The Wilderness Boundary and The Unexpected Life


As we drove out of Las Vegas and into the Nevada desert, my hiking companions oohed and aahed over the beauty of the landscape.

To me? It looked rather dead and colorless.

I know, I know. I’m sorry. On our drive to Redrock, I wished fervently to be a bigger fan of the desert, but arid land has never been the scenery that most appeals to me.

Ocean beaches own my soul; whether I’m watching the pounding gray turmoil of the Oregon coast waves or the sapphire blue that gently touches Indonesia’s white sand shores, water tugs at the loose threads of my heart and then uses those strings to tie me closer to God. Water grounds me even as it buoys me. Water reminds me that I am small. And water soothes me.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Of all the things we planned in Las Vegas, I was second-most excited about hiking Redrock. Truth be told, I was firstmost excited about 80’s night at Aria’s Gold Lounge, but I’m pretty sure you can’t blame me for that because there are some essential life truths in 80’s music that deserve periodic revisiting. For example, Billy Jean is not my lover, and I needed to express that through dance, you know?

But hiking was right up there at the top of my list, and, despite the desert, I was eager to spend some quality time with the sun and my girlfriends, to breathe invisible air, and to move my body in a way that was not at all reminiscent of my pathetic excuse for a moonwalk.

So we took off down a worn, rocky trail toward the base of the mountains in a muted, pastel color palette heavy with scrub brush.

And then a funny thing happened almost two miles into our hike when we crested a hill, sand in our shoes, toes thoroughly exfoliated.

We came upon what we couldn’t see from the road or the trail.

We reached the wilderness boundary.

You guys, at the wilderness boundary, everything changed.


At the wilderness boundary, the world came alive.

At the wilderness boundary, the colors rioted.

At the wilderness boundary, the main trail splintered into a dozen chaotic options, and the paths became instantly less obvious and more interesting. More risky and more beautiful.

And, at the wilderness boundary, I couldn’t help but think of the deserts in my life.

All of the times I felt barren and washed out and dried up.

All of the times I looked around, desperate for water.

All of the times when being married or being a mom or being a human felt desolate.

All of the times when I managed to put one foot in front of the other while wondering if I was really making any progress at all.

I thought about the life I had originally planned from the safety of the road. The life I had planned before I knew that there are deserts to traverse. The life I had in my imagination with two perfect kids and an effortless marriage. And I thought about what a long and thirsty walk it was to trade my plan – and myself – for something more raw, more wild, more real and more beautiful.

At the wilderness boundary, I thought about the joy of this unexpected life.

And I thought about how everything changes there.


Because, you know what?

Life isn’t even a little bit tame beyond the wilderness boundary.

No. Not at all.

Life beyond the wilderness boundary is breathtaking.


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10 responses to “The Wilderness Boundary and The Unexpected Life”

  1. This is why I love where I live, here in the high desert of New Mexico. I grew up in the Northeast and require an annual pilgrimage to the sea, but what I realized is part of what I love about the ocean is the wide open space. I get that here, plus sun sun sun (see: OMG, I am not massively depressed at the end of every January any more!). But, at 7200′, I also get seasons, which I like… I find lack of Fall and Winter disconcerting. Best of all is that I hike in places like that all the time, easily. It is my true home. I can go out to those astonishing boundaries any time. It never gets old… it is different each season, alters depending on the light and the angle of the sun. It is a reminder of harshness, yes, but also the beauty therein. That tree, by the way, is what we call scrag. If you are ever in New Mexico, go to Ghost Ranch where Georgia O’Keefe lived. It takes my breath away every time. You can go to some of the very scrag that she painted (look up the painting Gerald’s Tree). It still stands there, resolute and lovely. Like all of us after all we have been through.

  2. The desert and the Western scenery is absolutely breathtaking, but nothing speaks to me quite like the endless forests and rolling hills of my own Mid-Atlantic/Northeast. Our God is such a creative God!

  3. I loved this post Beth. The photos are stunning. Particularly the deep blue sky and the raggedy tree. Will you email that picture to me so I can print it and frame it? And I loved your correlation to life. So true and so poignant. Thank you!

  4. Wow, gorgeous pictures! I have always been enchanted by the extreme beauty–the ocean and the mountain. The green leafy trees reaching towards heaven and the the bare, wind-sculpted tree that stays low to the ground. The completely barren expanses don’t really enchant me so much either, but sometimes they have been a source of quietness and respite.

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