Those who dwell. . .among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.Rachel Carson
I have a recurrent dream. I think of it as a nightmare because the ending is always upsetting to me, but in fact there are no monsters and no chases from which I cannot escape.
Instead it seems very ordinary, like real life. I drive my vehicle to a trailhead. The location is never made known to me, but it is not relevant. I get my pack out of the back of the car, toss the straps over my shoulders, and begin hiking. That is it. Nothing special there. It could be my life. I go hiking, no great surprise that I do so in my dreams as well.
Sometimes the trail is steep, sometimes not at all. I am simply hiking with my pack on, as I have done on hundreds of different hikes on hundreds of days. Sometimes I stop along the trail to eat some lunch. Sometimes I stop to filter water from a stream. This is my life. This is my dream. In a perfect world there would not be much difference.
Then things change. I come to the end of my hike for the day and arrive at my destination, which I had expected to be a quiet campsite by a stream or a lake or maybe an elevated vista from a mountain pass, but that is not at all what I find. Instead I hike to a paved parking lot, where dozens of people are getting out of their vehicles and walking across the parking lot to take in the sights. It is noisy. There is no place to camp. There is no place to escape the people. I want to sit down and figure this out, but even a place to sit comfortably escapes me. All of these people have driven to this place, a place I thought was accessible only by trail, only on foot.
What has gone wrong? Why are all these people here, in what I thought would be a remote and isolated campsite? Did I read the map incorrectly and take a wrong turn? None of these questions are ever answered. I am just in one more crowded place in a crowded world, and I am not happy about it. That is where the nightmare part comes in.
As a psychotherapist, the meaning of this dream is not difficult to figure out. I am a hiker who prefers solitude, and solitude is becoming increasingly difficult to find on the trails these days. I feel betrayed, disappointed.
I have chased solitude to the northeastern corner of Washington state, where trails are rarely crowded. It is not unusual for me to drive to a trailhead and find no other vehicles parked there, and I rarely share a campsite with other backpackers. The key word here is chase. Perhaps the nightmarish aspect of the dream represents a fear that some day, no matter how fast and far I run, there will be a paved and crowded parking lot at the end of my hike.
During this week of Thanksgiving we celebrate not solitude but the coming together of loved ones. It is hard to imagine gathering around that festive table without others there to share it with us. I am grateful for many things this week, including the abundance of friends and family who populate my life and gather around the table with me on holidays. But I am equally grateful for quiet places without paved parking lots and crowds. . .for now.