Self-regard in the Wasatch Range, Utah. Unceded Cheyenne and Ute lands. Photo courtesy Noah Howell @noah_i_howell
This letter was originally featured in our Fall 2023 Trail Break issue.
I spend a lot of time doing chores in the mountains, driving backcountry roads and hiking along a skin track. So, I love the companionship of a good audiobook or podcast.
I often get stuck exploring genres or themes for a time, and lately I’ve been excitedly scurrying through the rabbit hole of Animism. Yeah, the real, connected- to-earth hippy shit. I’m very shy of “isms” and dogma and religion, having grown up Mormon and experienced the shame and judgment it teaches.
I was somewhat aware of Animism conceptually, but Becoming Animal by David Abram really sets the stage for this powerful reframe of our place as natural human animals—part of the world, not separate from it. Feels good to see oneself not as broken and evil, resigned to suffer through existence begging for salvation, but as a natural flowering expression of life itself.
When I was young and impressionable, my mountain heroes were the “daring” and “brave” alpinist types testing themselves against nature. I was shown as a man that I was supposed to carry a spear or sword to cut and divide my way through life with a sharp intellect and quick decision-making, while always thrusting forward wherever and whenever I wished to tread and explore. Living almost fully from the mind or the rational, I ignored emotions and treated the body as a servant.
For example, on ski outings we used terms like we “crushed,” “slayed,” or “killed” it that day. The Flowering Wand by Sophie Strand has been most helpful in putting down my sword and finding other tools that are more helpful, softening my ways so I can move towards nature and life as a relationship, not a conquest. I no longer go to the mountains to “get” anything, but instead to be in this world, to lose my sense of self, not build it up.
My gateway drug that I continue to devour is “The Emerald Podcast” by Joshua Schrei, where he weaves together a series of magical mystical journeys exploring our connections to something/everything/nothing with each episode. Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake is also a mind-blowing book on the messy interconnectedness of life and how it’s not so easily or cleanly defined and separated as our cute little sciences would like us to believe.
This discovery and dive into Animism has been a wonderful pendulum swing from the previous rational materialist perspective I used to hold. It feels good to trust my body and allow its emotions and feelings. I am only now really understanding and experiencing what it means to live this experience of life sensationally, and I like it. I hope you find something here to explore in your mountain meditations and explorations.