talk to my mother-in-law to see if we can change it. ;) It is pleasing work, and while I think for a moment that I might like to have a camera to take a snapshot of it, I quickly understand that it is far better to share this moment alone and without future voyeurs. When I walk away, this will be lost in time and space - a true offering to the universe - and no one will be able to steal it from me.
Altar building, no matter how pleasing, is hot work with the sun smiling down and reflecting off the water and off the sand to bake you evenly on all sides. I wade out into the waves and splash the sand off of my body. I decide to go float in the tidal pool, but when I come near it, I find that it is already occupied by a large stingray. He (she? it?) is three feet across, and maybe five feet long with tail. A mottled sandy color, it drifts around the pool, sometimes running up almost onto the beach and then slipping back down. I sit down right at the edge and watch it for awhile, spellbound by the effortless grace of a creature in its natural environment. I wonder if it can see me - just another creature in my natural environment.
Two pelicans fly low over the water and come very close to me. Sand crabs scuttle to and fro in errands that only they understand. I breathe deeply a few times and there are no cares on me in this place. I relax and reach out with my spirit and I can hear the universe around me. The waves pound the rhythm as they dance onto the shore. The seashells tumble up and down the beach, and their music is pure laughter. The breeze plays in my hair, and caresses me lightly. The sun sings me dry. Here, in this place, the music is endless, and I am called to dance.
This is not a call I can resist in any way, and so while the symphony of the sea plays and universe sings, I dance, and I am quickly lost to the music. Am I dancing to the music of the universe, or is the universe playing to my dance? Am I in the universe, or is the universe in me?
There is only now. I did not exist before this moment, and I will not exist after it. My entire life is just the blink of an I.
When I again find the words of man, I can think of nothing else to say but, "Thank you."
It is time to go, but I have a last look around and offer thanks for the healing gifts I have received in this place. "Ya'at'eeh mitakuye oyasin.", I say, mixing the Navajo and Lakota phrases in ways I hope the spirits will understand.
At that point I realize that I am a total fruitcake, but the spirits don't seem to mind that either.
I suppose it is worth explaining, because we don't have words for them in English yet. "Ya'at'eeh mitakuye oyasin." is "Yah tay Mee-tah-koo-yay O-yah-seen." Ya'at'eeh is Navajo, and literally means 'it is good'. It's sort of like 'aloha' in Hawaiian, and depending on the context is 'good to meet you' or 'well met', all the way to 'I am thankful for the universe'. Mitakuye oyasin is Lakota, and in the sacred ceremonies, like a sweat lodge, when a Lakota speaks, he says 'mitakuye oyasin', which means 'all my relations'. This is because when speaking to someone it might be forgotten that everyone is related to one another. We are not strangers after all, and if we do not know each other very well, that is all right. It is not possible to know everyone, but we can know that we are relatives. We have a responsibility to each other to never forget that. We should not show disrespect to any relation. Strangers are just family that we haven't had enough time to visit with yet.
So, when I say, "Ya'at'eeh mitakuye oyasin.", it is an expression of my thanks and a reminder to me of the myriad of interconnected relationships that are sometimes difficult to discern. I suppose I could say in English, "I am thankful for ya'll.", but the indian words make my mouth happy.
As I wander away from my sacred place, I remember the LNT code: "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints." and I laugh out loud. I have no camera, and I certainly don't have anything I can leave. Walking naked is LNT compliant, and the thought tickles me for some reason. I wonder if the LNT folks would buy it...
As I walk back east along the shoreline, the island rises to my left, and in most places I cannot see more than a few dozen yards. I decide to walk up a bit towards where the road used to be and see if I can't get on 'top' of the island and have a look. I stroll right up to where I think the road once was, but I can see no real sign of it. The island is only several hundred yards wide, being just a giant sandbar, and the road has been totally erased. I suppose the wind and the water spirits are fickle about roads...
I look around and survey the landscape. I can see the high-rise hotels in Pensacola about 10 miles away. The day is perfectly clear and I am amazed that I can see them because many large dunes would have blocked this view a year ago. I look back towards Navarre Beach, and I can just see the second stories of a few houses, and even at this distance, the damage is visible to some of them. To the north and south I am bound by seawater, and to the east and the west lay miles of hot sand. It is, to me, a paradise in a very real way. I am Adam in the Garden. I am Gesar in Shambhala. I am Achimencey in Aguare. On the other hand, it is a parched and desolate place, and I am now desperately thirsty.
I walk back to the shore and drink a little sea water - about cup - just enough to slake my thirst a little. From past experience, I know that this is not harmful, but I know I have to resist the urge to drink more and more of it. It refreshes me a little, and I thank the sea for itself.
I keep walking east, back the way I came. To someone who hasn't walked both ways along a shoreline, it may seem strange, but going back is a very different walk from walking in because you see everything from the other side. The call to see what is around the next loop of beach is every bit as strong, and I walk along at a good pace, sweating and singing with the sun. On a whim I take a quick dip in the water, and then roll around in dry sand and walk along for a bit all covered with the beach. I can only imagine what I look like walking along coated all in white.
I walk all the way back to the place where I had buried my things, and fish them out of the sand. I rinse them in the sea and put my hat and sunglasses back on. The wind keeps trying to blow my hat back off. I suppose that it isn't quite finished playing in my hair, so I take it back off and sit on the beach for awhile. I check the watch attached to my hat and I have a little time, so I sit and listen to the universe again and I give thanks to this place.
It is finally time for me to return, and so I put my hat back on and tuck my bathing suit into the loops on top to hold it, and I walk as far as I can before I have to put the suit back on so as not to offend anyone who isn't wise enough yet to know that we are all one flesh; that we are all one people. I hope one day they can start loving themselves enough to love one another - and me, even if I appear to them as I was made. I walk back under the leaning house, and through a set of pilings that a house used to sit atop, and when I finally reach the house again, I am very thirsty, but I have no regrets for the healing of my soul.
I am full of sunlight, and the sun-song continues in me even now. When I come up the stairs, a glass of cool water is waiting for me, and I am thankful for this in a way only a thirsty man can be. I have a shower and another glass of water, and a little lunch, and all the while I am happy in ways that few people are ever happy.
Holy is this, and I am thankful.
Ya'at'eeh mitakuye oyasin.