Earlier this summer, I went on an adventure with my friend, Bento, a Brazilian acupuncturist and student of arts both martial and spiritual.
I took him to visit a meditation cave tucked away at an ashram in rural Vermont, then we went for one of my favorite hikes. Mt. Worcester is said to be inlaid with large inclusions of garnet in addition to the gorgeous swaths of snowy white quartz that adorn its higher reaches. Its Western face looks out over miles of emerald patchwork fields interlaced with quicksilver rivers and winding rural roads. On a good day, you can watch hawks ride the thermals that belly their wings for hours, and it was a good day, so we did. The ashram was sublime and powerful and the mountaintop a heaven, but it wasn’t all sunshine and roses.
On our way up the mountain, Bento and I both felt increasingly ill. At various intervals, we had to stop, catch our breath, and fight back nausea. An anvil started bashing away inside my skull, and dizziness struck me in irregular waves. I’m sure I was as green as the new elderberry leaves that fluttered in the breeze soothing our clammy brows, and Bento’s expression grew tighter as we climbed. “It’s something going on at the top,” he gasped, clenching a hemlock branch for support as he hauled himself up a particularly steep rock face. When we made the summit, the plague vanished as if it had never been.
Later, a friend who knows the Worcester range well shared the local legend that Mt. Worcester acts as a transformer for all of the energy that swirls and churns in the valleys below. The dark energy is transmuted as it travels upward and gets released at the peak, clean and re-charged. “Something going on at the top”, indeed. The Worcester hike is a tough one, but it had never effected me that way before. Perhaps I hadn’t been in need of transformation until that difficult day?
A week later, I did the same hike (When Vermont weather permits, my hiking borders on compulsion, addicted as I am to the alchemy that occurs between trailhead and peak.) Once again, Worcester challenged my muscles and lungs and massaged the worries from my mind, but it did not twist my guts and cause the anvil to recommence its pounding. The next time I saw Bento, I told him about my drastically different experience and he laughed. “Ah, but this time you went on a hike,” he said. “You invited me on an “adventure“.” He was right. I had used that very word. Truth bumps rippled up my arms.
Perhaps it’s the writer in me, but I have a tendency to think of happenings, even the most mundane, in terms of adventure. How might this be a story? How might that image be worth a thousand words? I’ve had “adventures” comprised of little more than a visit to a gas station bathroom (“Let me tell you what I saw written on the toilet paper dispenser!”) or a walk down the street to put more quarters in a parking meter (“…so I caught the meter maid just in time and we started talking about her last trip home to Albuquerque.”). What I’d failed to consider, and what Bento’s words helped me realize, was the extent to which I’ve been creating adventures by sheer dint of will, or rather, by sheer dint of word. I call an outing and adventure, and that is exactly what I get, for good or ill.
I’m thinking about this right now as Bruce and I sit in the second Freightliner repair shop of our trip, waiting for a second opinion on the condition of the leaking air system on our bus. I’ve had ample time during our slow progress Seattle-ward to reflect on semesters past, and how adventure-ful they each were. Yes, they took place in India, where one is bound to find any variety of chaos just by walking out onto the street, but still. Things always seemed to go a little over the top at some stage. This is my first time helming a semester within the United States, and I’m wondering if that’s enough to keep the chaos quotient in check. Just in case , I’ve resolved to think of this trip as something other than an adventure. “Expedition” feels particularly appropo, and at least chaos-neutral. Yes, I think I’ll go with “expedition”, and hope our little mechanical mishap is the last of our adventures for a while.