In 2003, I drove with my Dad and two kids to Montana. I was going to a family reunion to meet a branch of my family tree that at the age of 40, I had never met before. These were my Dad's cousins, who he had been out of touch with since he was in college. He had recently rediscovered them and knew that I would love them. That was an understatement.
The reunion was held in a church camp site in southern Montana. As the crow flies, we were just miles from Yellowstone, but with a tricky mountain range separating us. There were no TV's, no access to cell phones. It was pure heaven. We spent the days hiking and getting to know each other. We spent the nights around a raging campfire, laughing and telling stories.
One afternoon, my 'uncle' Paul and my cousin Karl were planning to obtain a topographical map of the peak in view of our camp and spend the following day climbing it. Paul was a Biologist. Going on a walk in the woods with him was like a biology lesson in itself. Karl, in his 30's had just finished his PhD in chemical engineering. While the rest of us slept in cabins, Karl opted for a one-man tent deeper into the woods. Tales of bears didn't bother him. He is an experienced climber and outdoorsman. Not only are these two men wildly intelligent, but they are the warmest, friendliest, most open men you could ever meet. When I asked them if I could join them on their climb, they didn't hesitate to welcome me.
The next day we set out before dawn. I'll never forget Madi getting up to give me a hug and see me off on my adventure. We would be back before nightfall.
There were no trails on this mountain. Mostly we traversed what we called 'boulder fields'. Massive boulders of granite that had fallen off the mountain in centuries past. They call for deliberate steps. Each boulder is at a different angle than the next. Some are solid on the ground. Others are wobbly and I imagined critters underneath. As we alternated between boulder traversing and trailblazing, Paul would point out bear scat or rare plants and tell us stories.
As we continued hiking up the mountain, the boulder fields grew wider and my legs began to tire. The three of us walked quietly, concentrating on every step. It was then that I reached the Zen moment that I'd been reading about. All the other thoughts that normally crowded my brain faded away and I was clearly in the moment. I could feel the muscles in my body straining and hear my breath. The scents, the sounds of the mountain were completely clear to me.
It was a moment and a day I'll never forget.