Updated: Feb 7
Lost in a fast-changing world: Finding my way in the Wilderness
By Moon Libersat
Edited by Sigrid Lightfoot
Spruce and Willows trees... Grizzly in the distance
You heard the expression “running for the hills”?
Well, 2020 happened and I took this quite literally. As COVID took over the world, I lost my apartment and then my job.
For many of us the world as we knew it was gone.
My friend Sigrid suggested I move in with her for awhile.
We spent a month in her North Vancouver apartment, supporting each other and tried to make sense of the world as it came to a sudden stop.
I found myself looking at the mountains from the balcony more and more.
All the parks had been closed, we were confined to the concrete jungle and as much as I understood the need to protect one another, I resented being cooped up inside with the wilderness so close to me, yet out of arm's reach.
I have always loved nature and need some time in it to align myself with it’s rhythm. I don't need to hug a tree (although you might catch me doing it), but regular hikes and quiet moments of reflection in the woods always served me, especially my soul, tremendously.
After a month of lockdown, we both were like lions in a cage.
There was little we knew about the transmission of this virus, so we tried to avoid the crowds, washed the groceries we bought from the store.
Sigrid got to work and sewed hundreds and hundreds of masks, while I tried to grow some vegetables on the balcony.
Another month went by and we decided to take a mental health break and drive to Penticton for a few days as things were opening up a bit. We only stopped once in the town of Hope to gas up, use the bathroom quickly, and went on our merry way.
It was May and still quite cool in the Okanagan.
Regardless, it was amazing to be able to sit by Okanagan Lake and have a change of scenery from being cooped up in the city. There were only four other guests in the hotel, no restaurants were open yet. Only room service, not really though, as we had to pick up the bags of food from the front desk.
Planning to read a bit I had taken a book with me. “Gerry, get your gun”, a book I had bought a year ago but never finished reading it. My ADHA can really get in the way at times and staying on task is not easy for me at the best of times.
In the summer of 2019 Sigrid and I had taken a 3 day survival course in the Chilcotin and we both had met Gerry there. Sitting in her wheelchair, but talking lively about her life, I remember being so impressed by the elderly woman and by her accomplishments as a female trailblazer. She is around a 100 years now and lived in the mountains most of her life. A true mountain woman.
Leaving the camp and feeling inspired by all the experiences I stumbled on this book in a tiny store, and a year later regaled in her stories of ranching and guiding in the wilderness as a woman in the 1950s.
I actually could not put the book down and read it to the end, feeling the urge to follow her example in some way.
ADHD comes with impulsiveness, and the pandemic came with chaos and desperation. So naturally, I researched the ranch and saw that they offered internships. In the following month, I put most of my belongings into storage, exchanged my tiny city car for a 4x4, and at the beginning of Summer embarked on an amazing adventure.
A bit teary saying goodbye to Sigrid, she’s my family here in Canada and it was hard to leave her amid this shit storm. But she understood I had to leave, I was losing my way and I was losing hope. Even before the pandemic, I was struggling a lot. I know now I went undiagnosed with ADHD my entire life. But I didn't know it back then.
I often felt as though I had potential, but could never quite reach it.
So I took my mental and literal baggage and left the city behind. With a knot in my stomach, I drove east on Highway 99 at 5 AM.
Over the next few months I learned so much, and most of it the hard way. I had to train my body to toughen up and that wasn't an easy journey in itself. I had left the city, but the city took a while to leave me. My hands bled for about a month until callouses formed, my joints screamed until they got stronger, and my muscles… well let’s just put it this way, they woke up from dormancy. Also I had just quit smoking (again). So I struggled, a lot !
But, it paid off. By the end of the season I had completed around 275 km over the guiding season, literally walking through the sole of my hiking boots. It wasn't just the body that had to adapt though, it was my mind too.
I was scattered, stressed a lot, even before COVID, and was attached to my watch and the time.
Here in the wilderness I had to learn to listen. To the animals we cared for, to the land and to the people around me. I had to observe and I had to feel. You don't need a watch to tell you when to eat, you can eat when you're hungry. You don't have to have a set schedule, but you better plan your day well, else you will find yourself working in the dark. (Or walking back in the woods in complete darkness).
It was a return to basics I so direly needed.
My mind eventually slowed down and I could breathe. I learned a new way of life, broadened my knowledge and perspective and most of all, connected with nature.
My Happy Place
Now I know some of you maybe rolling your eyes, but hear me out please.
You don't need to live in the bush to connect with nature or find mindfulness. Nature is everywhere, we try to separate ourselves from it, but it is there even in the heart of the cities.
And mindfulness, well, just like the name implies, is a state of mind. I personally needed a radical change, and I am so glad now that I listed to my inner voice at the time and ended up there.
But we all need to find our own way. What works for me, might not for you.
I just hope that sharing part of my story might help inspire some of you or encourage others in implementing positive changes towards a more peaceful state of mind.
At the ranch, I lived in a prospector tent and would fall asleep to the absurdly loud sound of Gun Creek, gushing water from the high mountains out into the valley. Now back in the city I have a sound machine that replicates that noise. It works like a charm. I reflect back on all powerful moments and the teachers I had there.
The people, the horses, the wildlife, and most of all, the mountains.
I will never forget the feelings, emotions, and sensations from being in the Alpine Meadows for the first time. It was late June, and it was my first trip on horseback in the backcountry. I was doing a guide school.
I busted my knee jumping off my horse while crossing an icy mountain pass twenty minutes before reaching the second camp. I got lucky, the mare I rode was born wild and knew what to do. She was my first teacher. She taught me to trust, to listen, and to be present. It was windy, snowing and we had spent the day bushwhacking our way through deadfalls that covered the trail up the mountain. It was cold too, we were exhausted from two days of riding in the rain and learning the ropes quite literally. The Meadows though, were an ocean of green that unraveled in front of my eyes. It was a drastic change of landscape, after the snow and rocky views the mountain pass had offered. The weather warmed up slightly and the snow turned to light rain. I had never seen so many nuances of green in my entire life. I heard the wind through the spruce trees, and the stream winding its way through the grass, wildflowers, and willow brushes lower down.
I cannot put words into how I truly felt. It moved me to tears. From then on, my body and mind changed. Something opened inside of me and although I left that place over a year ago, I can still feel it.
It took me a while yet, not be so scared of every sound in the bush, especially at night. I love bears, but was terrified of them. This was their home though, and I learned to respect it and them. As the season progressed, the backcountry wasn't so scary anymore. Don't get me wrong, the wilderness isn't a place where mistakes are forgiven easily, and one must be on guard at all times. But I learned to communicate with my environment, rather than change and fight it.
I learned to hear and to listen, to look and to see and to assess before I reacted.
This is how I felt and understood mindfulness for the first time in my life.
In the dictionary it is defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one's awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one's feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
Fireweed in the Alpine
Now, I have mentioned earlier that I have ADHD. While I suspected it for some years, I only got diagnosed fairly recently, after my time as a guide.
It was in the wilderness where I could sit still for the first time, be in the present moment, and quiet my mind. What a wonderful feeling. It took me 29 years, but I eventually found my way to myself. Now I have to nurture this feeling so I won’t loose it.
My memories of the hard work that got me there are engrained in my cells. The days were so long and I would feel totally exhausted every night. I got hurt often and the thought of calling it quits and return to the city and accept my failure popped into me head not just ones but many times. But, I held on tight, until the end of the season, and I am so glad I did !
One of the most difficult things I had to learn, was to sit with myself and get comfortable with my own thoughts.
Have you ever tried to sit in silence? It's uncomfortable, isn't it? All the thoughts, thought distortion rushing to the surface…What a nightmare!
At first, I could only sit still when completely exhausted, and by then there was no self-reflection. I remember one trip, where I was sent after a group of mountain bikers on a horse, with a packhorse, carrying gear and food up to the cabin. It was the first time I was truly alone in nature. Myself and my two horses.
I didn't even know the exact way I was supposed to go, but my horse knew. Once I reached the meadows, I could let my mind drift a bit, as I knew my way to camp from there.
There's something so special, about being alone with animals in nature. I could rely on them to keep me safe, and to get me where I needed to go, we communicated a lot, but we never spoke. I slowly learned to embrace my thoughts, to call out the distortion, and to question myself too. I learned to sit in my discomfort, and it allowed me to slowly unpack everything that was holding me back. I have a long way to go yet, but I am so proud of the path I already travelled.
I am discovering myself more and more every day. I have let go of a lot of anger, regret and resentment. I am getting closer and closer to the person I want to be. And that’s someone who’s anchored in the present, connected to my partner, my family, my friends, people I interact with. Mindful of my actions, my words, my body, and how I feed and treat it.
View from my office in he 2020 ..... Eldorado Pass
I am back in an urban setting for now. And the transition was hard. But I keep the lessons from the wild close to my heart. It's different now, I have tools to cope, I know what it feels like to be connected, and I am so grateful for the teachings that I received.
We are a product of our environment, and mindlessness is the death of the soul. We are conditioned into mindlessness. From scrolling through countless social media to over consuming things for a quick fix of instant gratification... and end up fighting over toilet paper in those early pandemic days.
It scares me because I feel as though sometimes we are losing our humanity. We are losing touch with each other. We shop online, we do everything via emails, automated checkout, automated voicemails, machines are doing most of our work. And while I understand not everyone wants to live closer to nature, at least perhaps we can retain our humanity and remember how to talk and interact with each other in a meaningful way.
Adaptation is the key to survival for any entity on this planet. And we are going through so much upheaval as a species right now. It can be hard to find where to fit in this mess.
So, if this pandemic that never ends is getting to you, if you are questioning where you stand, what to do...Then good!
Questioning is the way to change and adapt. It doesn't have to be drastic, it doesn't have to be leaving everything behind to live in the mountains.
But if something is calling you, if something is not right, then it probably isn’t. And while you might not be able to change your circumstances or situation right away, you can still implement small, tiny steps and find your own way. Our instincts are still there, constantly communicating with us.
So, are you listening?