What Lies Here Will Remain
My Shadow Peak, Cave, & Battle Cry
On August 31st, 2020 I started a five day adventure in the Weminuche Wilderness. Here’s a piece of that story:
The Healing Place
Finally on my way to yes
I bump into
all the places
where I said no
to my life
all the untended wounds
the red and purple scars
those hieroglyphs of pain
carved into my skin, my bones,
those coded messages
that send me down
the wrong street
again and again
where I find them
the old wounds
the old misdirections
and I lift them
one by one
close to my heart
and I say holy
Day 3, 8:15 AM — Voice Recording
It was cold last night! I’m still adjusting to the isolation, but the elevation gains to the basin added even more tossing and turning in my adolescent 40-degree sleeping bag.
It was rough sleep, but at some point, I dreamt I was on a bus heading to work. It felt reminiscent of my commute in Boston when I was 19. Along the way my best friend from Lufkin joined and it was a welcomed surprise. I knew we had not stayed in touch. As we started to connect my best friend from Port Arthur came onboard and I felt grateful. “What a wonderful chance for us to finally all be together,” I thought. But as he approached, I noticed the sadness on his face.
My heart sank as he told me he’s been reading my recent writing and also not doing well. I spent the rest of the ride consoling him and before I knew it my Lufkin friend left, waving goodbye from the front of the bus. I was supposed to get off at the next stop but decided to stay on. “To think,” I said, as my P.A. friend departed. Sad and alone, I stepped off into an unfamiliar part of town. I spent the rest of the dream anxiously wandering block after block trying to find my way.
Day 3, 8:43 AM — Journal, Voice, & As I Remember
No other dreams are bubbling up this morning. I spent 12 hours in the tent last night, crawling in around 8 PM to journal. At sunset, I was looking out along the ridge and caught off guard by what looked like an ominous face staring at me from within a cave. Late evening shadows and isolation have a strong effect on fear, I told myself half-assuredly.
When trying to fall asleep the past two nights I’ve seen a lot of bizarre imagery based on social media and dating apps. I take it as a sign I really need to chill out on screen time. By 9:30 I was still awake in thought and drafted a letter to my ex. I wrote how important it is she focuses all her energy on her child during their critical stage from childhood to adolescence. A piece of me wanting to lay my old loneliness to rest felt good about the words. The piece of me hiding my pain did not. All of it felt passive.
Even with just a daypack the ascent to Twin Lakes was challenging. Low sleep and worn out from the first two days, I started late on the trail. By 10:30 AM I passed the alpine line to a seemingly perfect early September day: Sunny, warm, and minimal clouds to ease fear of thunderstorms.
All morning my thoughts were heavy on unpacking those early years of loneliness. All my untended wounds starting at age nine moving from Port Arthur to Lufkin. I always pinned it solely on missing my best friend. My parents assured me I would make new friends, which was true, but I’m now sensing something deeper. Something I’ve always avoided. Something that keeps bubbling up.
My father used to joke, “By the time we had Aaron we decided to let Schnapps raise him!” We all thought it was funny. There certainly are a lot of early memories spent on the living room floor watching MacGyver beside our old, waddling dachshund. After I was born my parents were working full-time, but between my older siblings still being present, and a close connection with our next-door neighbors, including my best friend, my childhood years in Port Arthur felt like I was in a pack.
The move to Lufkin came with so much change. My brother and sister, then thirteen and fifteen, were out of the house building their social identity. My parents were focused on their work in a new community. By age ten we moved into a new home on Hanks St. where I finally had my own room. Usually, it’s every kid’s dream to have their own space. Your own hideaway in the cave.
I was appreciative, emotionally unequipped, and hurting the rest of the den felt empty.
Family time on Hanks St. was sporadic, often just a Sunday lunch after my father’s church service before everyone went on their own way. In my developing years of observing relationships the model was my parent’s stages of divorce. By age thirteen I developed a keen ability to avoid what little I could observe. Most of those years were spent doing what I knew best to comfort myself: TV, Goldfish crackers, video games, and eventually, an emotional outlet through music.
Ute Mythology: Three-Legged Rabbit Fights the Sun
At the time the sun was very hot, and Rabbit said to himself, “I’ll go and see what the problem is.” As he hopped along toward Sun, he found it getting hotter every day.
“The only thing on earth that doesn’t burn,” said Rabbit, “is cactus.” So he made a house of cactus to stay in during the day, and he traveled only at night.
When he came to the east, he rose early in the morning and ran toward the place where Sun should appear. He saw the ground boiling and knew that Sun was ready to come up. Rabbit stopped, sat down, and took out his bow and arrows.
When Sun was about halfway out of the earth, Rabbit shot. His first arrow hit the heart and killed Sun. Rabbit stood over the corpse and cried: “The white part of your eye will be clouds.” And it was.
“The black part of your eye will be the sky.” And it was. “Your kidney will be a star, your liver the moon, and your heart the dark.” And they were. Then Rabbit said to Sun, “You will never be too hot again, for now you are only a big star.”
Sun has never been too hot since, and after that day, rabbits have had brown spots behind their ears and on their legs. Their rabbits’ fur was scorched during their journey, long, long ago, to see why Sun was so hot.
Day 3, 11:45 AM — As I Remember
By the time I reached Twin Lakes I was overwhelmed. Unable to escape the sun and re-surfaced emotional weight I sat down on the edge of the lake and stared into my shadow. In tears I said, “I love you mom, I love you dad, and I love you, Aaron.” I glanced up at Sunlight Peak to ask the mountain for guidance. After meditating I could not sense a reply but I did feel more grounded. I decided to walk around, hoping to find a little shade for lunch.
While exploring I kept digging into my adolescence. I met my best friend from Lufkin in fourth grade. I remembered how much we leaned in on using our imagination to make it through school. It was a healthy place for me to hide from the compartmentalization at home. Our friendship helped carry me the rest of elementary school and into the Lufkin social experiment of ‘lets have all the city’s pre-teens together for one year at Dunbar.’
By the end of seventh grade, I met my first girlfriend and, by summertime, dropped everything, including my friend, for that relationship. The fact that I disappeared and hurt my friend hits hard right now. I always summed it up to thirteen-year-old pubescent hysteria, but I’m starting to see my shadow more clearly.
After lunch I came upon a beautiful vein of quartz beside the lakes. In the tundra below I found a small, broken sliver. Holding this piece of the mountain felt like holding a part of me. It felt like her offering to help guide my descent into soul. I asked if I could borrow it. I didn’t know when but understood one day I would return it home.
By 2 PM I was back at my campsite to hide from the sun, re-fill water, and lay in the hammock. On the way back down, I ran into two men on horseback. They had been scouting for wildlife all day. I asked one of them if they had spent any time up near the cave that haunted me yesterday. “Nah, we haven’t been up there,” he said, and trotted off.
That summer after seventh grade my parents brought my siblings and I into the living room to inform us of their divorce. I remember retreating to my room to call my girlfriend. When she, or anyone asked, how I felt I’d repeat, “It makes sense. They aren’t happy together.”
Pre-conditioned, I was now versed in avoiding to hold my heart. Passively, subconsciously asking anyone else to please take it.
Before the start of eighth grade my mom, brother, and I moved into a 3-bedroom rental house. My father took a new job and moved to Brenham. Mom picked up more work to provide as a single parent, my sister started college in Austin, and my brother reached out to heal with friends. My first relationship fizzled and my best friend, rightly, was not interested to re-connect.
I retreated to my hideaway. It was one of the loneliest times of my life I wouldn’t wish on anyone. And yet, I keep finding myself going back in there to this day.
Prospective Immigrants Please Note
Either you will
go through this door
or you will not go through.
If you go through
there is always the risk
of remembering your name.
Things look at you doubly
and you must look back
and let them happen.
If you do not go through
it is possible
to live worthily
to maintain your attitudes
to hold your position
to die bravely
but much will blind you,
much will evade you,
at what cost who knows?
The door itself makes no promises.
It is only a door.
Day 3, 5:45 PM — As I Remember
The shadow peaks are stretched along the basin and the face that stared me down last evening is back in view. “Obviously I’m supposed to go visit him,” I said out loud. So, I picked up my climbing helmet and started hiking towards the cave.
As I walked we kept our eyes locked on each other. “If you take my life, I’d understand. This is my home, too.” Like I said, evening shadows and isolation have a strong effect on fear. I crossed a ravine and scrambled up an outcropping to get a closer view. Then, I wept.
I saw the face of a Ute elder long weathered through experience. A nose sensing the heartache of the woods. The mouth delicately open to speak truth absent adolescent screams. And his eyes, overlooking the basin, were crying. The water that slowly eroded the cave trickled through them, into his mouth, and fell onto the floor.
I hiked beside the tears and pulled myself up into his home. Our home. I turned around to share his perspective. From our vantage point I saw a glimpse of my deeper truth and understanding.
We all inherit and hold wounds from our parents, grandparents, ancestors, and loved ones. We pick up our on along the way. Our suffering is unavoidable and to be nurtured. Hiding from this pain keeps our hearts inaccessible to love. Here, there are no fingers to cast outward, simply your hands held compassionately over your chest.
“The door itself makes no promises,” the elder whispers, “it is only a door.”
Remember the wisdom from Theleafious Monk. Here you will speak your truth. Here you will present your opened chest to yourself. You are flawed and perfect. From this place you will carry your heart with love and intent to share with everyone and the wild, natural world.
This is my healing place.
— Aaron Charles