Scott Stillman


"There is magic in stillness. That place where all thought stops, and only beauty remains."

Awake. A bright full moon with just the hint of dawn. I climb out from my slumber to witness the event. It seems the birds have the same idea, singing together in grand sonata, their tiny voices filling the canyons with song. Would the sun ever rise without bridsong? Who knows? But the sun obeys, playing her part, creeping slowly across the land until I'm bathed with brilliant light.

When the show is over the birds stop singing. Their job is done, the morning ritual over, the symphony ended. Do the birds cause the sun to rise or does the sun cause the birds to sing? Or is this just the big happening? Everything linked together. One big organism.

Everything is as it is. Without one we cannot have the other. So is the symphony of life. We are all the eyes of the world, playing our parts from our own unique perspectives. How lucky we are to be part of the show.

PHOTO: Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness, CO

GLEN CANYON NATIONAL RECREATION AREA, UT

Water droplets are blowing around in a frenzy, through filtered sunlight, appearing like snowflakes in the wind. With no rain in the forecast we continue on, deeper into the canyon. The walls close in on us as water appears, coming up out of the ground. This is always startling, but we are grateful for its arrival, always a bit more at ease with its presence. With water comes the cottonwoods, black trunks with neon leaves, glowing as the sun's rays slice through sandstone walls. The canyon makes wide meanders creating rock houses, amphitheaters, arches. In one of the meanders we climb up onto a sandstone ledge. Here we will make camp. Tomorrow we continue down canyon, through the slots, towards the lost river.

Organ Pipe Wilderness, AZ

An Air Force Jet screams across the sky, tearing at the silence, followed by another, then another. In a few seconds they are gone. The desert stillness returns, but the strange feelings remain. There is something very real happening here. Have we stumbled into a sanctuary or a war zone?

This is border country. Along the trail-less route we find discarded jugs, empty bean cans, and occasionally a water cache—full bottles arranged in a circle, childlike drawings on the sides: rainbows, crosses, a yellow sun rising over a saguaro studded valley. We think we have stumbled into a main artery. They come up through the valleys where the creosote grows thick. We continue on, descending a rocky ravine down into a wash, then up the other side. The Bates Mountains loom ahead, casting their deep shadows across the land.

We stop at an old well. Dry. Creaking. There are old cabins, some still intact with sinks and kitchen cabinets, broken tiles, ripped linoleum.

In a place like this, we needn't seek the present moment. Rather we are forced into it. Our instincts require us to be alert, aware of our surroundings. This is not a stroll through a city park. We feel the need to be cautious. Yes, we are on high alert, but is this all in our heads? This immigration has been going on for generations. These desert travelers want nothing to do with us. They simply wish to get back to their families safely. "Just put yourself in their shoes," I tell myself. We fear what we do not understand. We are all visitors just passing through. Trying to get along with our lives. Trying to be happy.

My mind drifts back to the water cache. Happy rainbows, sunshines, hearts. But these travelers are real, not imagined. At any moment we may cross paths. What will I do? What will I say? Will they ask for food and water? I have little to offer. My head stirs, spins out, then collapses back in on itself, spiraling out into infinity until there is nothing left. We drift apart. My mind and me. One watching the other. Who is this maddening, over analyzing entity inside my head? Surely we cannot be related. But this disconnect is exactly what I needed. The reason I came. When we stop taking the thoughts so seriously they lose their power, trailing off into some kind of distant background noise. Now there is nothing but the sound of my footsteps. My steady beating heart.

The desert sparkles before me, beaming with light. The Earth passes no judgement. We are all just passing through. Struggling to live, destined to die.

This year is going to be a great adventure—and a lot of fun if you plan to follow along.

My first book, Wilderness, The Gateway To The Soul, continues to be a big success. Thanks to you. Many have been asking if I intend to write more. The answer is an overwhelming YES. All my life I have been searching for a way to make wilderness my vocation. With you, that dream is possible. I do not intend to waste such an opportunity.

In March we will be hitting the road, venturing deeply into the world's first designated roadless area, New Mexico's Gila Wilderness. From there we will slowly crawl north, moving with the sun, through the blooming deserts of Arizona, and into the little-known canyons of southern Utah.

In the summer we will head up to the Northern Cascades of Washington, then into Montana and the Bob Marshall Wilderness, and finally into the Wallowas of eastern Oregon. It's a rough plan. Subject to change. Like always we will trust our instincts, following our hearts into the unknown.

Just as before, there will be one purpose. To tell the Truth. To seek out the living, breathing soul of wilderness, listen to her sermon, and record her message with pen and notebook. I will try, to the best of my ability, to keep the message pure.

We must all speak up for wilderness. Or it will be gone.

Thanks for following along. Together we are stronger.

Off we shall go. Into the mystic.

 

Steaming coffee. Jazz music. Miles Davis' So What fills the room, mingled with soft conversation. Words. Ideas. Now that we're alive, what's next? We all fit in. Doing our parts. Perfecting our roles. Becoming masters of our trades. Cogs in the machine. All parts working and functioning perfectly.

Stay the task. Baker. Doctor. Electrician. Chef. The world is counting on you, please don't stumble, please don't fall. We need you! But at some point you will stumble, you will fall. And the eyes of the world will turn upon you. Produce or be replaced. The machine must continue at absolute efficiency. A broken cog will be replaced by a newer, stronger one.

I sip my coffee. Admiring the perfection and the complex machine that produced it. Everyone does their part, day after day, so that I can enjoy this coffee, this chair, this warm room, this jazz, the clothes I wear, the food I eat. I respect the process, and understand the importance of the machine, but I cannot resist the urge to jump off. The urge grows stronger every day.

But this is Anarchy. It's non-human. Anti-American! So why do it? Why the urge to jump? I cannot recommend the spiritual path, meditation, or anything that causes your mind to stop, step back, and look down upon the great machine. Or rather look up to it. Admire it's grand perfection. For it seems so impossible, so improbable, yet so mathematical. We all do our parts, day after day, year after year, and of our own free will.

THE GREAT MACHINE.

But if we step back to refocus, watching from a place of deep meditation, our world is changed forever. For how long can we continue playing our roles from this new perspective? The allure of the unknown will haunt our work days. What would it be like outside?

If we do jump off, could we ever return? Will they let us back in? Will we let ourselves back in? Or will we soar to unfathomable heights? Beyond our wildest imaginations. To that fairy-tale land beyond our dreams?

 

I want to fly like an eagle, to the sea. Fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me. The Steve Miller Band grins through the sunshine of my mind on a kaleidoscopic joyride through this wonderland of cactus and red rock. This is living at the core of my being. Flowing. Caressing. Inhaling the very essence of the the desert. To be alive in this place of seductive beauty is like making love to God herself. Climaxing over and over until the orgasm becomes my new reality. This is when I truly begin to see.

The plants breathe, the trees dance, the raven speaks its truth, and we dance, dance, dance on two wheels, floating through space on six inches of air. The buzz of rubber vibrates against slickrock and we become one, the bike and me - the only way. Keep moving forward, eyes fixed on the trail. Not the cliff! Look where you want to go, never where you don't. The truths and realizations come at me a mile a minute, because a false move here could mean disaster. Any moment of hesitation resulting in flesh grinding against sandstone, bones crashing into rock, or worse.

DON'T THINK. RIDE!

I careen around the next bend a little too fast, into...

Six inches of suspension is a beautiful thing. The sticky rubber of my front tire clings like Velcro to the rock as I thread the needle, through a jumble of square edged boulders, down towards the trailhead below.

Back at the car I crack a Modelo, taking in a deep breath of the cleanest desert air I can ever remember breathing. I smile. It's been a good day.

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