Brutal Beauty

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“You are being punished for your wickedness,” Coyote said to the seven giants. “I will punish you even more by changing you into seven mountains. I will make you very high, so that everyone can see you. You will stand here forever to remind people that punishment comes from wrongdoing.” – Nez Perce oral tradition.

Sweat beads off the brim of my cap as I glance back to see how Heather is faring. We crest the last grueling push into our final night’s camp and the same lingering thoughts that have possessed me for the last 48 miles continue their disorganized occupation of my mind, driving my step, with the hope that the answer will be revealed under the next rock kicked free from my worn and tiredly placed trek-king pole.

Dog-LakeThe trail has been oddly quiet for hours now, the miles push my thoughts deeper with every step traveled. The brutal terrain and elevation gains pry loose the internal demons that the range we circumnavigated is named for. I wonder where Heather’s thoughts have taken her, as mine are once again dragged deep within. “You’re here for a reason,” my subconscious whispers. “Focus, focus,” it re-peats, as my exhausted legs grudgingly carry me into the Dog Lake basin.

Dropping my gear, I slump to the log and gaze out over the mirrored mountain oasis that we will call home for the next 12 hours. As I scan the water, my mind dives into the reflection, climbing the stony face of the giant’s with the name sake, Twin Imps . I enter a moment of timelessness, an altered dimension. “You’ve made it,” echoes within me. “Now, what do you do with it?”

I reminisce on the thought and recall the past four days. The solitude of this high alpine wilder-ness has been terrifyingly beautiful. And the lesson taught by the punishment of the giants begins to release its revelation.

“Love, LOVE!” I’m snapped back to reality as I see Heather staring at me. Her smile says she knows where I have been. And I know what she wants as well.

“Yes,” I reply. “I’ll get started on the fire.”

Dog-CreekAs the darkness of our last night envelopes our Alpine abode, my love and I are both entranced by the dancing light emitted from the flames of our small fire. After what seems like a lifetime, we finish off the last sips of our evening’s comfort – hot cocoa and Rumple Minze – rise, adjust our head lamps and set off to the edge of the water: the precipice of the universe.

As I begin to photograph a scene of the Alpine wilderness lake, softly lit by the crescent moon and our infinite galaxy, the realization that our lives are minute compared to the size of our surroundings quickly settles in.

Yet, an odd feeling arises. Though our lives are but a needle in an unfathomable haystack, the power of our voices can be greater than that of the giants of our past, and can carry the size and sense of awe that we receive from gazing into the wilderness night sky.

Writer and art critic Nancy Wynne Newhall states that, “The wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.” Experiencing the brutality of the Devils, voluntarily thrusting myself onto this path into a proverbial Hell, beating my body and mind with the weight of the pack and the daily scabrous miles traveled, I begin to view the educational beauty of the sentence these seven giants received. Then, I recall a childhood lesson: talents are gifted, given to be used in one of two ways — for self-glorification or for the betterment of others.

It is at that moment the answer finally revealed itself. The gift was not succeeding at the brutal hike and making it through the endless days. It was the beautiful realization that the past four days muted society’s distractions, giving my subconscious the silence to speak, “Your voice, your talent, your life, the mightiest power you possess, is granted to shatter the bonds of injustice, to free the weak from the wicked and to break the shackles of immorality or, adversely, to face the trials and punishment of the demons you have been gazing upon.” Find your silence, connect with yourself and realize your purpose. Use Your Voice, and use it for love.

Written and Photographed by: Benjamin Powell

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