In returning and rest
is your salvation,
In quietness and trust
is your strength,
But you would have none of it.

~Isaiah 30:15

photo by Thomas Robinson

I’m not a fan of physical pain. Normally I avoid any form of self-inflicted suffering. Once a year, I load a large amount of weight on my back and hike many miles into a wilderness area far, from the nearest mattress or coffee shop. Don’t ask me why. My shoulders and legs shout at me, “Don’t be a fool! Turn around! Cease this ridiculous behavior!” I ignore the clamor and walk a few more miles. “Hey David, give us a break! Take that heavy load off your back. Sit down. Get a hold of yourself.” I press on. With miles to go I pay little heed to these inner voices. “Have a little common sense. Normal people don’t wear their house, their bed and their dresser on their backs. ” I take a few Advil tablets and keep hiking. Step after step, up the trail we climb into the high country.

A few years back, on day two of our adventure, we left O’Neil Creek Camp around eleven in the morning and had been moving in and out of the shade all afternoon. For the Olympic National Park, it was hot, in the low 80’s. Part of the trail followed a dry riverbed, filled with glacial silt. My soul felt like that riverbed, dry-mouthed, dusty, a bit gravelly and irritable. We rounded a bend in the trail and were greeted by a cool wash of air. If air had a color, I’d say this wind was emerald green, charged with soothing refreshment, a welcome reprieve from the long afternoon in the heat.

My aching shoulders relaxed. My heart started to race with the crazy delirium that comes from too much physical exertion when you’re out of shape. I spoke out loud, what I was thinking: “We just entered the Enchanted Valley.” My wife agreed, having no idea where we were on the map. Both of us were ready to get rid of the backpacks, and take a nap in the shade under an evergreen tree. Within minutes, we crossed over a suspension bridge marking the boundary into the Enchanted Valley, Washington state’s version of Yosemite, a glacier-carved valley half a mile wide, bordered by 4000 foot cliffs, also known as “The Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls”.

After shedding our packs, we sat down in dazed wonder. We drank from the cool waters of the Quinault River and refilled our water bottles, as the cliffs invited our eyes and hearts to look upward. At the head of the valley, high above the meadowlands and trees, as though enthroned on the Quinault Glacier, Mount Anderson ruled in serenity. We had entered a strange land, a place where people remember they are human beings, not human doings. The Enchanted Valley broke the spell of worldly enchantment, calling me back to my heart’s true home, a place of restoration and quiet, a place of returning and rest.

The world kept flying overhead. I heard dozens of jetliners speeding overhead that day, odd little darts of silver filled with busy people dressed in suits and ties, bound for big cities across oceans, where people in glassed in high-rise office buildings engage in high-speed commerce and every form of commercial profiteering. The Enchanted Valley knows nothing of that world, the world of fast food drive-thru lanes, text-messaging, cell phones, iPods, broadband, or multi-tasking. The meadow in this valley quietly invites weary travelers to come and rest. The Quinault River ceaselessly sings a river song for thirsty people while deer graze nearby unfazed by human visitors.

Sure, thousands of tasks are taking place minute by minute all across the valley. Ptarmigan mothers cooed at their young to stay close and watch out for predators as they walked right through our campsite. Bees collected nectar from sun up to sun down. There are always camping tasks to be done. Put up the tents. Build a fire. Prepare dinner. Roll out the sleeping bags. Stow away gear for the night.

Somehow, such tasks take on a different dimension in the Enchanted Valley. Like AliceEnchanted Valley. The tasks which seemed so important two days ago back in suburbia all seem ephemeral up here in the cool clear air of the Olympics. The Enchanted Valley invites a soul into a life of falling through the rabbit hole into Wonderland or Lucy stepping through the old wardrobe into Narnia, life feels strangely different in the returning and rest.

Call me a romantic fool. Consider the Enchanted Valley idyllic nonsense. Or take that hike thirteen miles up the East Fork of the Quinault River into the Enchanted Valley and taste it for yourself. There is water there to satisfy a person’s deeper thirst. There is sky there that holds the radiant light of evening well past sunset, an enchantment of lavender skies stretching miles across the great inner canopy of the soul. Long after I left that valley, I realized my mind kept sneaking back into that realm, quietly in my memory, as though on tiptoe, seeking to feel that cool wind on my face once again.

These blog essays are about human being, not human doing. They are an odd assortment of invitations into a life of returning and rest, no R.S.V.P. required, welcoming you, nudging you, and encouraging you to return to that place of soul refreshment. Read these blog essays as signposts at the trailhead on the way to the Enchanted Valley of the soul.