I felt like I was suffocating last Tuesday and I needed space to be able to breathe. So I rushed out to Forest Park for a long hike to one of my favorite hideouts, Pittock Mansion, a little before 4pm.
I wanted to see the world from up high to gain a little perspective. For the first time in the three years I’ve lived here, I caught Portland right at sunset on an unusually clear day.
I wasn’t alone. There were quite a few of us taking in Mount Hood’s fetching winter hat framed becomingly by an ethereal sky. It was freeing being up there—just what I needed.
Then, my stomach flipped and I swallowed down a knot as the pink began to fade. Suddenly my anxiety was worse than it was before the hike. Reality set with the sun.
There was a reason I hadn’t ever seen that view at sunset. Because it takes 45 minutes to get back home, and without a scrap of daylight the forest would be pitch black. We just had a time change, and I forgot that small but important detail.
I was the kid who was afraid of the dark and believed in the closet monster—not much has changed as an adult. My night-light looks a little different as a Himalayan salt lamp in my bathroom, but I can’t sleep with the closet doors open and every morning I fling them wide to set the evil spirits free.
In other words, night hikes aren’t my thing. Especially when I’m alone.
I had my phone and the logical voice recommended calling an Uber to rescue me, simply drive eight minutes to the end of the trailhead where Silvie the bike was waiting for me. But there was a part of me that thought it was all too fitting, to watch the sun disappear on Election Day and to face my fears of darkness.
So, I hiked back home in the dark. And when it’s nighttime in the forest, it’s very different from any other type of darkness you will ever experience.
The few people on the trail were scary as their shadows suddenly appeared, and rather than feeling comforted by another human’s presence, I wondered if they were going to hurt me. I trusted nobody.
The human alternative was the animal one. I realized I was trespassing, now that it was nighttime. At first I tried calming myself with music, but I shoved my headphones into my bag to be completely alert after a rustling off to my left gave me a small heart attack.
Though a coyote would be more likely, I kept thinking there were wolves in the forest. And, I should know from my wonderful friend Kate, that wolves are lovely animals. But in the dark, I was terrified. I saw many coyotes growing up and they used to run down my street when I lived in the canyon in Azusa, California. But wolves I had never seen, so why would I think they were there with me now?
The rustling ended up being anticlimactic—a ratty, chubby squirrel stocking up for winter, more afraid of me than anything. I released my fists and my breath, and continued through the darkness.
The creek is higher this time of year. It was hard to see where the edge of the trail was. Though I wanted to run to get home faster, and even tried for a smoother stretch of the trail I knew well, I refrained so I didn’t trip and fall into the icy waters.
Tree shadows were menacing as they danced in the wind, and their long limbs seemed to be reaching for me. To think, their colorful arms had been so welcoming on the way out to the mansion.
I was surrounded by danger and my body was charged with an instinct for survival. Strange, being that it wasn’t even 5pm yet. Stranger still, I had been in my husband’s arms in this same spot weeks before and felt so safe.
I turned around a lot, and I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared. But I kept moving forward, and I focused on everything I loved to overcome the fear of the darkness, until I saw the lights of Thurman Bridge at the end of the trail.
When I got home, I was shaking from the waning adrenaline and the cold. I had gone on an unexpected personal journey I wasn’t prepared for in my already emotional state. I ignored social media and the coverage on TV most of the evening, until it was finally time to face the results.
After that I retreated to the safety of my yoga mat and put on my headphones to shut out the world, the glorious pink one I had been admiring hours earlier. How whimsical and innocent it had seemed then.
You know, I tried to do everything I could to protect myself from this day, avoiding online content and social media like the plague. Still the depression and anxiety permeated my mind.
Earlier in the year I tried to make a positive stand. Because I knew this year was going to be unlike the previous years—there would be protests and rioting, even in peaceful Portland a young man would be shot on a bridge. I would get a text from a friend of mine, asking if we were okay.
The next day I made the mistake of getting on social media and was back in the dark forest again—my heart racing, my breath uneven. I didn’t feel safe, and I wanted to run even though I couldn’t see anything.
I felt the need to say something, but I certainly didn’t want to fuel the fire. So I posted something from a book I had read last month, exquisite words I had forgotten to post after I finished reading it…or, so I thought.
Now I see that it was meant to be posted the day after the election.
“In my heart, there are two wolves: a wolf of love and a wolf of hate. It all depends on which one I feed each day.” – From Buddha’s Brain
It doesn’t matter what your political beliefs are, who you voted for or who you voted against. What matters now is how we all move on and continue to live. What matters now is which wolf we are feeding each day.
The wolf lives inside all of us. The wolf of love is the beautiful creature that is respected for its power and grace. That’s the one I want to feed in my heart, and the one I hope the world will too.
Love does trump hate, but we have to love from a place of strength and light to win fear and darkness. For now I’ll just remember dancing in the sunshine the week before…