Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Blog of a Different Voice

Many of us have hiked the trails of the High Sierras or stood elevated on enormous, elephant-size boulders, whose concrete skins are soaked in sun-heat and whose flatness lends way
to a dust-free resting spot.
Many of us have walked for miles aside an ocean, ran through fields of bending wheat, splashed in clear, freshwater underground pools, wandered for miles through Old Growth forests…
All of these experiences in Nature are worth writing about.  All are there waiting for us humans to capture and experience.  
All fill us to the brim with an awareness and serenity and all leave most of us hungry for more. 

Now I’m not a girl that does triathlons. Never camped with my family.  
I've backpacked only once in my life when I was 17 years old. The memory is still vivid.  
There I was, my weary face and body so darkened and crusted with dirt and sweat that I thought I'd acquired a fantastic tan.  There I was hiking with my best friend Beth at the top of the world. 
I recall trying to appear like a veteran; like this wasn’t my first rodeo. Trying to not let on that the road was much too steep, that the air was much too thick and that I was actually completely
out of breath.  
As I hiked, nose to the ground to avoid ‘mishaps’, I recall Beth shouting out, 
“Isn’t that lake breathtaking?  I looked up and before I could see any essence of H2O, my foot wrapped itself around some root or perhaps large rock and I hit the dirt like nobody’s business.  
It tasted dry as chalk.  
Beth pulled me up from the chrome of my pack and, to this day, I've never backpacked again.

This past weekend, high above Donner Lake in Northern Cali, way above day-to-day life
as we know it, way above the noise and almost touching the edges of clouds, I experienced the wonders of the trail again.  But this time, in a very unique and inspiring way. 

This is now my attempt to share with you the essence of my personal journey through a different voice; leaving my trailer park girl voice and those ingrained thoughts far, far behind, in
order to glorify the experience.   Through my words, which more than likely won't do it justice,
perhaps I will fall short, flat on my face in the dirt.  But I will try to share with y'all something rare and transforming.  Something very beautiful.  I will give it a new voice; one that sounds and hints of a very deserving explanation.

Trails and Vistas brings the beauty of ART, DANCE, POETRY, STORYTELLING and MUSIC in NATURE to the Lake Tahoe region.   Although this was the 9th Annual hike, I was a T&V virgin who will now return year after year. Evidently, each year has its own inspiring theme, with this year’s being The Dreaming Tree.
I chose the silent meditation hike, figuring if I shut my mouth for a change, I might learn something.  And I was not only right, but the learning was silent, rich and distinctive. It came to me, yet is almost impossible to capture with words.
“What are your dreams?” was asked as the hike began.   I adjusted my shoes, took a swig of my water and thought to myself, “ Romney getting blown out of the water by President Obama this November.” 
Clearly, I had no idea how silenced these kind of thoughts would become and just how wholesome the transformation would be…
As we walked silently, in a single-file queue, I couldn’t help but breathe in the mountain air, whose essence filled my nostrils and whose breezes carried familiar, yet distant smells of fir and pine and whose coolness lightly touched my face and skin, settling me into the moment, effortlessly banishing all my thoughts of the “outside world” away.

One of the first large trees on the trail was draped in tiny hand-made books; all dangling
from the branches, teetering and twirling in the gentle wind like miniature kites on strings.
As I silently approached the books, I was amazed by the spectacular watercolor depictions of Jeffrey Pines, White Firs and Squaw Currants…An incredible artist hand-painted each and every one with so much detail and a plethora of love; her personal honoring of Nature.

During the 2.5 hours hike, there were many dreaming trees like the first. Colorful mobiles twirling, words of spiritual empowerment, chimes, bells, rocks all beckoning some sort of awakening.
We were encouraged to stop, enjoy, read the poetry hanging from the limbs, touch the trunks and bark, close our eyes, breathe deeply, listen for the ‘language of Nature’ and the voices of those who had come before us.

~I climb the road to Cold Mountain
The road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones;
Pines sigh, but it isn’t the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
And sit with me among the white clouds?

~ T’ang poet Han-shan

With every step, I felt the snares of the world breaking away.  Never before had I experienced the perfect blending of Nature and art that Trails and Vistas provided.  Mixed in and hidden behind the mighty pines whose needles seemed to dance to each song, were a variety of storytellers, dancers, musicians with their flutes and drums all, collectively and individually, praising Nature, honoring the living and the dead in perfect harmony. Washoe, Maidu and Paiute whose bones lie beneath my feet, whose tears fell where mine now fall...
I am joyfully lifted, my soul opened as wide as the perfectly blue sky.
As I sat at one performance, I felt my tears slowly drip down my face. 
I think I cried because of the blended beauty of art and song.  I think I cried because all painful, unnecessary emotions had already left me. And I cried because of the peaceful, quiet that had
found its way to my head. 

We were not allowed to take photographs so how does one describe the graceful, colorful dancers on the high peaks overlooking Donner Lake?  How does one capture the tiny paper-mache sailboats, carrying wishes and dreams across a sleepy, unexpected pond?  Without a lens, how does one capture an ancient flute being played or a beautiful musician and her cello perfectly in tune with the wind?

What are my dreams? I asked myself throughout my silent trek.  
To my surprise, the answers that came to me had absolutely nothing to do with politics, money, success or unresolved issues.  To my surprise, my brain had somehow turned all of these types of thoughts completely off and I was lost in the sounds of flute, cello and drum which seemed to
blend naturally with the sounds of rustling pine needles, howling winds and the birds that call
this mountain their home.
My entire body felt serene and relaxed here within these surroundings.  And the magic, the love, the time and effort of numerous people who put Trails and Vistas together, and do so year after year; especially the creator and visionary, Nancy Tieken Lopez, was an experience that left me not only at peace with myself, but very comfortable in Nature’s silence. 
Then came the realization that my dreams are simple:

I dream of walking in a place of serene calm.  And when I stray from that place, when the world’s noise finds me and baits me (to which I often take the bait), I dream of rising up above it like a bird.  I dream of returning to the rhythms of Nature. Returning to a quiet beach, an abandoned trail, a Cold Mountain.  I dream of listening to the voices of the waves, the sounds of my ancestors, the eagle and hawk taking flight upon the wind. I dream of the company of the tress and the dance therein.

Thank you Nancy Tieken Lopez!
Thank you Trails and Vistas for an unforgettable, dreamy experience! 
Next year, 2013, will be the 10th Annual hike and it promises to be spectacular.
I hope y'all will consider going.  I certainly will return.
For sure!

Meanwhile, keep dreaming, peeps.


  1. You wera able to say what was in my heart that day but not able to express. It was beautiful, moving and perfectly still enough to soak in the meaning of the installations and I loved that we were able to share it together. Thank you for honoring Nance in the way you described her creation of nature and the arts. She never ceases to amaze me! Love, Annie

  2. Oh YES! This piece has moved me like none before. Thank you Valerie for your poetry and sharing your experience. I felt it in my bones and my skin is awakened by your words. Nothing compares to hearing your personal voice of your personal nature.
    In gratitude.

  3. My friend...I could feel your joy, your inspiration, your insights, as you experienced your first Trails and Vistas. I so hoped you would experience it as fully as have I over the years. And you did! Your words bring tears of joy and I'm so glad you and Wen, Annie and Shem were able to be there, too, sharing it with you. How lovely it all was. How special the memories which you so vividly captured. How thoughtful that you blogged about it all, your special remembrances. May it stay with you always...this mountaintop experience, and may you have many, many more. Peace and love from the mom of the visionary founder of Trails and Vistas, Nancy Tieken Lopez. Thank you, my friend, for your presence in my life as well.

  4. I have always found the mountains...trees, blue skies, the smell of the soil...to be a place of peace and my "religion". This blog "spoke" to me and helped me to remember how special the out-of-doors are. How wonderful that you had this experience and shared it with all of us! Thank you!! M & M