I'm excited to introduce Liz Song as a guest writer for this season's Love Letter! She is an old friend from my hometown, and although we've lived far apart for the the past decade, I have admired her love and zest for life, and her deep enthusiasm for the wilderness. Her energy is contagious and she's someone who puts her 100% into her passions. It brings me joy to have Liz share her experience in the Sierras, and the 'layers of time' encountered in the wilderness. I hope she inspires you to explore, set out on new adventures, and take a leap of faith... xo, Angie
----- I never really thought of myself as someone who liked being in the wilderness. Honestly, it was a bit too messy for my taste, too unfamiliar. I grew up in the suburbs and enjoyed playing on sidewalks and in manicured parks. It’s what I knew. In high school, I was pretty typical too. I gravitated towards air conditioned malls and friends’ homes, eating out and zipping around LA in my little Jetta.
On the first day of college, to by sheer surprise, I found myself surrounded by a cocktail of body odor, incense, patchouli, and the pitter patter of barefoot hippies roaming the trails that braided UC Santa Cruz’s campus together. Where was I? I admit it was beautiful in this foreign place, but I felt completely lost in the woods - sometimes literally.
However, my curiosity of the wilderness was awakened over those formative college years. What had once been strange had become a bit more familiar. Then that familiarity evolved into an insatiable thirst. Whenever I saw pictures and heard stories of friends - heck, strangers even! - on backpacking trips, it fueled my desire to go into the wilderness and see it for myself. But see what? I wasn’t sure at the time. I just knew I needed to go.
My first trip into the Sierras completely wrangled my soul. It broke me down, it picked me up, it cradled me and then it pushed me out of the nest to go fly. It taught me that when I walk in the wilderness, I am not simply hiking between trees, alongside rivers, enveloped by mountains. I am moving through layers of time.
I’ll never forget the moment I began spontaneously weeping four days into our seven day journey. I was feeling particularly raw, hiking over mountain passes with too much weight on my back was breaking me down, and simultaneously cracking my heart wide open. I didn’t realize it in the moment, but anything could’ve set me off. The wilderness will do that to you.
It was mid-morning when it happened. I was hiking behind my friend, the mountains’ enormous presence undeniable, my smallness unquestionable. We were swiftly weaving in and out of the trees when in a quiet moment, my friend asked a simple, “How are you?” and I began to weep. I didn’t know how to answer him; I was utterly overwhelmed.
The days leading up to this moment, I had been surrounded by trees that had grown for decades, peppered with week-old moss and tiny blades of grass dancing around its toes. I watched snow melting from the afternoon sun, to later chase a creek that flowed through valleys formed a 100 million years before my tiny steps took afoot. I followed the single lane path that was paved by the worn hands and feet of women and men who came before me. I stood, perhaps in the very spot, that the world-renowned Ansel Adams captured his remarkable images of a particularly special alpine lake. I felt connected to every soul who sat on the same granite rock I sat on, to witness a timeless sunset.
The layers of time are palpable in the wilderness. We are not only in the Present, but holding hands with the Past and the hope of the Future.
In that moment, only my tears could express this magic of the wilderness. It had completely undone me. There were no words to describe how I was doing. Instead, each tear held brokenness and wholeness, power and humility, and expansiveness and precision. They expressed my newly cleansed spirit.
In that moment, I was alive…most definitely alive.
About Liz Song
Liz now dwells in Montana, a place she dreamt of living even before her first visit. She created Snowqueen & Scout, a site dedicated to making wilderness backpacking simple for women, to invite more people to experience what she described about the Sierras. Liz spends her time quenching her insatiable thirst for wilderness and attempting to capture it with photography and words.