When President Grant signed a bill on March 1, 1872 establishing the world’s first national park, Senator George G. Vest of Missouri replied to critics of the bill by saying that America needed Yellowstone “as a great breathing-place for the national lungs.”
Many religious and philosophical traditions value these “breathing-places”- a Mount Sinai, a Walden pond, a desert, a grove of trees- to retreat and connect with a higher power, a higher self, or establish a liminal space. And closer to home, my friends that have participated in wilderness therapy have talked about how getting out of the industrialized world for a while has impacted their spiritual lives. So this week, in my desire to connect more with God and my own spirituality, I decided to find a “breathing-place” and spend some solitary time in nature.
In driving around after work on Friday, I discovered that most of the campsites in the canyons closest to my house were full this weekend (since the 24th of July is a Utah state holiday). So instead, I packed my new Emergency Essentials tent, a sleeping bag, some snacks, water, my journal and scriptures and drove up to Antelope Island State Park.
The park covers the largest island in the Great Salt Lake and is surrounded by water four to eight times saltier than the ocean. To get there, I drove over a seven mile causeway that connects the park with the mainland. Thankfully, it was not crowded at all, and I was able to get a camping spot easily.
At first, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t get much solitary time. There was a group of guys camping not far from my site and when I pulled up, they waved and came over to talk with me. They were really nice and offered to help me set up my tent and invited me over to hang out at their campsite with them. I went over and spent some time singing and playing guitar with them. They provided interesting conversation- they were visiting from the Netherlands and were backpacking across the United States. It was fun to hear about their travels. They were going into Salt Lake City the next day and told me they heard a lot of Mormons lived there. I told them that I was Mormon and answered some of their questions about my faith.
After spending a couple of hours with the guys, I went back to my tent to focus. I wrote in my journal, prayed, meditated, and read some scriptures by flashlight. It was nice to have uninterrupted time with no other obligations.
As it grew later, I tried to catch some sleep. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how nasty the insects by the lake were and wasn’t prepared with bug spray. It was hard to sleep while being the perpetual fare of a insect banquet, but that enabled me to be awake around three in the morning to hear a magnificent coyote chorus. I had never heard the sound of their howling before, but it sounded a lot like this, only with several more: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eb0zuptmTQE&feature=related. I’ll be honest… it made me a little nervous.
The next day was beautiful and clear, and after packing up camp, I explored more of the island. It is home to around 600 bison (apparently a world-renowned heard), in addition to many other types of animals, and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the wildlife. I hiked some trails that gave me a great view of the island, but aside from the birds, I didn’t see anything much bigger than lizards, snakes, or grasshoppers. (The latter made it very clear to me that they didn’t appreciate my intrusion by flying en masse at my face. I thought of the plague of locusts and felt a kinship with the children of Israel.)
I met a couple of other people along the way, including a man named Vish, who was from India and also by himself on the island. We had a good talk and he, too, asked me some questions about my faith. It was fun to have a chance to share that part of me at a time when I was trying to focus on spirituality.
In general, I didn’t have any life-changing epiphanies, but I did feel a peace and a connection to spiritual feelings that can sometimes get suffocated by the daily distractions of life. It was great to be out in my own “breathing-space” and I plan to do more solo adventures like that in the future. But next time I’ll bring my bug spray.