Bristlecone pines are among the oldest living things on the earth. They actually seem to appreciate adversity and cling to the fringe of survival. Their needles can live for 40 years. I visited a very old stand of these trees in Great Basin National Park and was humbled to walk among them all alone for awhile. They were high above the basin floor—over 10,000 feet—and I wasn’t sure my sea level lungs would make the climb, but I was fine. I’m so pleased that I went.
On the way up I passed a couple coming down the path…about my age I’d guess, and I greeted them. “Where are you coming from?”, I asked. The man told me they were returning from a different destination than mine and said to me “Are you lost?”. “No, do I look lost?” “No”, he said, “you look lonely. You don’t often see women hiking alone.” Resisting my initial response ( ahem) I said “Well, I am alone”. As I hiked on it was many minutes before I realized this interchange was weighing me down and I shook it off. Not too much further along I met another couple, about my age, and after looking me up and down the man offered up the insight that the path up to the bristlecones was rather strenuous. Again, I resisted my instinctive response and I continued my climb.
I am so thankful that I can hike. I am so grateful that I have the fortitude to seek new experiences and do this in spite of “being alone”. I’ve spent a great deal of my adult life as a single woman, raising three teenagers after the sudden death of my husband 20 years ago. I don’t know why. I’m not even asking that question anymore. I learned a long time ago that there is a difference between being alone and lonely…I know both intimately.
Don’t get me wrong—I’d love to have companionship going forward. But I do find it in my friends and in my family and have learned to reach for it. It’s hard for me to do that I’ll admit. I should have asked for more help along the way…perhaps it is pride that keeps me from doing that. I do know it is sometimes a desire to cover up the underbelly of my life, the messy parts, that keeps me isolated. We all fight that war.
So I chaffed when those hikers implied I was out of my element hiking to those ancient trees alone. I’d gladly had my sister or friend along but circumstances prevented that and so the stark beauty was mine alone to savor. I do not know where this journey will lead, but I want to share as I can, and if necessary keep going alone.