Bear With Me

There are days when you need a reminder that you aren’t alone. Days when you want someone tough on your side, someone to yell at the critical voices and defend you ferociously.

For those days, I’ve got these two bears that accompany me. They are unassuming and delicate in design, but strong and bold in meaning.

unnamed

They are connected to one of my favorite places on earth—Yosemite National Park. It is a place that taught me to love hiking, camping, and any kind of outdoor adventure. The days of roaming in the valley, encased by granite monoliths, are simple. From the groves of Redwoods, to the vistas above, each scene emphasizes my small presence in the world to humble me, while also expanding the limits of my mind.

It was the place where I first learned to ride a bike, gaining confidence with each rotation of the pedal, taking me to new places, and feeding my hunger for wind-swept movement. I was propelled forward, first around the campgrounds, then around the valley floor. Each year I rode the bike to new places, hiked to new heights, and found a different experience waiting for me.

Even when night falls, it is an adventure to sit in front of a campfire instead of a television, to stare at the flames pondering our ability and inability to contain their power depending on their size. Trees hoist the darkness above for hours until it seeps in and they become shadows disappearing into the sky.

John Muir, often quoted by anyone answering the call of the mountain, understood this sensation well. He spent a significant portion of his life exploring the Sierras, and he worked hard to preserve Yosemite as protected land. He knew no one could leave this place unchanged.

“We are now in the mountains and they are in us, kindling enthusiasm, making every nerve quiver, filling every pore and cell of us.”
― John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

I bought my bear earrings in the Yosemite Village store at the age of 18. It was the summer before I left for college, and I knew there was the possibility that I wouldn’t be able to come back the following summer. I wanted something to keep the mountains in me, before I faced the skyscraper mountains and subway valleys of Chicago.

The sentimental side of me likes that they keep part of my favorite place with me at all times. The imaginative side likes to think that they protect me and infuse me with a certain fierceness. But more than anything they are a reminder of that enthusiasm for a world beyond myself, where nerves quiver along steep precipices and pores are filled with nature’s energy.

Do you have a favorite place?
Or something that represents it?

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Defined by Age, or Age Defined by Life?

Early Saturday morning I awoke to the dim morning light of grayness before the sun arrives. The birds were still hushed as every other campsite around relished in deep slumber beneath the whispering trees. Slowly I began to collect the pieces of my trip scattered around my bag to squeeze them together tighter than before. It was still too cold to bear leaving my pajamas so I put a change of clothes in my pack for later. My mom had already dismantled the rest of our campsite so we quickly began the process of puzzling together everything into the back of her Prius.

We each went to the bathroom one last time before beginning our long journey ahead. Flustered, my mom came out of her stall right when I had entered the bathroom. She sighed and said to me, “Happy Birthday.”

Then my Dad, Mom, and I squished in, like a tightly packed berry in the bright red car, to begin the ride home. As the window views disappeared the sun peeked over the tower of granite behind me.

view of the Yosemite Valley view as you drive in and out

An estimated 8 hour drive is long enough, but with traffic and lunch breaks I had a grueling 11 hours before we made it from Yosemite (in Northern California) back down home to San Diego (right at the bottom.) This left me almost more time than I needed to peer out at the landscape and peer deeper into my thoughts.
It certainly wasn’t the “amazing day” all the people on Facebook wished for me, but it wasn’t a terrible day. It was simply ordinary. Complacency towards this day has become common for me anyways since a summer birthday usually means an afterthought. Plus I never liked celebrating myself that much. Yet as we shot past California farm country, and swerved through rolling hills or rocky mountains high, I began to wonder about the paradoxes of people’s views on birthdays.

My brother called me half way through our drive and had to remind me “Turning 20 is a big deal, you aren’t a teenager anymore, this is like the prime decade of your life. You should at least try to do something exciting tonight.”

I responded, “Ha ya I suppose, I just don’t feel that different.” I didn’t want to say how my inner oldie just wanted to watch the Olympics all night and go to bed by 10.

Now I know 20 seems really young to a lot of people, and it is. I can’t even legally drink yet, though I don’t care much about that either. But I remember in high school if I met someone who was 20 I felt like they were lightyears ahead of me, a star far away living the glamorous, fun life I wanted. Then I thought about my parents, who prefer not to celebrate becoming a year older anymore, and the way aging turns from a desirable thing to a dreaded event.

I am still very young in the eyes of many, and surprisingly old to many more, yet I have been wondering about wisdom lately and how it can inhabit every age and form. There are days when I feel dry of any thoughts worthy to say, and then there are moments where I swell with a passion for the truth that can only come from God. Either way I ebb and flow like every human, and aging means little to me anymore. Whether that is wise or not I don’t know.

My brother was right when he said that my twenty-something years will be some of the greatest of my life, but somehow I don’t want to be the only reason I live them to the fullest. Because if I view them as the end-all be-all, what happens when I turn 30? This decade may be an age of miracles, a time of living life to the fullest, but I don’t want to define my life by my age – I would rather define my age by the way I live my life. I don’t believe we are ever too old or too young for anything, starting new, fighting for a dream, finding love, or speaking the truth.

One of the people who comes with us to Yosemite each year, someone my mom has been friends with since birth, is a beautiful 59-year old woman. But last week she climbed Half Dome, twice, in three days. I can barely do that at 20, so who is really older? Another great woman who denies her age is my mom; she hiked up 3000 feet in just over 3 miles to the top of Nevada falls, all with a bad knee, but with every stone step up and every switchback down she refused to give up. I’ve heard both these women refer to themselves as “old,” but I laugh every time because I just don’t see it, I only see the youth of their life that keeps pushing the boundaries.

View (from left to right) of the back of Half Dome, North Dome, and Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail

So I turned 20 on Saturday. Woop-di-doo. I’m all for celebrating the gift of life God gives us, but I don’t want to be defined by my age anymore. I want to have the joy of two-year old, the humor of a six-year old, the daring of a sixteen-year old, the spirit of a twenty-something, the intelligence of a thirty-five year old, the love of someone at fifty, and the wisdom of an eight-five year old. Pack all those things tight, puzzle the pieces together, and somehow I think it might look a little like Jesus, and like the person I want to be.
How do you feel about your age?
Is there a best age of our lives you think?

Playing hookie in Yosemite

Some of you may have noticed that I’ve missed a couple days of posting, and indeed I owe you an apology for disappearing without notice. It’s strange to even think anyone missed it, but I must be accountable even if it’s only to myself.

Currently I am in Yosemite National Park enjoying a week with the deer and trees and granite mountains. Unfortunately for my blogging purposes that means almost no Internet and no posting. Yet it is a fortunate thing too because being disconnected allows my mind some time to breathe in the fresh mountain air.

I plan on telling you more about the trip when I return home next week, but for now I must resign to the whispering pines calling me back to nature. I hope you all are having a great week, go enjoy some time outdoors if you can, it really does bring a new life to things :)