Personal Meditation: “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.”


by Zoe Curtis

Thump. Slosh. Crack. Crunch. A cacophony of sounds replays as I trudge up the mountain. My boots are caked with cracked mud and dried droplets of river water stain my knees, calcifying like small white tea stains over the skin, which will surely be sunburned after today. I am light-headed and unsure of whether or not I will make it. Despite this, the thump of my footsteps continues, as involuntary as blood pumps through the heart. 

After five hours of a steep climb, I reach the summit, and as Lou Reed’s voice belts through my headphones, I smile. The view is perfect: sweeping swaths of mountain for miles and long green grass flowing in the cool summer wind as far as the eye can see. 

My parents were raised in Colorado, so a childhood in the great outdoors automatically comes with the territory. My sister and I were practically born wearing worn–out Sorels and Arc’teryx down jackets with thermoses of sugar-soaked oatmeal in hand. Growing up, I despised hiking, kayaking, cycling or any activity that caused my heart to exceed its resting rate. 

While my friends spent their weekends relaxing, I spent mine exploring the snowy forests of the Sierra Nevada and camping in the roof tent precariously assembled on top of our Jeep; a regular John Muir in a pair of purple hiking boots.  Because of the stark contrast between our lifestyles, I assumed that my differences automatically rendered me “less cool” than them.  I neglected to tell them about what I really did, instead crafting glamorous anecdotes to share come Monday’s lunchtime. I grew to resent the lifestyle my parents forced upon me, and I became embarrassed of my pastimes, wishing desperately for visits to the Brentwood Country Mart and the Westfield mall, instead of the lonely deserts and glitter of a dimly–lit camping stove. 

Ten years on a competitive alpine ski team, a plethora of hikes over innumerable mountain ridges, the annual Fourth of July paddleboard with my best friends, bear watching in Alaska and a lifetime of National Park visits later, an eerily foreign feeling of appreciation started to kick in. Maybe these activities weren’t all for naught as I had previously thought. Now, I wasn’t going to become some Bon Iver-listening, mystic-believing, Trotskyite hippie, but I could certainly warm up to the idea of it. 

And in an effort to do so, I started taking initiative in my adventures. I started with small hikes, often stringing along my sister, and chanting lyrics to overplayed pop songs as we turned our Sundays, Thursdays, or three-day weekends into something meaningful. 

But over time, my love for the outdoors deepened. I felt as if I was coming back to an old friend, one that I had shoved off with arrogance and shame, and was slowly and deliberately making amends. I was, if I were to psychoanalyze it, healing my relationship with my past and my identity. 

All of my feelings of shame and repudiation were scrubbed from my heart. I woke up at five in the morning to hike and see the sunrise, I started listening to the esoteric indie music I once so vehemently abhorred and I started to view activities like kayaking and cycling the way I wanted to see them: as choices to be made, and most importantly, as fun. 

 My distaste for this lifestyle seemed to stem from a deliberate choice to deny who I was and what I came from, and whether I liked it or not, I would always possess, at least on some level, the spirit of an adventurer. I could conceal it carefully with my polished manicures and pseudointellectual taste in literature, with my reviling of indie music artists and witticisms about stereotypical “free spirits,” but the ecstasy of nature consumed me entirely.

 I was lost in the forests and snow-capped mountains of my youth, and each time I ventured out, a small piece of me fell in love again and again with the beautiful, tired and much-too-large world. As much as I could sit there and reject the idea of becoming a wool-beanie-wearing shamanist, a part of me always knew that it would all be marked indelibly on my heart, a small tattoo that I’ll never be able to get rid of. And I’ll tell you a secret: I love Bon Iver.