Where to begin.
After multiple treks to Colorado this past year, the momentum of exploration fueled the fire within me to seek a new challenge: braving the unknown alone.
This idea of venturing off in solitary was a seed planted as I traveled back to Ohio with memories of endless stars, windy mountaintops, sentiments of wild freedom and campfire ash still adorning my jacket and my mind. After being happily covered in dirt from one hike to another on Colorado soil, a month in my urban apartment already roused an unsettled sense of cabin fever.
The journey only came to fruition; however, over a meal shared with a friend I hadn’t seen for quite some time. Back track for one moment, to a week prior to this dinner meeting. While studying Native American medicine and meditation over the summer and fall, my teacher gave me a message through a meditation practice that the hummingbird and its symbolism was a part of my core identity. Native Americans believe animal spirit guides lead us on our life journey and teach us important lessons. In the following days, I saw pictures of hummingbirds everywhere.
Sitting in that quaint café, in response to my casual question, “What have you been up to,” my friend simply replied that he had gone down to Lake Hope to feed hummingbirds. I stopped eating, fully captivated by yet another mention of hummingbirds since my mentor’s words. Did you say hummingbirds? I asked him to explain. He told me during this time of year visitors could feed groups of hummingbirds at Lake Hope campground, getting unusually up close to the elusive, small creatures. Before I could delve into a fervour of explanation as to how this knowledge caused every bone in my body to surge with purpose, he offered nonchalantly, “Yea, you should go. You can borrow my camping gear if you want.”
I felt the universe had spoken.
It was arranged that my friend would leave a fully stocked camping pack on his porch for me to pick up, as he wouldn’t be home to wish me farewell. I’ll never forget getting home with that pack to grab a few last minute necessities of my own, only to begin pulling item after item out of the bag, curiosity transcending my will to wait until being wilderness bound. With each contraption I unpacked, my face became exceedingly scrunched with humorous confusion and the sinking realization: I had no idea what these gadgets were or how to use them. I concluded if Mary Poppins had a camping bag this was it. How did he fit all of this in here?
Car packed, adrenaline running, I drove south. There’s something I’ve always found satisfying about driving out of the city and watching as the buildings disappear in my rear view mirror. I was onward without a distinct destination in mind. Although the end goal was to feed hummingbirds at Lake Hope in the morning, I had no knowledge of where Lake Hope actually was, and had yet to determine my sleeping arrangements. I set my GPS for the lake crossing my fingers I’d find a campground nearby. Look up the definition of ‘winging it’ and you’ll see me driving in my car that fine, fall evening.
A pivotal moment in this expedition was about 15 minutes away from the red dot on my map, when the service connection cut out. Heart racing, sun setting, I drove through winding roads, dismal thoughts looming as I wondered how I’d find my way. I turned my music down, took a deep breath and resolved my intuition would lead me. Send me some help, universe, I said in my head. Right then, a car pulled in front of me with a couple canoes strapped to the top of their jeep. Bingo, I thought, I bet they’re going where I’m headed. I kept up pace behind them, and sure enough, we rounded a bend to be greeted by a big, blue body of hope: the lake, and the feeling.
Campsite reserved, I meandered the numbers to find my resting spot. Backpack on; I followed a short trail into the woods to my designated place of quiet. The next hour consisted of me detangling cords for my hammock, tying an excessive amount of knots in said cords around two trees, and unloading my essentials: dried fruit snacks, a canteen of water, an LED lantern, a sleeping bag, a box of matches, my journal, and a book of poetry that seemed fitting for the occasion. Then it came time to start a fire. Luckily I had previous experience with this from my childhood, as my family had a wood burning stove in our house that served as our main source of heat during the winter. An old teaching echoed in my head, now with newfound purpose: “Build it up like a ladder so the fire can climb. If you don’t build it up, the fire has nowhere to go, give it a path to follow.” Aye, Aye, that I will do, I thought. It worked perfectly.
Evening fell and a blanket of tiny bright lights covered the sky. I was surprised how many stars were visible outside of Columbus. I pulled out my journal and held it close to my lantern as I sat by the fire. Of all the things I had brought on this journey, in that moment, the LED lantern proved most crucial. Alone in the midst of many unidentified sounds, a source of light was the only thing between me and the darkness of the woods. The edge of the circumference of light was where my comfort ended and the unknown began. My imagination ran wild. I put down my journal, threw the last log on a now dwindling fire, and crawled into my hammock. Like a child hiding from closet monsters, I immersed myself completely within a cocoon of blankets, leaving a tiny opening from which to peer out. Taking a deep breath, I began focusing on meditation techniques I’d learned to quiet my thoughts. Eventually, the hum of crickets soothed me to sleep.
The next morning, I gathered my bearings, packed up my gear and made my way to greet the hummingbirds. Holding a long, thin tube of nectar, I stayed very still and waited. I imagined myself becoming part of the scenery, melting into the whole of the woods, grass, and dirt to become a part of a bigger picture. Within minutes, a swarm of hummingbirds engulfed me. They moved so quickly it was nearly impossible to observe them directly any more than a few seconds at a time. I reflected upon my mentor’s words as I considered the connection to the perplexing creatures. Hummingbirds, though small in size and incredibly fragile, are intimidating and strong enough to chase birds three times their size. It was in that moment I understood my purpose for coming on this adventure. The message was clear: it is in moments of true vulnerability we find real strength.
Camping alone became a vessel for finding innate human truths within me: truths that live within us all. The quiet of nature serves as a mirror; illuminating the parts of your soul you tend to lose touch with during the constant ebb and flow of daily life. It provides a sacred space to sit with the unknown and push personal boundaries to grow. The next time you hear that voice inside of you yearning for a new adventure, I beseech you to embrace it. A new journey awaits your wanderlust heart.
About the Author:
Emily Routson is a writer, an herbalist, and an adventurer. She craves knowledge and new inspiration with every hike climbed and believes traveling opens the mind and heart to new levels of conciousness.