There is a force greater than all others.
It's not an emotion that yanks your heartstrings leading to a rash decision.
It's not a movement of physics, scientifically and systematically pushing an object along a plane.
It's not a river slicing through a landscape or a glacier carving a canyon.
It's not mankind itself, razing and paving every hill in the name of progress.
The force of which I speak is not one of these individual things, because it is all of these things. The force of which I speak is the earth itself, from which all life springs and all hope is gained or lost. The force that graciously allows us to explore and alter her grounds.
The earth is timeless.
My perception of this planet is narrow. I am only able to know what has been preserved and passed down, or what I am able to see and learn through my own experience.
But the earth, she knows no bounds. I am but one speck of trillions on her surface, lingering long enough to create an inch of impact. Even all of the collective impacts of every person throughout human history is still but one minuscule piece in the billion-year puzzle of our universe.
The earth is formidable.
I can do a lot as one individual here on earth, at least within the sphere of influence I create. And as a society we've made grand attempts to tame the earth through invention and progress. On the surface we all look pretty darn tough.
But all that we’ve accomplished still pales in comparison to the preeminence of our world. We can cover the earth in cement, suck out every drop of oil, and burn every tree, and all we'll do is kill ourselves. This planet, severely altered or not, will live on despite our worst efforts.
The earth is awesome.
I know wonderful and caring people - artists and engineers, musicians and magicians, do-gooders and creators - all who help me and others to see life anew.
But to truly be awesome, one must actually create awe.
Never has anything awed me as much as the earth itself. No stately structure of glass and steel can ever match the natural nobility of the Yosemite Falls. No single loquacious character can speak with as much thunder as the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. No feat of engineering or advancement can ever compete with the scientific wonder that is the indisputable interconnectedness of every living and stationary thing on this planet.
Mankind has its moments. We’ve produced stirring speeches, mesmerizing melodies, and multitudes of individually important moments that change us as a society and change us individually. But when you step into nature and step out of your comfort zone, I guarantee you will see everything you thought was so big begin to look ever so small.
None of us, myself included, spend enough time in the natural world, but it's critically important that we do - that we take time out of our lives to feel the power as often as possible. Not just for personal gratification, but to realize that personal gratification is entirely insignificant. To understand that our goals and aspirations and moments are but one small part of a much larger, much more important scheme. And by doing so, help us to appreciate our goals and aspirations and moments that much more.
You start with a small plant, one other living thing. Easy, patient, and innocent. A simple piece of the natural earth.
You begin to see animals, domestic and wild. The dogs and cats, our chosen companions. The critters that live off our societal leftovers. The beasts that roam our mountains and backcountry. All a part of the vast network of life.
You peer deeper and find trees, big trees, the live oak and hardwood and redwood that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. That hold the land together with their deep roots. That provide the shade for our refuge. That provide the oxygen for life. That organically regulate themselves through a natural order of death and regeneration. That make us feel young, and small, and insignificant by comparison.
You look up to see the mountains that bend our landscape at their will. Untameable by our machinery and concrete. Incorruptible except from the most dastardly of our mining, fracking, and damming inventions. That provide a refuge for all animals, wild and tame alike - tame animals like us.
And then, if you're lucky enough, you discover the gems that line the crown of our earth. Spaces not created through specific effort of man. Spaces that all living creatures call sacred. Sometimes we call them national parks, monuments, or forests.. .or sometimes we call them sanctuary, because their significance is refuge to our soul.
Sometimes we don’t take the time to notice them. Sometimes we believe we’re too busy. Sometimes we’re too numb to feel the power even when we do take the time. But when you pause in their presence and relinquish control, you realize you always knew them, they were always a part of you. When you open your mind to really see them, they inspire you to something bigger, greater, more.
In every level of of the natural, especially in those gems of earth, you feel the power. It's a power that's always all around us, but if it's the right moment and place, it becomes unavoidable. When you seek it out and visit its majesty, it's inescapably wonderful.
It’s the power that makes the world turn.
It's the power that cannot be stopped.
It's the power that gets us out of our heads.
It’s the power that inspires us to do great things.
It is the power.
I don't know what next year will bring, let alone next month, next week, tomorrow, or even the next hour. Any second now things could go in a million different directions. This is a central truth.
But truth or not, this can be frightening, making us spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about the uncertainty that's just around the corner. We distract ourselves with scenarios of the future that rarely, if ever, happen the way we imagine. We waste time predicting a conversation, when we can never really know how anyone else will react. We spin our wheels with supposedly strategic (but usually stupid) decisions in a futile attempt to control the future.
Recently, I went on a desolate sunrise hike in Joshua Tree National Park and found myself being extra cautious, something I’m sure my mom will be happy to hear. The primary physical threat in the desert is the rattlesnake, but there are also scorpions, spiders, coyotes, and I have this theory about angry big horn sheep. Another threat is the nature of the trail itself, rocky, steep, and arduous, with dangerous cliffs that demand thoughtfulness with each step.
But more than any of those threats was the fact that I was totally alone - during the 3 hours I spent on this mountain (2 hiking and 1 writing this blog) I saw not a single soul, not on the trail or on the park road below. Coming from my usually crowded stomping grounds of Griffith Park, in the middle of urban Los Angeles, this was unnerving. I have never felt that alone on a trail anywhere in all my hundreds of hiking miles.
I had a choice, I could give away any of the benefits I might reap from the hike to the fear of a rattlesnake ambush or a cliff diving misstep, both scenarios leaving me to die alone on this desert island. Or I could be as prepared as possible, like carrying a snake bite kit and staying aware of my footing, and then choose to accept the uncertainty, stay present, and enjoy the stunning desert sunrise happening all around me.
Make no mistake, the future will do what it wants to. Sure, you have a hand in it - everything you do in the present is part of what makes up your future. But no matter how much you plan and scheme, the future will bring you to shockingly unexpected places.
Even the brawniest boulder can be cracked over time.
Even the most imposing tree can be decimated by a single lightening strike.
Even the best laid path can be washed out by a freak monsoon.
I'm starting to feel like all this uncertainty that I worry about, that you probably worry about too, isn’t something to fear, but something to celebrate. You can and should prepare yourself to your best ability - shoot for the stars, make plans, improve your life, seriously go for it - but in the end you have to just let the future be, because it will actually be what it will be no matter how much fretting you do in the meantime.
Hold on to the uncertainty. Revel in the mystery and astonishment of life. Take calculated risks. Go with the unfamiliar. Move forward with each step confidently, and remember that around every corner there may or may not be a something to fear, but there will most definitely be new view that coud be even more beautiful than the last.
I’m so grateful for uncertainty, life would be totally boring otherwise.