Monday, November 28, 2016

What is Awe?

     Is it sitting on the ledge of a high mountain: looking down at treetops thousands of feet below, while a gusty wind thumps your chest and a condor carves a bank turn up a thermal draft towards the sun? Is it lying on your back and feeling the weight of perspective when stars of Milky Way are close enough to touch? Is awe that feeling of bewilderment and fascination that comes from witnessing new life or death; the taste of a vanilla milk shake with a dash of rum after being in the saddle all day; A mad talented street performer; or dawn patrol surf with dolphins? Perhaps I will start with what it is not.

     Nintendo can’t package it and a person won’t find it on Facebook.  According psychologist Dacher Keltner who heads the University of California, Berkeley’s Social Interaction Lab. “Awe is the feeling of being in the presence of something vast or beyond human scale that transcends our current understanding of things.”  It is reported that on average people experience awe 2.5 times per week, 75% of which is triggered by the natural world.
     Over the last few days Alycia and I set out with a simple intention: get as much fresh air as possible, watch the sunrise, and watch the sunset.  As we put up the tent on the snowy and lonely north rim of the Grand Canyon I could tell we were well on track to hit the 2.5 times per week “awe moment”.


     “I’m not sure if this is it,” I think to myself as we speed bump over a plow pile marking the edge of the road.  It’s dark but a couple other cars are in the lot and free of snow. No new snow on the cars means old snow and old snow means cold. And cold it is. My old tent, the Bee Hive, feels crunchy enough to crack as I stuff it away with numb hands.  Our camp looks even more pathetic in the crystal clear morning light, we’d camped off the side of the road in a pull-out on snow covered cement.

     The key to finding a good partner is falling in love with someone who is tough, in part because I have a bit of the dip-shit-gene (occurs only in men), and in part because I like long days.  Alycia defines tough.  She is always game for an endurance adventure, doesn’t complain much, and enjoys moments of awe as much as I do.

     Sometime before 5am: I reach over to wake Alycia. Her sleeping bag makes an odd creaking sound as I break it from it’s frozen dew casting with an abrupt jab to greet the day: “Are you alive?” I ask somewhat sarcastically knowing we’ve both been up all night.  A face comes to the small opening at the top of her mummy bag: “my nose is cold,” she responds. I'm first out of the tent and swear my pee should be freezing before it hits the ground.  Alycia stays in the tent making all sorts of achy moans as she rolls off her home made sleeping pad; two folded fleece blankets. My diesel car, Skid, sounds sludgy and slow to start in the frigid morning air. The temperature reads 4 degrees Fahrenheit; I decide not to tell Alycia and we drive to the trail head.

     Cursing my old stove I contemplate chewing coffee grounds.  Not what it once was and always been a bastard below freezing.

     7:30AM we start down the North Kaibab Trail into the Grand Canyon.
A trail run petroglyph scavenger hunt
     Ten hours pass and it’s dark.  We crunch our way back into the parking lot wearing microspikes and headlamps after 10,500ft of elevation change spread over thirty mind bending miles.


     As your friend who knows all too well how busy the holidays can get, balance out the consumer gifts with stories of joie de vivre—moments of joy for life.  Better yet go find them outside with the ones you love.  The sense of awe is a gift that keeps giving.  The only expense is muddy shoes and frosty tips. Plenty of soul food to keep your belly full.

Until next time.
Your pal,