John, age 17, and his Teacher
Last summer, my family and I embarked on our hiking adventures in Mount Rainier National Park, which is near Seattle, Washington, at around 8 a.m. We traveled for two hours from our hotel, so we woke up at 5 a.m. in order to kick off our day of exploring. At that time, we couldn’t see the peak; the mountain was glazed in fog.
As we hiked, the fog eventually dissipated and we spotted the peak of the tallest mountain in the Pacific northwest region of the United States. We settled next to a small mountain lake and indulged in a lunch of beef jerky and dried applies beneath the towering glacier before pursuing our eight-hour journey.
We came across a park ranger who advised us, “The rest of the trail is covered in ice, and it’s not a great idea to keep going. I suggest taking this detour hike to a small lake and waterfall.” This is what we did, and it was mystical. We descended the mountain and eventually came upon an olive-colored lake. It was strange to see a lake like this in a valley of mountains. My eyes followed the river up the mountain all the way to the glacial ice. The lake water melted and flowed from the top of Mount Rainier.
But there was one particular place on this hike where I experienced true wonder. It was during the last hour of our hike, when my family and I sat next to an unnamed waterfall we hiked to. I kicked off my boots and hydrated my feet in the ice cold water. We had just hiked for more than seven hours to get to this place, where this small waterfall flowed all day, everyday. And it would continue to flow long past when we left. But we were there, alone, to experience this waterfall. I love waterfalls. The power and simplicity of a waterfall is unlike anything else. I perched there, completely at peace, with no thoughts.
My mind was silent in a moment of complete Zen. I have had this experience only a few times in my life and all of those times happened while on a hike. It’s a state of mind I get put into by sheer wonder of the way nature works.
I sat on a rock with my feet in the water, staring up at the peak of Mount Rainier, listening to the thundering waterfall, entranced in this peaceful state. It was magical.
It’s for moments like this that my family and I hike at a different National Park each year. Those simple moments of pure peace are brought to us by nature. Whenever I feel any anxiety, I think back to that state of mind. I try to remember and enter that state – but it’s never the same. But that is why I continue to get lost in thoughts in the sheer wonder of nature: those moments of Zen.[First Place Essay, Sense of Wonder]