What is beautiful?
Lately, I'm obsessed with this question. What is beautiful to me? What is beautiful to you? What do we perceive as beauty?
How does it move you? Are you filled with joy, sorrow, hopefulness, or despair? Does beauty make you cry? Smile?
What is beautiful?
Driving home tonight, I remembered my hike through the Umpqua National Forest. It was a grueling 4-day long trek—nearly 45 miles—in July of 2015. With near 90 degree days, humidity, and a local burning forest fire, the conditions were not ideal. However, my friend, Eric, and I were determined to walk a lengthy portion of the trail. Unlike me, he was in better shape and more seasoned to these excursions. Nevertheless, I pushed myself to keep up, and hoped he’d not have to drag me out of the woods, as we joked.
The adventure left me alone to think, as Eric was usually about an hour ahead of me for most of the hike. In that time reflecting, I felt connected to the world around me. There is something soothing in being among the redwoods and ferns of the Pacific Northwest. Even though blisters had begun to form under my toenails, and the weight of my backpack left welts on my shoulders, I could ignore the pain in a seemingly meditative state as I walked.
In that very ancient place, the air which flowed around me, I found familiarity with this air. This air circulates around the world. It’s been here for ages. It’s been breathed by my ancestors, by your ancestors, by everything that has breath, or had breath. The mossy earth floor, decomposing vegetation, creates new life which is consumed and returned. Essentially, our bodies come from the ground. Then they return to it.
The life cycle, it connects everyone, every species, every life—no matter how minuscule, or seemingly unimportant. Everything belongs. Everything is. Everything is the future of something new, the past of something old, and the present of who we are.
This is beautiful.
This reality, to me, is amazing to the point where I cry. Tears of happiness—I belong here—they are also tears of deep sadness, because often, I feel so distant from the life around me. This wondrous beauty is both energizing and painful to me. Maybe, I feel too much? Or maybe, I don’t immerse myself in it enough?
By the end of the hike, I was battered. I had injured my knee, my feet were bleeding, my body swollen—I’d even broken out in hives the last evening. Yet, I felt none of the pain, ascending Bob Butte, the last high point on our trip. In the early morning I stood, looking back, the distance we’d come, the sun glowing around me. As I turned to descend, a yellow swallowtail fluttered past me, and in the strangest of moments, we walked together—her hovering only a few feet before me. If there is a heaven, it would be that moment. The tree branches hanging over the trail had a brilliant yellow aura, and the trail before me blazed like gold. For a brief moment, I thought I was dying, the beauty was so surreal.
This is beautiful.
Those rare moments, when the world I’m awake in, matches the world I see in my more blissful dreams. While I had my camera with me, I didn’t stop to take a picture. I wanted to immortalize the moment with my eyes, my mind, my soul. Maybe the universe knew that I needed a beautiful memory to hold onto, when depression pulls me into dark thoughts of self-harm? Or maybe my body was in such pain, I was hallucinating?
Whatever the reason, I’m grateful to have experienced it. I may never see the Umpqua National Forest again, having moved to the other side of the country. However, her beauty will always remain with me as a memory evoked when I feel the wind, the sun, or any element which cycles from her, around the world, back to me.