There was a day working for the outfit in the Yukon, north of Watson’s Lake that I pretty much walked for fourteen hours.
As usually I was up in the wee dark hours of early morning, poking contacts into my gritty eyes via the light of candle in front of a travel mirror. I stuffed my denim-clad legs into my bib-overall rain pants and pulled on my rubber boots. I lived in a rain suit and those rubber boots for nearly three months.
With no flashlight, I headed out into the dark wet drizzle of early morning to go round up the horses. We were at a camp on Hyland Lake in the Yukon, and it was early September. It was far too dark to track horses, but I could use my ears to listen for the bells strung from a few of the lead mares necks.
It was easy to follow the path out of camp, as the tundra glowed phosphorescent-like in the moonless dark, and the paths were pitch black. I couldn’t quite see my black boots on the path, but as long as I looked far enough ahead it was easy enough to run along the dark ribbon like trail. I would top a rise and hold my breath, straining to hear a faint tinkle-jingle of horse bells over the thud of my heart in my ears. I was always listening so intently for bells to the point that I would find myself hearing a faint jingling of bells even when there was no possible way I should. Paranoid? Hyper-sensitive? Most likely a bit of both. It was the by-product of being a horse wrangler on foot.
Hyland was a difficult place to listen for horse bells as the area where we were camped was surrounded by low round hills and gullies, and sound would bounce and twist, easily tricking a listener. You would think you could hear the bells just around the next corner and when you arrived there, there would be no horses and you could hear the bells coming from an opposite direction.
What made things worse this particular morning was the rain drumming on my rain suit and the vegetation, muffling the sound of bells. On top of that, a few days earlier I had been kneed in the jaw by an overeager mare while I was un-hobbling her and my head still pounded. My body was pretty much a walking ache as I moved along the path, stiff and sore, with a overall heaviness weighing me down.
Eventually I came upon a part of the herd grazing in a small meadow, busily scrounging for grass amongst the mosses and tundra. My favorite, Mocha, a perky little bay greeted me with a wicker. I petted him for a bit before leaning down to unhook the chain hobbles from his legs and then hang them from his neck. I quickly did the rest in the little group and moved on to where I could hear bells around the corner of the hill. Thankfully I hadn’t disturbed the first group yet and they continued grazing contentedly, their bells ringing in a gentle cadence, signaling all was well.
I found the last of my herd just a little further on, and un-hobbled them, before sending them for camp with a shout. I didn’t bother to grab a horse to ride as I was not far from camp—maybe only a half mile out—and my head hurt at the thought of snagging a horse to jump on and ride full tilt into camp, so I walk/jogged behind the horses to chase them into camp, arriving not long after they did.
The guides were dumping out piles of oats for them and catching up the ones we would be using for the day. I was to ride Dodi, a tall dark bay that I really disliked. He had a rough jolting gait and was a bit of knothead. My head ached at the thought of riding his rough gait all day.
After a hurried warm breakfast that I ate standing up, we packed up for the day. I headed out with Guide Donn and our hunter to hunt for a mountain goat. We headed east and as I brought up the tail, I decided that I really didn’t need to ride Dodi after all, so I walked.
The only time I got on that horse was when I had to cross a creek. And then I got off and walked. I walked and I walked behind the guide and the hunter. They rode up a high mountain valley that dead-ended against a rocky mountain wall. And I walked, breathing a sigh of relief that it was a dead-end valley and we would turn around. I just didn’t feel like extending myself that morning.
However, Donn said he wanted to go up. So we climbed up to the top of the mountain, on a steep, rocky trail that zigzagged up the steep wall of the mountain. It was a gray, dull day that perfectly matched my mood. When we got to the top, the guys mounted and rode along while I continued to walk. They rode down one hill and up. And I walked. We stopped and had a bit of tea over a fire and looked for goats. And then they moved on and I walked. The longer I walked the looser I was starting to feel.
All day I walked. Up a mountain and then down and then up another mountain. The clouds were low and it rained some. The wind kicked up and buffeted us and we took shelter against a rock wall for a bit. Donn asked why I wasn’t riding and I told him I just felt like walking cuz my head hurt. I couldn’t explain, how upset I was feeling and how the walking kept my mind from stewing too much. If I had been riding I would have been angrier and more upset and probably taken it out on the horse. The walking seemed to take the edge off.
We didn’t find any game worth pursuing so we turned back to camp. And I walked down the mountain. For miles I walked, my eyes mostly on the path just in front of my feet or on the tail of the horse in front of me. And suddenly just as we were coming through the mountain pass headed back for camp, I looked up from the path and I saw the sun breaking through the clouds with rays of gold, highlighting the brilliant aquamarine blue of Hyland Lake. It was like a lightning bolt hit my mind.
“Girl, you are living the absolute dream! Why do you have your eyes on your feet when you are living and working in some of the most beautiful unspoiled country in the world?!”
I looked around and I don’t know if words can put into feeling how much the world changed in that instant for me. I saw beauty in a whole different way. My perspective changed in an instant and I was even breathing different. It was the instant worship of the Creator and pure awe at His creation in that moment that is forever stamped on my mind.
The clouds rolled back and shuttered the rays of gold and the gloom of the day resumed. That brief break of sunshine however did a 180 on my mood and somehow I found the needed strength to carry on, not just for that day and the rest of the walk home but for the rest of the season. I approached the rest of my time out there with a different attitude and an altered perspective. I refused to dwell on all that ached or was wrong or uncomfortable—none of that changed any and in fact actually got worse—but instead looked for unexpected, the beautiful, the adventure, the thrill of things. And I found them EVERYWHERE around me.
How could one minute before I literally couldn’t see beyond my feet and then suddenly the world was wide open before me?
I recently read that to understand perception we need to realize that we have filters in our brain to help us process the 2,000 bits of information per second our conscious mind is able to take in. These brain filters control the flow of information and protect us from overload, allowing us to concentrate. Meanwhile, our subconscious mind is busy taking it all in– some four billion bits of information per second. Somehow in there, I’m told that we actually only process less than a 1/10,000th of 1 percent of what is actually out there, and we call that reality. Basically this means in order to function we filter what we see and we further filter this filtered information and conform it to our expectations.
“Our perceptions are influenced by what we have been conditioned to expect.” (Murray Fuhrer, author of Extreem Esteem: the Four Factors)
This got me wondering about how much of what we see is actually what we CHOOSE to see. We expect to see something a certain way and so we look to actually see it that way. For example, when I am looking for things to be thankful for, even when I may be in a hard or bad or very sad situation, I always find a wide variety of things to be grateful for.
And so I’ve come to the realization that when you set your mind to look for something, you will start to see it in places you never realized or expected to see it before. It becomes a choice. You choose to see what you want to see. It’s not that what you see actually changes the reality of things, but it changes your perspective.
So that day I chose to see the beauty instead of the ugly.
I chose to enjoy the thrill of adventure even in the midst of the miserable conditions.
I chose to thank God every day for the chance to do something so wild and free!
And now I’m at a place in life again where it feels like an absolute marathon of miserable, and I only see the things that are going wrong, the adversity, the troubles, the pain, and the hurt. I blame other people. I blame God. I just want a way out, far away from it all.
And then I remembered the day I walked all day long and I remembered the choice I made that day and how it changed things for me. So I am now challenging myself to keep looking for the beautiful, for the grace, for the tiny mercies, for the thrill of being alive. I choose to keep counting those gifts from God. And they are everywhere if I have the eyes to see! Of course it’s easier said than done sometimes, but I have found that if I write it down, if I take pictures, if I say out loud when I find something to be thankful for, it seems to stick somehow a little better because I was intentional about it.
And a little side note about walking: Sometimes in life I have discovered you just aren’t up for running or riding or facing life full on. Sometimes you just have to walk it out– one foot in front of the other.
The day I walked 14 hours, I didn’t think I’d last past the first thirty minutes, but I ended up climbing three mountains and putting endless miles behind me just by putting one foot in front of the other, and surprisingly I was stronger by the end than I was at the beginning. That day proved to me that the mind must always be stronger over the physical, because it can make a weak body do things that seem impossibly, but a strong body cannot will a weak mind. It certainly helped to have a little (big?) spiritual boost as well!