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beloved on the earth

2013 June 12
by Rachel Turiel


Backpacking is very serious. You must march.


Family meet up back at camp.


Elmer Fudd’s apprentice. The things that get introduced when Mama’s away! Col’s a crack shot on the BB gun, however. There is talk of pigeon feasts.



She left her bean bag bed and toy guard dog there for the fairies. Bless her mind.



Arnica medicine

I’m back from my solo backpacking trip with profound revelations and newfound plans to drop out of the techno-consumer culture and live in a ponderosa shack in the woods. Bye!

Just kidding.

Actually, despite the exotic luxury of uninterrupted thoughts, for most of the trip my mind was the stage on which the competition for “most annoying song to get stuck on repeat” played out. (I know a weenie man, he owns a weenie stand…Thanks, Camp Kee Tov, circa 1988!).

Mostly, I just walked. I walked from 6,512 feet to 10,400 feet over 3 days. I walked from the hot, dry ponderosa-oak zone up into the cool, dank spruce-fir zone. I walked along creeks, over a thick plug of snow damming up a steep north-facing drainage, across skittery-rock talus fields, and through such newly thawed ground that nothing green had yet speared up through last fall’s layer of aspen leaves plastered to the earth. I walked off some of my own modern tics, like the compulsion to share/text/post random daily minutia (“just saw god in a wild iris!”), or to Google the answer to every question that flits through my mind (“where does Weenie Man song come from?”).

My pack sang “squinch squeech squinch squeech” on my back. I greeted friends like a large, noun-limited toddler: Hummingbird! Red columbine! Pine squirrel! Bear poop! I checked my map frequently and held small parties when I actually knew where I was. I ate bacon strips dipped in chimmichurri and layered with pea sprouts. I plucked trailside wildflowers, popping them in my mouth, raw, like caviar (violets, glacier lilies, sweet cicely, all the mustards, wild onion, columbine nectar). I met two young men hiking the whole Colorado Trail from Durango to Denver; we hugged upon saying goodbye (We need a scholarship fund for long-distance hikers, because you could learn at least as much hiking through wilderness as in a semester in college). I finished two books (this book is a gift to humanity, and this one was simply lovely). I cried when I read all my birthday cards, and then again when I read this poem by Raymond Carver:

And did you get what

You wanted from this life, even so?

I did.

And what did you want?

To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.

The hardest part was stopping for the day, facing the long empty unspooling hours of evening. The mind wants to be busy! I tended a tiny hobo fire. The wind shook the aspens. I flicked large shiny black ants off my legs and ate spicy re-hydrated bean soup. The sun slipped another small notch to the west. I wondered if I’d feel scared when the sun did set. (I didn’t).

Mornings were like waking up in the 5-star hotel: bird-song and freedom. No children to feed, no chickens to let out, no carrot seeds to water, no letters to the editor in the local paper to fume over, no existential path-choices to angst about, no identity to uphold. Upon waking, I’d promptly go back to sleep. I’d promptly go back to sleep. I just had to write that again because I didn’t even know my Mama-body could do that. The sun crept up meadows and over fallen trees and I’d doze a little, read a little and finally shimmy out of my sleeping bag to sit by a fire and sip tea.

Everything became very simple, very ordinary. After dinner, I’d fold up my stove and pop it back in its pouch. Kitchen cleaned. In the mornings, I’d get a little giddy with gratitude over finding my toothbrush, ready to perform its important service. You, again! When I found the perfect tree configuration to set up my tarp, it was like receiving a biblical sign that everything was going to be all right. The flavors of happiness began to look different, less about accomplishments and acquisitions, and more like the relief of pulling boots off at the end of the day.

On my 3rd day, I came off the trail early but not quite ready to end my hike. Dan and the kids were car-camping nearby and the plan was to meet them in the afternoon and spend the night together. I thought I’d walk just a little more before joining them, but lo and behold…two small figures running down the road towards me, arms flailing wildly.

After the Hallmark reunion, the grand spaciousness of my whole trip shrunk down to a very loud, urgent and messy place. The kids fought over my lap and ran their hands all over the smarting gnat-bites of my arms and legs while I tried not to yelp. Rose ransacked my pack, ferreting out the hippie peanut m’n’m’s she knew were there. The first ten words I spoke were reminders to Col to please be mindful about where he was kicking up dirt. All the way back to camp Col banged two water bottles together like he was trying to create sparks.

“Ohmygod, the chaos!” I exclaimed. “I haven’t experienced this much chaos in days!”

“Oh, you’ll get used to it, Mama,” Rose said brightly (like the junior zen master she is).

What did you learn, people ask me, from your solo birthday backpacking trip. I learned that our worst fears live in our imaginations, that insects do indeed comprise 75% of the world’s animals, that if we’re willing to count primroses and woodpeckers as our friends, we’re never really alone, and that something internal––often small and unnamable––always shifts from time in the woods. And that will always be enough.

34 Responses leave one →
  1. Diane H permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Wow, I really get how nature can be so nurturing after reading this. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experience!

  2. Kathy permalink
    June 12, 2013

    omG… I so envy you that pleasure of aloneness. Please please God give me the aloneness I so need when I am in Durango, and show me how to be thankful and content when I am alone in my own home…And thank you, Rachel, for reminding me IT CAN BE DONE, even though chaos or gentle business is there to embrace me when I am no longer alone. Can’t wait to meet new friends on my hill.
    Can’t stop the tears…you got me this time, friend. Thank you thank you!

  3. June 12, 2013

    That is some beautiful writing. All so true. I’m glad you had this time to re-connect and re-set.

  4. June 12, 2013

    this was wonderful to read and thank you oh so much for sharing it. of all the beauty, inner and out, that you describe here, it was the line about the toothbrush that brought tears to my eyes. go figure, but that ability to be grateful for the tiniest, most mundane things feels like what it’s all about. like the hokey pokey. take that, weenie man.

  5. June 12, 2013

    The poem made me cry too. I’d like that to be read at my funeral (about 100 years from now). Perfect. I SO need to go backpacking. It’s been forever. And by the way, the same weird earworm soundtrack happens to me weeding the garden. Hugs.

  6. June 12, 2013

    Happiest of bithdays to you, you did good to treat yourself to the rarest of prizes in motherhood.
    Thank you for sharing these little pieces. It keeps me going to hear these voices, mired in the reality of raising families but still carving tiny spaces for our own souls.

  7. June 12, 2013

    wow sounds amazing! Its been a while since I slept outdoors and I miss it. haven’t done it alone though. Maybe one day…

  8. Jo Hadley permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Brilliant honest writing, Rachel. I think this particular blog needs to be published in some outback magazines and/or parenting magazines… I forgot about the Weenie Man and his weenie stand!!! ;)

  9. Danny permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Lovely lovely prose, honey, I love sharing this with you, this life! Love, Dan

  10. June 12, 2013

    awes(om)e! thank you! you can definitely write like a mofo!

    hmmmm, kinda looks like north side of Lewis…ilg is thinkin’ the CO Trail from Junction Creek TH, past High Point, up Slide Rock, and met Dan and the kidz somewhere around Kennebec Pass…

    am i close?


  11. Andrea permalink
    June 12, 2013

    delightful :)

  12. Ellie permalink
    June 12, 2013

    You are such an inspiration, Rachel. Your experiences, your words. I was going to say that I’d love to go on one such backpacking trip with you, but that would be defeating the purpose of the solitary exercise, wouldn’t it?

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 12, 2013

      Ah, no. I’m so up for trips with friends now. I’ve got the backpacking bug!

  13. June 12, 2013

    What gorgeous writing, Rachel, and equally beautiful living. I admire so much about this, especially your bravery. Not just your solo-backpacking-trip confidence but your willingness to be accompanied by the woods and accept that you are loved and “beloved on the earth.” Happy Birthday, indeed!

  14. June 12, 2013

    Welcome back from your trip. Sounds like you had a great time. I especially loved the idea of waking up with little fanfare. I put both books you read on hold at my local library…thanks for the suggestions.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 13, 2013

      Oooh good. Let me know how you like them.

  15. Carly permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Ahhhhhh. So glad you got to have that! Thanks for sharing your adventure, as always in beautiful prose! This week I spied a Northern Flicker and a Pileated Woodpecker flying from and swooping into their nest holes in aging alder trees in the woods behind our home. While not nearly as awesome as your 3-day solo backpack trip, the few minutes I’ve gotten to spend in our tiny woods everyday watching them with wonder has brought a shift.
    Time In Woods = Things Right Side Up Again.

    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 13, 2013

      Oh yes. A few minutes daily with majestic birds? How lucky you are!

  16. Emmanuelle permalink
    June 12, 2013

    Rachel, I have read your story at least three times with the same happiness, and every time the poem moves me to tears again.

    Somehow it is all reflected in these few lines as in a pool of clear water : how love is the one mystery that links each one of us to the others, and to every living thing on the earth.

    So when we dwell solitary among the trees who share their peace with us, we know that everything is all right. Just as we are in the silent embrace of our own beloved.

  17. June 13, 2013

    Sounds perfectly perfect. And why is it that children are so much LOUDER after a little time away from them. It’s like they spend all their time apart from you getting sub-woofers installed in their voiceboxes.

  18. janie dalton permalink
    June 13, 2013

    Rachel, what an adventure! You inspire me. Love.

  19. June 13, 2013

    Sounds just about perfect (biting bugs aside)… even the reunion. I can just imagine!
    I am totally intrigued by those guys hiking the whole trail. We talked about that when we first set out on it. It would be fascinating to know just how many people have done it and gather their stories.
    We are going to Denver next week but we will have to travel by road this time round!
    Thanks for sharing your journey!

  20. June 13, 2013

    Happy birthday sweet Rachel…what a gift. Nature sets the clock back to reset and once that’s happened everything seems right in the world. I won a seven day backpacking trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness and although it won’t be solo, I can’t wait for the ease of the mornings. It will definitely reset my clock though. Welcome back to the blissful chaos of motherhood…


    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 14, 2013

      Exactly, Jaim. I can tell I was “reset” because the good reverberations from my time alone in nature keep washing over me.

  21. Emily Reynolds permalink
    June 15, 2013

    You brought that goodness down from the trail with you Rachel!

  22. June 16, 2013

    I was surprised at the rapid mind shift while on the trail and I found the return to humanity to be most shocking after backpacking solo. You told a beautiful story here, Rachel, and I especially like how you said you’re never truly alone on the trail. Agreed!

  23. June 16, 2013

    Awwww. It’s hard for me to imagine life without chaos right now, even in the backcountry. Incidentally, the San Juan float trip post is finally up, whew. I answered some of your questions (I think) at the bottom.

    I have to admit, my heart sank a little to read that the chaos continues past the toddler years. But it gets more manageable, right?

    I mentioned to my man (just in time for Father’s Day) that I am taking a one week solo vacation once Hazel’s done nursing. Backpacking will no doubt be involved.


    • Rachel Turiel permalink
      June 16, 2013

      Chaos more manageable and intermittant and not involving poop so much these days. Loved your San Juan River post. That is the exact stretch of water we’re hoping to raft in July.

  24. April 9, 2015

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