There’s a trend in adult maintenance these days referred to as “self-care.” I thought it was a more mature reminder that we attend to our personal hygiene matters and remember to change our socks, but the literature would suggest the practice is more about emotional well-being during times of stress (i.e. the last 40 years of my life).
In my attempt to understand this, I might have written a list. It started with brushing my teeth, paying mental health specialists to keep my head on straight, and getting my annual birthday pedicure. But on a recent weekend, the world collapsing in on me as it is sometimes wont to do, I stared at my kitchen counter asking the simple question we often neglect: What do I need?
Shortly thereafter, I found myself blazing up a gravel road, the Brown Dog happily peering over the back seat. I sipped on a thermos of coffee and bit a hunk out of a granola bar as we careened around dusty corners and deeper into the wilderness. We hadn’t seen a house in an hour. Just as the morning sun set the tree tops ablaze with orange hues, we parked the car and stepped into the cool mountain air.
Our packs loaded (mine with running fuel, hers with kibble), we shuffled across the gravel road and signed the trail log, noting we’d expect to be back that same day. My self-care need was to explore miles of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness without the voices of family, civilization or patients rambling in my head. In fact, I needed to hear creeks, birds, wind against the ragged alpine slopes. I needed the sun and sky to purify something invisible in me.
There is a network of trails out there that connects together and takes the traveler through varying ecology and views, giving the impression one has been to a dozen states on a single day.
The heavy growth and tall hemlocks made rich soil, soft and welcoming to my running feet as we descended into the creek canyon for mile after mile. When we reached the creek, Freya waded into the rushing stream and I peeled off my shoes. I needed to feel cold water pouring over my toes and chilling my ankles. I needed to sit on a rock and let my feet dry while I gazed up the wall of steeply rising trees into which we’d disappear again.
There was little conversation. “Go check it out,” I say when I want Freya to lead the way. “In back,” I say when she is best at my heels. She doesn’t talk back, but she dog-smiles and wags her tail without pause. We climb out of the canyon for just as many miles until we begin to see the alien flowers of alpine terrain. I need to stop and take a picture of one because they are the same strange flower my daughter and I saw once when hiking around Mount Hood and it reminded me of that wonderful adventure. I needed to remember those things.
We topped out on the ridge between Snowy Top and Little Snowy Top mountain and stared across the gap that the Priest Lakes made between us and the high peaks of the Selkirks. The rugged cliffs and endless scrambles that were seemingly impossible and a battle to get over looked like tame little bumps from here. Things look so different from this side. I needed this perspective.
We wound our way through the scarred landscapes of old fires. We paused to chat with a group of camping men. Seeing people outside doing the same things for often the same reasons reminds me that humanity has more in common than the press or social media or borders lead us to believe. I needed that, too.
I needed to wear out my legs, live on energy bars and gummy things for a day, breathe in open space, and rattle on in my own brain. But none of those things is on my color-coded, bullet-point list of soul hygiene – a gross error I must soon correct. By the time we got back to the car, my head was empty, my heart was full, and all I really needed was a meal.
I could add getting a massage, reading a good book, knitting and napping to my list, but the truth is that most of my self-care can be summed up in a single item: Get lost in the mountains. Everything else seems to heal itself along the way.
Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at email@example.com.
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