Today we walk five physically strenuous miles in heavy brush. After dropping our packs in a remote canyon, undisturbed by any sign of human presence, we explore another half mile farther into the canyon. We come to a pool of water below stark cliffs that make for some rather difficult climbing. I decide to risk it and engage in a little primitive recreation, without ropes or harness, in order to scale the walls to the north. After doing so, I run ahead for a few minutes, dodging prickly pear and teddy bear cacti, looking for a spring expected to be another mile and a half ahead. No luck. It’s either elsewhere or farther on. I return back to my adventuring companions and jump into the pool, into the cold water.
Sunrise over the canyon walls. I awaken early and climb up a little ways to meet it. I find a rock, take my hiking boots off, and listen to the multitude of birds giving glory to the rising sun.
Glory in it, with it, and to it. Feel your smallness; feel your significance. You are small, yet you are significant, for you welcome the sun with human song while the birds welcome it with birdsong. Let the birds educate you in the primitive art of sun celebration. Let the rocks educate you in the primitive art of waiting patiently for the sun’s warmth. The plants can teach you something there as well. Let the trees teach you how to soar while staying grounded. The branches soar and the roots are grounded. “There is knowledge only the wild can give us, knowledge specific to the experience of it. These are its gifts to us,” Jack Turner writes. Some days the gift is silent and wraps up in silence whoever uncovers it. The gift this morning is the gift of song. The birds sing to celebrate the gift of the sun as I celebrate the gift of undisturbed solitude on this hill in the sun. We are brought together in celebration.
A day to glory in and give glory to. Glory to the sun in the highest. Sing, glory to the sun. Glory to this rock that I sit on and peace to all the myriad creatures on earth. Let us be reconnected and reconciled.
Morning, the last day of the trip, time unknown. The sun touches the highest point of the cliffs that stand above me as I climb up the western hillside, listening to the barely audible trickling of Kaiser Spring, now thirty yards below me. Almost all of the plants on this hill are some shade of green: palo verde, ocotillo, saguaro, prickly pear, barrel cactus. All living organisms in this green desert lean towards spring. I join this open procession, this renewal; I listen as Life sings itself to wakefulness. I continue up the hill, each step on ground I have never before stepped on. Each step restores me to a new equilibrium that I could never have found on my own; I am reintroduced to the stores of energy and power within me.
The sun is now on the cliffs directly behind me, but I am still in shadow. I hear the canyon wren below me, and other unnameable birds, birds I cannot name, around me. I am surrounded by beauty I cannot name. The birds, by serenading the unnameable, become an integral part of it. They soar beyond label. They sing and I listen. I am not only the audience. I try to translate the unnameable with the power of human symbol, try to get a loose hold of some of that beauty on paper.
I climb up to a rock where the sun shines. Sitting on the rock in the sun, I say a wordless blessing. I am blessed by the existence of a place that no human can improve. It would be arrogant of me to believe I could improve this place; the best I can do is receive its gifts, be receptive to its grace, and then let it be.
Humans attempt to improve what cannot be improved in order to prove the superiority of civilized man over wild nature. Leave all that talk of superiority and inferiority, of subordination and dependency, of administration and management, of comparison and improving—leave all that to relationships between human beings. The relationship between human beings and the wild cannot be one of comparison or of improvement. The greatest improvement in ourselves is when we cease trying to improve anyone or anything else, above all anything wild.
Instead of trying to control the outer wilderness, we should strive to understand what is wild within us, which will lead to an understanding that we cannot control anyone or anything else. The more we try to control the wild, externally or internally, or use it for our own benefit, the more out of control it becomes. What is wild is intrinsically perfect, is whole as it is: “To speak of wilderness is to speak of wholeness.” When we try and control what is whole, we split ourselves. We separate ourselves from what we cannot be separate from. To become a part of the whole we must strive for wholeness within ourselves. “The whole is made of parts,” Snyder writes, “each of which is whole.”
The wordless blessing has now found words. I bless this day where I am restored in this place that needs no restoring. This place that needs to be left how it is. It is not a blessing I give so much as it is an acceptance of the blessing I receive. The wild does not need my blessing. It is already blessed in every respect. It needs to remain that way.
I scramble farther up the cliff for another moment or two and then head back down to our campsite. Before we take our leave, the four of us linger by the clear water of Kaiser Spring. The sun slants through cottonwood and willow trees, reflects off the water dripping down from the pure spring. No one says a word. “In the beginning,” Terry Tempest Williams writes, “there were no words.”
The origin of Kaiser Spring is another quarter-mile on. We shoulder our packs and depart for the Source. The sound of the water flowing the other way alongside us is like silence.