TIME STOPS FOR no one. But there ARE ways to slow it down.
Or, to borrow from what I’ve written in On Sacred Ground:
“Time runs at a different pace in nature. Attention narrows to the immediate environment, and expands to fully encompass it. There’s less room for outside distractions. For me, this makes every waking second richer and longer lasting…”
This was true to me twenty-four years ago when walking to the North Cape, and it remains true today. I’ve written this blog to share a few favourite moments from the past five months when time seemed to stop. Or, at least, when time passed by unnoticed.
Most of the moments of glorious slow living pictured below took pace during brief, one night trips, not during multi-month adventures or 7,000-mile walks! But that doesn’t diminish the power of them. Possibly, it makes them all the more precious. I believe that through weekly nights out, and from frequent encounters with nature, it IS possible to stay connected to The Real World. And it IS possible to slow time, to expand awareness, to connect with something greater.
As I hope these photos show! 🙂
The summer hiking season began on May 22 – with a good old-fashioned dollop of spring snow. The morning that followed was a morning in a million, and not something to rush. (Funny how many mornings in a million there are in Colorado’s Front Range!!!)
I took a few photos, took my time over breakfast, and definitely took my time doing nothing. Here’s how I see it: doing nothing in the wild is the foundation of a life well lived!
Big mountains on the walk away from camp. I had to keep stopping to gape – sometimes walking seems plain silly!
A week later, winter was thawing fast. Wet conditions underfoot made for slow travel, but it also made camp even better when I reached it. Eating dinner, I felt fairly certain that no restaurant in the world offered a finer view. (Even though my ‘eat-it-if-you-dare-stew’ arguably didn’t match restaurant cuisine!!!)
A lunar eclipse in mid May was a perfect excuse to sit still and let time (and celestial objects) go at their own speeds. ‘Oh what is this life if, full of care, we have no time to sit and stare.’ (To borrow from, and slightly alter, the words of W. H. Davies.) I sat patiently, waiting for the eclipse to began. Then watched the ‘unworldly’ show unfold!
In late May, a green flush spread across Colorado’s foothills. As is probably becoming clear, my idea of a good time in nature is solitude and doing a lot of looking. (Well, we all have our issues!)
June 9, and up in the Colorado High Country winter was well on the way out. Earlier than it should have been. But, well… such things as less snow, earlier thaws, hotter summers and melting glaciers can’t be controlled. What we can control is how we react to them. For my part, at this moment, I chose to react by sitting, staring, breathing… and losing myself to appreciation and gratitude. (Oh, and also to taking the occasional photo, I have to admit!)
Up at the crack of dawn to climb yet another mountain? Or coffee, a good book, and wallowing in pleasure at where I was. Hmmm, hard choice!
June 13, and a sultry evening down in the foothills. The air was thick with warmth, moisture, and the song of a thousand insects. The world seemed pulsatingly alive. The thrill of it sunk deep. And to think, I could have been at home watching TV!
One could lose oneself in a view like this. In fact, I did. And the following morning, I ‘lost’ myself within it on foot, too!
Elk in the morning, stumbled upon by chance. Wildlife encounters have a unique way of slowing time, as I’m sure many of you have noticed. A few seconds can feel like a lifetime and give an entire day extra value.
Paths and trails come in many forms. This rugged path is one of my favourite kinds: rough, narrow and twisting, constantly engaging, revealing surprises around every bend – even on the hundredth time along it. On this June morning it was its best, sparkling with colour and light. Following it and losing myself in the constant changes was poetry in motion, and a deepening of connection. A perfect balance to the connection that comes from sitting still.
A late-day thunderstorm sweeping across the high country. Where I sat, only a few raindrops fell. Soon after this photo, torrents of rain obscured the fourteener across the valley, although not enough to hide the lightning, or dampen the thunder! The drama of it pushed thoughts of civilisation far from mind.
A wild camp deep in a Colorado cirque. This location reminds me of mountain hollows back in Britain where I grew up, wild haunts that formed the backdrop to my first mountain walks three decades earlier. It has similar rocks and was sculpted in the same way, by glaciers long since thawed. In wet weather, and with rain showers and fog coming and going, it was even more ‘British’. An epic thunder storm rumbled through, too. The way the thunder echoed about the mountain walls was deeply impressive.
Heading up into an untracked drainage, mid July. I paused for a long while, swamped with appreciation that such wild places still remain.
This location sits close to a valley that sees thousands of visitors each weekend, a valley full of trampled corners, numerous stone fire rings, and other forms of damage left by visitors who evidently don’t understand ‘leave no trace’ principles. But happily, this pathless valley remains quiet and undamaged. I have seen others here, but fortunately they appear to know how to pass through softly and gently, or so the land shows.
Over the years, I’ve found a few special places like this that appear unvisited. Returning to them again and again has given me a chance to weigh my own impact. Can I see signs on the ground that I camped here before? Is there as much wildlife now as there was five years ago? Answers to these kind of questions reveal to me that it IS possible to visit our wild places without leaving behind evidence that we were there.
All it takes is a little thought and a little care.
Evening light. One of those moments when time most definitely stretches out.
As some of you probably know – the moment one plunges into an icy mountain tarn time emphatically stops!
Moonrise, early August, and a moment of calm at day’s end. It was a warm and humid evening and I’d only just arrived in camp after a long day. I settled down outside the tent, and at that all the day’s motion ceased. It was an expansive feeling, like letting a long-held breath slowly out. Perhaps you know what it feels like, that sensation of stretching beyond our own physical borders and becoming part of something more, something infinitely bigger? Feeling welcomed. Embraced. Accepted. Feeling fully at home…
A high country flower garden, too good to pass by. I perched on a rock, took some photos, then sat and watched the bobbing, swaying colours, and the insect life buzzing about industriously, conducting their essential business.
I guess I do a lot of this – just sitting and staring! But it IS about balance. A lack of motion makes motion itself all the better. Truth is, I get so much benefit from pushing hard. I’m a trail runner as well as a backpacker and climber. Often, I move fast, and I’ve been ‘told off’ several times now by other hikers, as though I’m not seeing or experiencing nature the way I should (or the way they ‘think’ I should). I love the expressions of surprise I’ve won from these hikers, though, when I stop and take the time to explain.
This viewpoint, anyway, was worth spending a lot of time over. Out there in the flatlands beyond the foothills the temperature was nudging a hundred Fahrenheit. Where I sat, the breeze was cool and clean.
Here we are again – more laziness! But this is what it’s all about. For me, anyway!
An August dip, and the water temperature must have been in the high sixties. Magical! The sensation of it felt so good, so cleansing and rejuvenating. I made this day a ‘lake crawl’ – an attempt to swim in as many different lakes as possible. Doing this, with plunging refreshment every couple of hours, a long day on foot seemed like the easiest and gentlest task in the world.
Another one of those secret corners. Sacred ground to move upon slowly and gently… barefoot.
Evening alpenglow and a late summer snowdrift. Perhaps you’ve noticed this – that time truly does run more slowly in camp late in the day?
All the ‘selfies’ in this set were taken using a ten-second timer. I’m a photographer and story teller, and capturing the essence of a moment and a place, and how it ‘feels’, is part of what I do. It’s also part of being human: sharing experiences, telling stories, connecting – even if I’m doing it here on social media! But the photography doesn’t distract from the moments pictured. A photo like this takes a few minutes to set up. But afterwards, a great many more minutes pass without any action at all!
This mass of Parry primroses caught my eye, and prompted a long break from forward progress. I stepped carefully, that’s for sure! (And then, like an idiot, swam in both lakes in sight below!)
Yet another favourite moment – a sudden clearing of the weather at day’s end.
The walk to camp on this evening in late August was wet indeed! I had thunder, torrents of rain, and a drainage overflowing with water. I don’t spend much on outdoor gear, and most of what I have was acquired two decades ago. My waterproofs aren’t quite that old, but they are old enough that they couldn’t repel the evening’s monsoon, and the drenching I got from the bogs underfoot and the willows I had to ease through and the pelting rain left me wet to the skin. When I arrived in camp I had to work swiftly to set up my shelter before the cold claimed me, and even in dry clothes and my sleeping bag it still took a long while to warm up. I lay there, wondering if I’d see the mountains I’d come for. Outside the tent, fog hid all.
Rain fell for the rest of the evening, until dusk, but finally it faded away. I stepped outside, and the big walls I’d come to see were finally revealed. It was a special moment, made even greater for the feeling of being ‘earned’.
And the morning that followed, after a cold night with the first hard frost of autumn stiffening the tent, was even better! The wait for sunlight in the sheltered west-facing cirque was long. But good things come to those that wait!
An early September sunrise over the edge of Colorado’s Front Range foothills. A slowly unfolding moment that goes beyond easily articulated emotions!
Watching the new day from a sheltered camp. Every single day gives us Yet Another Chance. Yet another chance no matter what has gone before to ‘make amends’, to do better, to live the life we most want to live, to make the world a better place. This is true even if we wake up indoors, and even if we face another day at work. But it seems so much easier to focus on the gift that a new day is when it unfolds slowly in camp.
And finally: Sunday morning just gone. A view to lose oneself in.
I hope that these photos have reminded you of some of your own favourite moments when time seemed to stop! And I hope they’ve hinted at the power that weekly nights out can have. One doesn’t have to walk for thousands of miles to connect with nature. I don’t think so, anyway (although going for 7,000-mile walks certainly doesn’t hurt!)
Single nights out can have an extraordinary cumulative effect. They add up. Weekly camps are ‘almost’ like being on a long walk. Perhaps you’ll try it and see?!