• Gretel Enck

Hike #3: The Blue of Distance

Rebecca Solnit, one of our time’s great thinkers, writes about the blue of distance in her Field Guide to Getting Lost. “The world is blue at its edges and in its depths. This blue is the light that got lost…gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.”

I am reminded by the blue of distance every time I drive south to the border, the river, the national park. Dropping down in elevation, a jumble of mountains layers off into the distance, shades of blue against our west Texas blue sky. And I feel the emotion Solnit describes of melancholy and desire, the color of where we are not and can never be. One can never arrive at the blue mountain because the mountain is not blue; the atmosphere creates the impression (illusion?). Such is the blue of desire, that one never arrives at the object of one’s desire but rather the atmosphere creates the impression (illusion?).

The blue of distance from Persimmon Gap.

I, and many of the writers I esteem, have written about the achievement of reaching a goal like a mountain peak. Reaching a high point is an accomplishment with its attendant reward. But like seeking the blue, adventure or exploration is never truly fulfilled at the arrival at a stated destination, because the true exploration is of ourselves. Hiking is a metaphor, a tool. Atmosphere is fuel for practice, meditation to recognize the impression, illusion, perception for what it is.

This week’s hike was an old favorite, an easy hike across the flat land to Dog Canyon. Five miles round trip, I welcomed another relatively easy walk to focus on my breath and carriage. Yogi Adriene stresses head over heart, heart over pelvis. Think about my stride and relaxing into a natural curve of the spine. A serenity of moving forward with intention on a still, sunny day.

Dog Canyon after rains

And, oh, the mud. We have had weather this week. And the beautiful pools in the rocks of the canyon gave way to quite a muddy stretch. My attempt to un-bog myself led me to bushwhacking where every last plant had thorns. At last I gave up trying to find a dry and prickle-less perch to rest in the shadows of the great canyon walls. I retraced my steps up the wash to a less scenic and more comfortable ring of shade under a high-banked shrub.

And I thought again about the blue of distance, the ways our eyes are made to see, and how our hearts are made to see. Last week Father Mike preached about the question of What Would Jesus Do? but turning it slightly to ask What Would Jesus See? Despite the physical mechanism of sight, myriad factors influence what our hearts and minds do with the information gathered by our senses. How do we open ourselves to the reality of life around us in a way that really lets us see what is in front of us? A revered bodhisattva in my Buddhist tradition sees the world with eyes of compassion. We are taught to practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from our own happiness and suffering.

Later Solnit writes about the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly within the mysterious confines of a chrysalis. She describes the violence of the metamorphosis “often spoken of as if it were as graceful as a flower blooming.” Like that is us, torn apart inside navigating this crazy week, this crazy year, this fragile life—making a façade of rainbows and unicorns. Do not unfurl our beautifully colored wings, she implies, without honoring the struggle, the pain, the depth of it all.

I tromp my muddy feet back across the flat land to my car, a little bloodied and my new boots still pinching a toe. Happiness and suffering. Violence and grace. Desire and distance. What would Jesus see? How can we love the fraught people in our society when we can’t even figure out how to love our fraught family members? How can I admit that the roots of anger in myself can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding? Chasing blue mountains.

Against all odds the week reverberates in hope and love. The transcendent words of Amanda Gorman keep ringing in my head as reflection, as unfurling, instruction: When day comes we step out of the shade / aflame and unafraid / The new dawn blooms as we free it / For there is always light, / if only we're brave enough to see it / If only we're brave enough to be it.

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