Release Every Grapenut From Your Head
It is early enough that, for some, it is still the night before. My alarm starts beeping, but I am already awake. I am ready. My co-counselor and I begin to stir, slowly packing our gear into our shared bag. Emerging from the tent, the roar of the nearby waterfall becomes all the more intense. Our tent is maybe 20 feet from it, and its roar is all-encompassing. What is remarkable this morning is not its deep-throated roar, but its mists.
In the wee hours of the morning, all the water I can see is slathered in a thick patina of mist. This isn’t your grandparents’ mist, either. It is a full-on, no holds barred, zero visibility mist. It’s the kind of mist that stops people from driving, the kind that horror films covet.
The large pool at the base of Twin Falls is generously coated with the stuff, and the falls themselves are almost invisible. They throw up a certain amount of spray, regardless of atmospheric conditions, and this only magnified the morning mists. The Maligne river flows east to west, so looking up the falls, a casual observer could, if the circumstances were suitable, watch the sun rise through the mega-mists of Twin Falls.
Because it is still early enough to be late, the bag is packed and the tent disappears in a blur. The campers, naturally, take a geologic age to pack up and eat breakfast, but that only affords me the time to sit at the edge of the cascade and slowly masticate my Grape Nuts. The sun crept up over the horizon, and my Grape Nuts slowly become more and more digestible. To my right, I can see our pool, with the mist making trees only 100 yards distant into specters, and to my left, the thundering shadows of Twin Falls.
Buddhists talk about emptying one’s mind of all thought in meditation, of letting the aspirations and fears of the future, the regrets of the past simply wash away. My father describes the release of thoughts in meditations as sitting at the bottom of a pond. When a thought intrudes, breathe it out as a bubble and watch it float to the surface.
While I certainly did not imagine myself lying at the bottom of the waterfall, I was definitely blowing bubbles. The water, as it washed through the turbulence, swept everything away.
Time does not seem to pass as I sit there, watching the water tumble down the rock, but even these perfect moments must end. The campers, though they move at the speed of smell, do eventually pack up, and, once the canoes are loaded, we launch. As we float away through the mists, the morning still feels like a dream. I feel like I am floating on nothingness, and, as a matter of fact, my canoe drifts ever so prettily across the gently flowing river.
As I paddle through the mists and the morning sun’s rays slowly envelop me, I reflect. What was that moment of perfect beauty? It slipped by without remark or fanfare. Like two ships passing in the night, as they say. It was just a twinkle in the grand scheme of things — gone in a flash. If I hadn’t pulled my head out of my ass long enough to notice, it, like so many moments before it, would have slipped into the past without even a blink from an observer. To have spent all the money and energy getting to that point, to have worked that hard, letting that twinkle go would have been, I don’t know, self-defeating. We do not spend time outside primarily in order to get dirty, poop in the woods, eat rice, get sunburned or get mosquito bites (let me be crystal clear on that last one). We venture forth for these moments of transcendence. We go to be reminded that there is magic in the world. We go to realize that beauty exists beyond humanity’s works, that we can moved to tears watching something that happens every day, without our knowledge or oversight.
This is perhaps the pinnacle for me. It is one thing to witness nature put on its magic and see a true spectacle. It is awe-inspiring to watch immense storm or stumbling upon a valley carpeted by bear grass. However, in the age of Youtube anything exceptional and freakish can be found with a few key strokes. As with so many aspects of the internet, there are some ups and some downs. Having access to the world’s superlatives inures us to anything that is not ‘the best’. When we’ve seen professional photographs of Yosemite, nothing else seems quite as nice.
Seeing a beauty that remains steadfast in the face of all but the most extraordinary circumstances, is for me a truly moving experience. Any shmuck can pull off a stupendous trick on film if they attempt it often enough, but the durability of this sort of magnificence is minimal — a flash in the pan. These slights of hand are cotton candy; they cannot, ultimately, satisfy our desire for beauty.
The daily, astounding splendor of the Earth is another story entirely. It is a testament to the remarkable gift we are stewards of. I cannot express how unbelievably privileged I feel as a human being to live on this planet, to wake up every morning, knowing that the sun will rise and filter through the mists.