I was lost last week.
Properly, truly, lost.
I was in the woods, doing a shoot for a rock climbing and adventure group. We had spent the first part of the morning setting up lines and getting our bearings in the park, and so when I went off by myself to simply get from the bottom to the top of the rock they were repelling, I was fairly confident in myself.
I thought I recognized the trail, the stones, the fallen hulks of trees that we had passed by once or twice already in our meanderings. It all looked somewhat familiar. And so, camera bag slung over my shoulder, I hiked upward to get the best possible view of the climbers.
I hiked over mossy stones, wedged my feet in small crevices and pushed upward. I slid, scraped my legs, balanced my body between trees, stepped carefully into piles of sopping wet leaves, eyes upward, looking for the crest, the top.
And when I finally reached the top, out of breath, a little sore and a little proud of my scrappy self, I was alone.
I couldn’t even hear their voices.
Earlier last week, a day or two before the hike, I was lost in the Rite-aid hair color aisle.
The intention had been some warm red highlights. The result, a disaster of brassy, bold redness, and I stood in the hair dye aisle, like a woman with the scarlet head, shamed and desperate for something to take it away.
Other shoppers passed by, some pausing, some quickly grabbing their choice and moving on. I wanted (still want) a sign to hang around my neck that explains to everyone, this is not really me. I did not want to look so in-your-face-with-my-redness. I swear.
Looking at the hundreds of boxes of choices with pictures of women laughing or looking seductively down at me, is this the color you want?
I realized, I had no actual idea what I wanted at all.
And I had no clue how to fix any of what I’d done.
And I don’t even really like doing things, like, coloring my hair. I’m not good at it (clearly).
It’s not me.
So, how did I get there?
Back in the woods, I talked myself down. I quieted the voice in my head that was reminding me how silly I was to go out alone, how cold it would be when the sun went down, how foolish I would feel if friends had to come looking for me.
I shut it all out and I found my way to the group, somehow, and without ever passing the same trail I had taken to get lost in the first place.
At home, before showering off the dirt and mess from the day, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and stared again at the bold redness on my head. I leaned in closer and smudged a spot on my cheekbone, just another freckle, darker than the rest. Another spot on the map of my face.
I touched the smile lines on my cheeks, the soft crows feet by my tired eyes. And I breathed.
I’m a thirty-five year old woman, somehow.
I know this.
But in the moment, in the mirror, all I could think was, how did I get here?
I can’t even remember the trial that led to this, this busy wilderness of life where I don’t even always see myself, as I am. I don’t notice the bumps or lines or spots as they are appearing. I don’t even know if there’s ever been a trail at all, or if it has always just been meandering, slipping, scraping knees and muddling through until I’m back to safety.
Back to where I belong, where the voices of friends are close and the sunlight can fade and I won’t be afraid of the cold.
We talk a lot about survival in our house.
We are a household of entrepreneurs, of busy lives, crashing up against one another, passing each other in stairwells. Our friend runs a wilderness survival business and his children quiz my children on basic survival questions. They compare notes. My dad could survive a bear attack, could yours?
We talk about the differences between basic survival, the meeting of needs, the ability to start fires or know which mushrooms are safe to eat and which will kill you dead, about how not to get lost. And we talk about how, more than anything, there are needs beyond what just keeps us alive. We talk about the need to be able to cope, to be calm, to be quiet in nature and let yourself reset.
Practically speaking, with businesses to run and school to teach and meals to make and floors to sweep, we are not able to sit in the woods and reset ourselves with a good dose of mother nature .
And most days, we are just surviving the chaos of life – of early morning routines and late nights with children who come crawling into our bed when the radiators click and hiss at two in the morning.
We are all surviving something here, busy seasons, slow seasons, weeks when it rains nonstop, days when bills come before paychecks, entire months when we forget to give ourselves time off.
Some of us cope by writing. Some of us cope by running. Some of us cope by dousing our head in a mystery box of hair dye.
Some of us do all of the above, and still stay lost longer than we need to.
Because, the reward is in the journey.
It just is.