Into My Wilderness

There have been times in my life when an important event transpired at the culmination of various factors, a dozen external events, decisions and choices seemingly random, but somehow delivering me to the moment I needed.  Mormon rhetoric is ample with polarizing concepts such as fate or personal significance. The language of my patriarchal blessing is a good example: “You chose to be born at this particular time. You knew the challenges you would face, but you still had a great desire to come….Be mindful of bearing your testimony at the proper and time and place for there are those who will need what you have to say, and they will be strengthened.” The beliefs I hold now still kowtow to these overarching ideals: I wanted and chose to be here. My life has purpose.

A series of seemingly random events delivered me to Minneapolis one weekend. I had originally agreed to run nine miles through the woods with Amy, my one (cherished) single girlfriend in Iowa. I had spent the summer in Utah looking for work, searching for the holy grail of a job that would keep me there permanently. As we worked through the details of our divorce, my ex agreed to move if I found work.  And one week before I was to return to Iowa, it happened. I was offered a job. The stars had, at last, lined up for me, and all the good karma I had sent out into the world was finally finding its way back to me, as I well knew it would. Then my ex backed out of our deal.

The morning I woke up to return to Iowa, I was physically incapable of getting out of bed. I had been suffering from a herniated disc and though I had been running easily all summer I had relapsed worse than ever. I lay in bed, helpless, and cried, needing over an hour to warm my muscles enough to finally crawl out, shower and dress.   It was, I think, the lowest moment of my life.

I returned to Iowa and re-entered physical therapy on Monday, the same week I started teaching composition classes. The first day, I couldn’t get off the table after treatment, and I was ten minutes late to the first lecture of my second class.  A month later, I had recovered, but I certainly didn’t trust myself to run. I told Amy I would cheer her on.  I thought about cancelling the trip entirely. Money concerns and other appealing offers from friends tempted me, but somehow I ended up in Minneapolis.

The first night in the city, I dreamed I was in Terry Tempest Williams’ house. We were caring for sick animals and children together. I woke, feeling transformed, rejuvenated.  Once in a while, I will have an intuitive dream that will set my world right again. I had not had one of these dreams for months, perhaps even a year, having suffered for too long beneath a dark cloud. Yes, I thought now. Care for the animals. Care for the children. I felt wholly connected to my life’s purpose, connected to the glory of nature and my inherent natural state. We drove to the race.  The Minnesota woods, exuding early fall, captured my heart.

“There’s going to be fairies,” Amy said, and I believed it.

I had dressed for the run just in case but still felt unsure about committing. I would be running in barefoot shoes, a transition I had made after my back injury, and I didn’t know how I would fare on a nature trail, especially in the woods. I had injured my foot running on uneven surfaces before. It made no sense for me to run this race whatsoever, but I promised Amy I would listen to the wind, and decide.

“What does the wind say?” Amy asked.

I walked out onto the trail and listened. The leaves whispered. The crisp air patted me gently.

The wind said yes. I could do it.

We lined up, the gun fired, and I started running with the crowd, terrified of injury. I did have the luxury of an exit strategy.   At two and a half miles, the path diverted and I could finish by running the half distance, about five miles. The path, we discovered, was mostly hills. I pulled way back on the first steep downhill and lost Amy. Rocks, twigs, incline. Every step took faith. For me, this entire year had been about moving past my fear, and I practiced that now in each moment.  I feared for my feet, which were striking hard against the rocks. The last injury took a year of recovery.

After a mile, it became clear that I could do this. My breath was steady and my back was holding up fine. I had run only twice in the past month, but my legs felt strong. My feet not only handled the rocks, they seemed to be adapting easily. I connected with the path. I felt every rock, every twig. We merged, the forest and I, creating a moving, breathing intersystem of existence, each acknowledging the other.

I reached the fork in the road at two and a half miles. The path for the half race was downhill, the path for the full race a steep uphill. I paused, and listened to my body. My back felt great. I knew my legs would not wear out. Yes! My feet said. More rocks! More twigs!

I ran up the hill.

To the scientist, God says, come sit at your microscope, and I will show you what I know. But to the writer, God says, come out into my wilderness, and I will show you what I know.

I had always wondered how ancient tribal people ambled about the wilderness barefoot. This was how. By merging, by not being afraid, by allowing what already is and adapting to it. As a writer, as a mother, as a woman with her share of personal stress, as a dreamer, I struggle almost constantly to live in the present moment. This race, this forest, these rocks and trees and twigs pulled me into the now and held me.

And I was happy to be here.


14 responses to “Into My Wilderness

  1. mfranti September 25, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    “To the scientist, God says, come sit at your microscope, and I will show you what I know. But to the writer, God says, come out into my wilderness, and I will show you what I know. ”

    I especially love this last bit. Profound.
    Thank you, Mel.

  2. Samantha September 25, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    Loved it! I love reading anything u write especially about ur triumphant.stands with it!!


  3. reader Rachel September 26, 2011 at 5:54 am

    Mel, this is great. I love running–no music, little thought, just being. Thanks.

  4. Karmen September 26, 2011 at 7:15 am

    What a wonderful way of facing fear! This is beautiful. We all have fears but don’t know how to make the transition that you do here, “Yes! My feet said. More rocks! More twigs!”

  5. nat kelly September 26, 2011 at 9:44 am

    This is beautiful. I feel so out of touch with nature. Maybe I should try running in the woods. 🙂

  6. Steph Edwards September 26, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Beautiful and inspiring, Mel. Your line about scientists and writers is my new favorite quote.

  7. Nicole I September 26, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I HATE running, but I love hiking through the woods and exploring urban neighborhoods. I’m a firm believer that God speaks to us about him and his creation through different venues…. the microscope, the wilderness, the woods, and even the city.

  8. zaissa September 26, 2011 at 10:39 am

    This is so beautiful. I would like to quote you…properly credited, of course.

  9. betty jo September 27, 2011 at 10:23 am

    re: “The Minnesota woods, exuding early fall, captured my heart.
    ‘There’s going to be fairies,’ Amy said, and I believed it.”

    I knew there were fairies in the Quaking Aspen groves next to the
    Teton Mystery House, on the road to Yellowstone Park, but I didn’t know
    they lived in Minnesota too!

    I like this story very much. You are a good writer and clearly a
    brave strong woman. But dear, please wear shoes in the outdoors.
    Ya just never know what you might step on, and our poor feet are
    such tender fragile critical pieces of us!

  10. mellyleah September 27, 2011 at 10:37 am

    Thanks for the generous comments, everyone! This has made my week. 🙂
    Betty Jo, I was wearing VFFs, which are barefoot running shoes. Though there were a few runners there completely barefoot!

  11. mfranti September 27, 2011 at 11:51 am


    I’ve met those fairies in the Teton’s aspen groves. They’ve accompanied me on crisp, late fall afternoon hikes when the smell of dinner campfires of the few temporary residents filled my olfactory system with comfort and familiarity and my eyes caught a tiny glimpse of perfection.

    They were there when it was just me, a book, and a cerulean blue sky juxtaposed to the golden flames of aspen leaves.

    And they were there when when I warmed my body on a rock near a perfect mirrorlike lake reflecting the three iconic peaks of the Teton range.

    Oh I wish I could be there now. This weekend is traditionally the Franti family vacation in to the Tetons. /Sigh

    Here’s proof for those that haven’t been there:,+tetons&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&biw=1280&bih=681#um=1&hl=en&rlz=1C1GGGE_enUS360US360&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=%2C+tetons+in+fall&oq=%2C+tetons+in+fall&aq=f&aqi=g1&aql=1&gs_sm=e&gs_upl=4806l4806l0l5169l1l1l0l0l0l0l267l267l2-1l1l0&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.&fp=d00ca9da95f1119f&biw=1280&bih=681

  12. mfranti September 27, 2011 at 11:53 am

    …the colors are so vibrant in real life that there’s no need for photoshop.

  13. bettyjo September 28, 2011 at 9:33 am

    mellyleah: oh, now I see you said “barefoot shoes”, not barefoot.

    mfranti: the photos! they are so beautiful. October in the Tetons was one of my family’s traditions too – right after the sugar beet campaign finished. My Grandma had one of the early Model A cars. She loved that car. She said they drove it backwards up those mountain roads for the fall camping trip. One of my earliest recollections was from one of the camping trips (after the old Model A had been retired in favor of a Buick). My bro and cousins went off with the men to go fishing. I had to stay back in camp with the ladies. (I must have been not much more than 4 years old). I remember being was pretty upset about it. I wanted to fish too. Grandma tied a safety pin to a piece of yarn, and tied that to a stick so I could ‘fish’ in the little stream next to the camp ground. Funny, even after all these years, I have this image of the safety pin and string, and recall feeling pretty sure it wasn’t quite the same as what the boys were allowed to do.

    Now, of course, I am quite happy for the husband to go on his fishing trips. 3-5 days of total solitude, and no cooking is more than a satisfactory alternative to fish.

  14. Michael Carpenter September 29, 2011 at 10:17 am

    Lovely. I was really touched by this. Thanks for sharing.

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