The first morning after arriving at Shadowcliff Lodge near Grand Lake, Colorado, I decided to get up early and do yoga on the rocks that faced the looming mountains in the east. I dressed in layers, zipped myself up in my black jacket, and pulled on sparkly red, fingerless gloves. When I walked outside, the cold mountain air was a shock to my system and I was a bit confused that I could see my breath in mid-August.
I climbed up on an outcropping not too far from the lodge. I started breathing in while reaching my arms overhead and breathing out while lowering my hands to my side. I noticed one of my group members, Sarah, on another outcropping not too far from me. She was doing tai chi with grace and ease. Meanwhile, I was fumbling to hold myself upright with my left hand pressed up against the boulder behind me while my right ankle was over my knee as I was squatting so as to get a good hip stretch.
The sun slowly began inching its way over the top of the mountain as frustration and tension began rising up my spine, lodging into my tense neck and facial muscles. “Why am I not doing my yoga right?” I thought to myself. “Why doesn’t this feel as organic and beautiful as it should? I’m in the Rocky Mountains as the sun is coming up, damn’t. This should feel like a profound and heart-opening moment right now.” I chalked it up to the chill in the air and the fact that I had just spent the night on a bunk bed in which I could feel every spring and wooden slat in the mattress.
I knew those weren’t the real reasons why I felt a resistance inside of me, however. It was because I was trying to force my mind and body into a meditative and serene state of being by doing linear poses that were in alignment with my inhale and exhale. My breath was forced. My poses were forced. My beliefs that this specific moment would bring me instant inner peace and knowing were forced. The whole experience was forced. So, I forced myself to stop moving and to watch the woman in front of me instead. She is in her early 50s, tall, athletic, with her brown hair cut in a youthful and pretty bob. That morning, her down-filled vest looked like the color of the morning’s sky. In my mind’s eye, she seemed to be surrounded by a soft mountain mist that artfully blurred the edges of her and her surroundings. She was so fluid and smooth in her movements: leaning and pushing with her arms, swooping down and around with her hips and knees, holding and steadying herself before her body took on another fluid, organic shape.
About this time, I heard a solitary wind flute as if a Native American ceremony was happening somewhere in the valley below us. The sun’s angle transformed her into a silhouette. Every rise and fall of the notes from the flute moved her more gracefully into herself then out into the air, the trees, the boulders, the creek below, and the mountains in the distance and back again. I took all of this to be a sign and closed my eyes and forgot about the fact that I could tumble down a rocky outcropping. (I reassured myself if I did fall, I would survive by landing somewhat ungracefully on the gravel trail not too far below). I grounded my legs and feet and started moving with the flute sounds. This grounding and slow movement turned into my breath, which then in turn circled around inside of my body and breathed out into the crisp morning air and back again. My hips circled and swayed. I moved my fingers and arms as I opened my chest and pulled back my shoulders. I felt as graceful as the osprey and the eagles that glided on the wind in the valley below me. I was as alert as the two chipmunk that scurried around my feet and the shrubs around me.
The flute music came to an end and I opened my eyes. Sarah was walking towards my area and we greeted each other. The breeze, the chill, and the brightness of the morning sun had brought water to my eyes and I had already the beginnings of post-nasal drip. I laughed and wiped away the tears that probably looked like they belonged to an emotional basket case. I asked her if she had heard the flute player as we were practicing our morning movements. She grinned and told me that was the music she had on her cellphone and uses every morning for her tai chi exercises. Albeit, the revelation of this fact was less glamourous that my romantic notion of a rustic, magical mountain man stepping out of his log cabin below to greet us and the morning sun; yet I couldn’t help to think how lovely everything synced up this morning to pull me out of my stuck thoughts and back into my body and my heart center.
We chatted a few more minutes and then she went inside to eat breakfast. I stayed a little longer in hopes to capture the sun’s rays on my face, and to also hold on to the brief moment of fluidity and sensuality that arose in my body not more than five minutes ago.
I stood there, facing east, waiting again to feel a sense of enlightenment or rapture at being out in the wild. A breeze blew over me and I filled my lungs deeply, cursing slightly at the slight headache and dryness in my nose, both lingering effects of yesterday’s altitude sickness. I turned and began walking back to the big lodge. Just when I thought the magic had faded from my morning, two hummingbirds swooped up over my head. Hoping for a drop of nectar, they dove down, hovered over my hands, and brushed up against my red sequenced, fingerless gloves. I stopped in the middle of climbing the stairs and held out my hands, palms up. I heard the motorized fluttering of their wings and tiny chirps of communication between the two of them. As fast as they had arrived, they left and landed in a pine tree a few feet away.
I got to the top of the stairs and leaned up against the banister of the deck that wrapped around the dining lodge. Sage, one of our guides, came out with her cup of coffee and stood next to me silently, like a patient teacher waiting for the curious yet guarded student to ask a question or spark a conversation. I took the bait and told her about my two hummingbirds. I laughed off the encounter as a fluke due to the fact that I was wearing bright red. She took a sip of coffee and leaned up against the banister as well. She simply nodded her head and said, “Mmmm. . .” I smiled, recognizing that as both acknowledgment of my statement and a prompt to really dig deeper and trust my intuition that the encounter was also a sign or a communication from the larger world that houses both the outer and inner wilderness of ourselves. These hummingbirds were reintroducing me back to my natural, beautiful, sweet, sensual self that I had lost along the way as a full-fledged adult caught up in the railroad track of life (to paraphrase Henry David Thoreau). At least these were my thoughts I finally uncovered as Sage stood there listening to me babbling on and on. She gazed off into the valley below us and paraphrased what I had just said, adding on, “That sounds like a lovely way to start this journey. I wouldn’t be surprised if your hummingbirds came back to check in on you.”
Later that day, I went farther down the trail by the lodge and spotted two huge boulders. I started to climb up one, and heard some rustling right below it. It was Bernard, one of the older men in our group, and a great lover of the Earth. He had nestled himself next to the boulder that was balanced on and supported by another smaller boulder below it. He told me it was solid but that it wasn’t the best idea to climb on top of it. I asked him if he was Ok if I sat on the boulder next to his for the afternoon’s contemplation exercise. He welcomed me and I climbed a little ways up the hill and scampered up the boulder. I shrugged off my backpack and unzipped my black jacket to use as a seat cover. I pushed up the red sleeves of my thin shirt and faced east again. I could see and hear the running creek below. I got very quiet, settling in to simply watch the full afternoon sunlight dance off the rippling waves. That’s when I heard the beautiful, light drumming coming from Bernard’s direction.
He was humming with a lovely sing-song voice in sync with the constant drumming of his handheld Native American drum. He was there to offer prayers and blessings to the four boulders in that area that he called “Grandfather Rocks”. My thoughts and worries dropped away from me and I was lulled by the sound of the creek, the beat of the drum, and Bernard’s shamanistic humming that was soothing and rhythmic at the same time. Tears swelled up to my eyes, real ones this time. The modern world faded away and I no longer saw the town of Grand Lake with its telephone wires, speed boats, early afternoon traffic below. Instead, the creek came alive even more and I watched as a hawk swooped down and skimmed the surface of the water. Chipmunks came out of their hiding places and danced around in the brush below me. Grasshoppers with snapping-sounding wings jumped and danced around me. A butterfly flitted by and was carried on the breeze. Still I heard the rushing of the creek, the constant beat of the drum, and the rhythmic pulses of Bernard’s humming, which all now sounded ancient yet alive at the same time.
My heart swelled and I felt so alive in not only my body but in the moment. Nothing else mattered. No one desire welled up inside of me yet everything I’ve ever wanted seemed possible and tangible. Just then, two hummingbirds danced around my head. One dive-bombed my shirt and I felt the ripple of its wings caressing my back left shoulder as I heard their motor-like hum purring in my ear. A slight wind from the fast motion of its wings lifted wisps of my hair and tickled my neck. I sat as still as I possibly could. It kept flying away into the air and back again, this time moving to the center of my spine, right between both shoulder blades at the back of my heart. Back and forth, keeping time with the drumbeat. And I could swear that I felt my heart pounding more strongly than I have in my life. The sound of the creek became more distinct. The hummingbird’s wings created a tattoo of small pulses on my back. The drumbeat stayed constant and strong. The ancient voice issued forth from this modern man connected to the land. If this was being alive, truly alive, then I was experiencing it, not thinking it. My heartbeat, the drumbeat. My heart’s desires, the hummingbird’s wings. My tears, my heart’s song flowing like the voices of the ancient ones. All gathered here on this rock: unwavering, feeling, and living in sync with the wilderness both outside and inside of myself.