Tune Your Animal

I should have turned back when I saw the first skier.

I was just minutes up the Elfin Lakes trail in BC’s Garibaldi Provincial Park, ecstatic to have embarked on my first backpacking trip of the season.

It was still early Spring, but the trail was free of snow, so I was surprised to see the first return hiker balancing skis over his shoulder.

The next hiker was hoisting a pair as well.

Then, just a quarter-mile into the hike, I hit the snow line.

I told myself it was just a rogue patch. I told myself I’d find the alpine meadows my winter-addled mind had conjured just on the other side.

Of course, I was deluded: from that point forward, I sank knee-deep in snow with every step. Winter had not yet left the high-country.

After fifteen minutes of postholing, I’d barely made a hundred yards, and the steam was rising off my already-sweaty face and neck in clouds.

I stopped to look ahead, still hoping for a glimpse of green meadows, but all I saw was a wall of white.

I decided to press on.

Cross-country skiers gave me pitying looks as they whizzed past, which surely turned to cursing as they found the track behind me pocked with postholes, like the blood-trail of some wounded, maladapted brontosaurus.

At last, after what should have been a short, breezy hike, I stumbled into the Elfin Lake shelter in complete exhaustion.

Once there, I was clearly the odd man out: one lone, eager-beaver backpacker in a sea of skiers and snowshoers.

Bone-tired, I made a quick meal on my camp stove, crawled into my sleeping bag, and passed out.

But oh how the tides soon turned.

I set out the next morning before dawn, counting on the night freeze to thicken the snow’s crust for my return.

And so began an hour of wonder: the mountain sunrise painting the snowy peaks a thousand shades of blue; the conifers, the glinting ice, the mountain air all rapt in hallowed hush; and not another creature to be found save a solitary mountain jay feasting on trail-mix beneath a wind-gnarled fir.

What had been grueling terrain the day before was now utterly transformed: through the power of the freeze, the thickened crust upheld me, letting me steal down the mountain fleet as an elf.

Before you reach for the sky, you must look first to your feet and The Ground they stand on.

The Ground is your whole-person capacity for great work: the biological, spiritual, emotional nexus all your goal-seeking happens through.

Just as the leap from sand or snow will be poor, striving atop faulty Ground will also fall short.

So first and foremost, build your Ground.

While other men grow pasty before screens, feeding their brains an endless barrage of words, theories, notions…

Tune the entire animal.

Feed not only brain, but brawn, sinew, fang:

Pinken your flesh in river cold:

Steep yourself in smoke and frost:

Create anew the flush and roar and giddy exhaustion of your youth:

Batter yourself on log and stone:

Feed on foods foreign, fungal, horned:

Imbue your human graspings with animal power.

Lest your lunge for freedom break the flimsy crust, build your Ground.

Only then will your foot find purchase.

Only then will your reaching hold.

Bryan Ward is the founder of Third Way Man and author of the LIT Black Paper

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