“Ah! I need solitude. I have come forth to this hill at sunset to see the forms of the mountains in the horizon – to behold and commune with something grander than man.”
Henry David Thoreau 1854.
I have written previously about my weight problems and why I started to climb Boyne Highlands. That is not what this article is about. This article is about the basic need of every person to have that ‘place’ where they can just be alone and escape the doldrums of reality. Meaningful alone time is a rare gift in today’s always-connected world. We are terminally in touch with each other, yet out of touch with ourselves.
I have been dealing with some pretty heavy stress and emotional turmoil the past few days. The weight was so heavy on my shoulders, that I felt as if I was sinking into the floorboards. What is worse, I could find no escape so I could just decompress and think over my problems. At work, my boss demanded my full attention on a project. At home, a million projects awaited me and the kids needed my time. I was exhausted and just wanted to run away.
So I did.
Well to be honest, I didn’t run. I walked.
Last year, when the worst of my stress and anxiety acted up, I would walk or run to Boyne Highlands and climb the hill. And in that climb, I found the solitude needed to melt away the stress and think over my troubles.
There is no shortage of places to find solitude in Northern Michigan. Kayaking on Lake Michigan. Hiking in one of a thousand trails provided by the Little Traverse Conservancy. Skeet shooting. Working in the garage. Building a model in the basement. Gardening. Biking. Time alone is meant to be a way to reconnect with yourself while doing something you love.
When I first started climbing the hill, however, I didn’t love it. In fact, I hated it. I climbed it for the workout alone. Every time I got close to the Highlands, I loathed the idea of hiking to the top. It is a hefty workout, especially the route I normally took up the black diamond run. By the time I got to the top, I was a sweaty, sticky mess and my legs protested for rest.
But a funny thing happened. The more I climbed the hill, the more I loved it. Each time I went up was a new experience.
Once I watched a distant thundercloud rage over Little Traverse Bay. I have always felt that the more you study something, the more you come to appreciate it. I was a weatherman in the Air Force. Weather has always astounded me, and watching this massive storm full of lightning and twisting winds mesmerized me. I sat atop the wooden gateway to the Funland run and watched nature’s fury pound Petoskey. I stayed until well after the storm had passed.
Another time I met some professional mountain bike racers who were trying out the trails. In my youth, I used to ride my BMX bike through the forest paths behind my parent’s house. It was always fun to do with friends, but my favorite moments were alone. I could try new jumps that I would be too nervous to do in front of my friends, for fear of failure. I could pretend to be on a motorcycle, racing through the wilderness. As I watched these three young men attempt the death-defying stunts on their way down the mountain, the young me screamed out in pure jealousy. In that moment, I thought about how 13-year-old Dave would view 43-year-old Dave, and I was disgusted in myself. From that moment on, I never took the easy route down the mountain, but ran down the mountain bike trails, even leaping from the jumps when I could do so without breaking my neck.
So last night, with stress, sadness and anxiety weighing heavy on my shoulders, I returned to the top of the mountain. I had hoped to watch the sunset, but a thick layer of clouds blocked out the sun. Instead I walked along the quiet machinery of the ski slopes. I startled a herd of deer grazing amid the snow making machines. I wandered around the Graham Chapel and peered into the large windows. I sat atop the Funland gateway and regathered my strength as I stared out at the landscape below.
Boyne Highlands is my summertime solace.
About the Photographs: The weather was extremely dreary when I took these photographs, in fact it poured rain before I could make it down the hill. Because of that, the colors were drab and the images seemed muddied. When I set them to black & white, however, the details in the images popped. Still, they do little justice to how beautiful the view is from the top of Boyne Highlands.