The Dark Night of the Soul


Wind River Range, WY Part 5

Yesterday, as I crossed the continental divide, I also crossed over from the Bridger Wilderness into the Popo Agie Wilderness (pronounced po-PO-ja).  Truly one of the most spectacular wilderness areas I’ve had the privilege to wander through.  After passing stunning cascading waterfalls carved out of solid granite, the work of perhaps millions of years, my trail traverses a ridge overlooking Grave Lake.  Interesting how some of the most beautiful bodies of water have names like Grave Lake or Gross Reservoir.  This particular lake is 2 miles long, perhaps a half mile wide, and has inlets, coves, beaches, and water the color of aqua blue.  The color of this lake as well as this perspective from high above is reminiscent of Lake Tahoe.  While much smaller than Tahoe, it’s amazing to see such large bodies of water in the backcountry.  One could water ski on this lake if there were boat ramps and roads leading up to it.  But the beauty of this lake is both its size and its remoteness.  Its relative inaccessibility.  20 miles by footpath over a 12,000 foot mountain pass to get here.  And sweet, quiet solitude you will find.

I only passed one group of campers on the far side of the lake.  Its happy occupants were just returning with a stringer full of trout for breakfast.  I’d imagine a person could spend a month down here just fishing and living off trout and perhaps a bag of rice, some bread mix, and plenty of olive oil for frying.  I’m not a fisherman, but its places like these that make me consider it.

Lunchtime.  After a walk on a perfect crescent sand beach, I arrive at my lunch spot.  A round slab of granite perfectly perched about 20 feet above the shimmering blue water.  Almond butter and rice crackers never tasted so divine.  A warm breeze brings the smell of mountain spring water to my nose as the fluttering sounds of dragonflies fill my ears.  Above the crystal clear water, the jagged peaks, granite domes, and rock skyscrapers adorn the backdrop, completing this grand sensory experience.  My eyes get heavy as I drift in and out of a lazy nap.  This has been one of the most enjoyable days in the wilderness that I can recall.

After leaving Grave lake, my trail takes me through deep, dense forest for the next several miles.  Quite the change from the open vastness of sprawling meadows, lakes, and alpine tundra I have become accustomed to the past 2 days.  My world becomes closed off as I wind through dark tunnels, twisted decaying tree trunks, roots, mushrooms, marshes, and bogs.  The air is eerie quiet.  Just the sound of my footsteps.  My labored breathing.  The rustle of my pack sounds at times like a raging waterfall, a large animal walking through the woods, people talking.  Each time I stop to listen, nothing but silence.

The trail seems to climb 300 feet, just to descend 300 feet.  Up.  Down.  Seemingly getting nowhere.  It is getting late.  No camp spots to be found.  I don’t like camping in dark, dense forest.  I much prefer a wide open space with a clear view of the sky.  Views extending for miles in every direction.  It starts to rain.  Thunder crashes.  I put on my rain gear.  It’s getting late.  Darker skies.  The dark night of the soul.

I quicken my pace.  Longing to get out of this jungle.  To higher ground.  To camp.  As I start to get stuck inside my head with negative thoughts, I come upon a bluff with a clear view of the grand scenery I had left behind only hours ago.  Just then a patch of blue sky opens up the sun.  Brilliant, dazzling sunlight transforms large raindrops into falling diamonds.  My world temporarily changes into a mystical fairyland.  Everything illuminated.  The massive granite domes, peaks, and spires turn to silver as the sun reflects off their wet surfaces.  All thoughts freeze.  Mother nature whips me back into the present moment.  The Holy Moment.  For even in the darkest of forests, God is here.

Just then, the thunder crashes once more.  My patch of blue sky swells and collapses back into grayness.  The darkness returns.  The rain continues.  The forest tangle closes in on me again as I hike on.  A quote comes to mind.  ”Judge not, lest he be judged.”  I try for a moment not to judge.  It doesn’t work.  Seriously?  Have you ever tried not to judge something?  By then it’s too late.  You’ve already judged it!   Otherwise you wouldn’t be having that thought!

I hike on.  Through the rain.  Through the darkness.  Maybe it’s not the judging that’s the issue.  Perhaps it’s the judgement of the judgement. We are judging ourselves for judging.  We are trying not to do what we are doing!

I hike on.  Through the rain.  Through the darkness.  Judging the forest.  Judging the weather.  Judging the situation.  And smiling through it all.  Giddy as a child.  At the ridiculousness of it all.

How much better it is.  Just to be with our thoughts.  Just to let things be as they are.  And witness ourselves and all of life with a sense of humor.  For it is all rather silly.  And once you realize that it’s all rather silly?  Well.  Let’s just say it’s quite the epiphany.

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If you’d like to follow me on the rest of this amazing and spiritual journey, please SUBSCRIBE to my blog.  You can easily do so in the upper right hand corner of this page.  The plan is to post one entry onto the blog each week from the trip.  Any feedback or comments would really be appreciated.  Also if you could let me know which posts are best for submitting as editorials too.  Enjoy the ride!

~Scott Stillman


The Dark Night of the Soul — 2 Comments

  1. Hey Scott,

    I just saw Val’s note about your journey…. what a great post. I felt just like I was there with you on your trip. I was just up in that general area on the Wind River reserve just 2 weeks ago. The mountains up that way are beautiful. Thanks for sharing!

    Blessings to you on the trip…


    • Good to hear from you Skip. Yes, the mountains are breathtaking up there. Thanks for reading my post. I’m having fun putting thoughts to paper. Subscribe if you want to read more. Take care.


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