I missed it.
Fifteen years ago, a friend and I trekked in the beautiful snow white Sierras toward Tamarack Ridge alongside a group of experienced snow campers. We were wearing snowshoes, and it was the earliest of Spring. The plan was to camp in tents overnight. Secretly, as a rookie snow camper and likely not going to repeat the experience, I was most excited about enjoying the view from the ridge at sunrise the next morning.
As we neared the campsite, my cheeks ached from beaming with crinkled eyes while observing the snow covered pines along the way, each cluster of needles blanketed by thick miniature piles of white. Our snowshoes crunched beneath us, leaving deep prints to mark our arrival before anyone else since the last snowfall. This is what what life is all about, I confirmed to myself. Clean, crisp air…blue skies overhead, good friends…the exertion of the mild hike pumping the blood joyfully through my veins, as it should.
By the time we reached the ridge, the sun was about to set, so our guides began shoveling a deep trench of about 3 or 4 feet which would serve as our “kitchen”. Meanwhile, the rest of us pitched our tents and pulled on more layers of protection in anticipation for the evening’s chill. I remember wishing I’d done a little more research on the best socks for such an adventure, as my feet were already cold.
Later we gathered together to share a meal under the crystal clear night sky, and brilliant show-stopping stars slowly arrived on their stage of indigo deep. My eyes were glued to their mysterious blinks and twinkles as I ate my simple dinner of chicken and potatoes wrapped in foil. Glad, I was, for a hot, decent meal—but nature is nature, and when you’re not really starving it can be the most stunning force of attraction.
Soon enough it was time to climb into our tents and snuggle deep inside sleeping bags meant for colder weather. Again, I thought of my lack of consumer knowledge as I wished my bag insulated me better than the cellophane that it felt like. However, my socks and sleeping bag were warm enough that I wasn’t in danger. Between my excitement of the coming sunrise among the heavenly snow scene surrounding me and rubbing my feet together trying to warm them, I slept a little.
Until my head flew up when I heard the zip of my tent, whereupon my friend had come to check on me. I lay my head down again, burying it under my pillow like a bear cub to its mother and mumbled something about me getting up in a minute. But my brain caught up with my eyes as it belatedly processed the view behind his shadow. A flash of blue.
I shot up, a rogue rocket bumping her head on the dome of nylon and polyester. Pulling on my glasses, I squinted into the aquamarine eyes of my traitor friend. For I was as mad at him as I was at myself. He did not come by to wake me up, to see the blend of indigo meet gold, to hear the night creatures salute the day creatures as each respectively retreated and appeared.
But neither had I woke myself up. The morning had already begun without me. My lack of speech went unnoticed as he happily chattered from the tent’s zipper that he didn’t want to disturb my sleep, but oh what a glorious morning it had been for him admiring the view from the ridge of night turned to day.
In a move quite unlike my normal character, I hushed him mid-sentence as I hastily zipped up the tent fast as I could, nearly catching the head on his hair in my haste. He on the outside, me on the inside, all I could hear now was the other campers talking yards away and the disappointment in my heart—my very soul—in not seeing what I had come to see. I huffed a few times while I stared at the thin, burnt orange walls of my shelter.
My soul thrives on the fantastic, intriguing beauty of the earth and too little do I see, hear, smell, touch, and taste of it. Encased in four walls of occupational obligation on a regular basis, sadly it’s not every day I go snow camping or see a sunrise…or even see a sunset for that matter.
So when given the opportunity, it’s a rare spectacular thing for me to explore and experience the wonder of nature. To inhale the scented redwoods, to experience rain in sunlight even as the fire warms…to walk along cold sandy beaches with white foam being birthed from translucent ocean waves…those are extraordinary memories. And this one I missed.
But I am in charge of me, and I could have set an alarm. I mean, I was not the early riser back then, and even though now I love to wake up in the morning early it is still quite the battle. So even as I heard his sturdy Timberlands back away in confusion, I knew I could not be mad at him. I’d never even mentioned my sunrise ambitions. I could only be mad at me. I tried to console myself by taking note that the sun “truly” rises in the East, anyway…right?
Grabbing my fleece beanie in one hand, I tugged the tent zipper down with the other.
“Wait!” I called. The others, holding steaming cups of coffee in blue freckled tin mugs, turned to look. My cheeks warmed with the realization that I was, indeed, the last one up.
My sidekick smiled at me, my rudeness forgiven in a glance, and nodded toward the ridge’s drop off.
“Let me show you.”
I followed his footsteps to get closer to what my eyes were already drinking in. Where the ridge ended, and sky and view of valley should have been, a puffy blanket of white tricked me into thinking the snow we stood upon extended further out, as far as the eye could see.
Above was only sky, the color of the blue gingham pinafore Dorothy wore in The Wizard of Oz. The sun shone mid-sky, already tempting the snow around us to rest a little softer. All of this I saw at once, and all of this caught my breath, suspended and eager, ready to dance with the air the minute I exhaled again. It was like I imagined heaven to be.
For a few more silent moments I felt with my eyes, and then turned and looked at my nature-loving pal who grinned back at me in understanding. Not saying a word, we sat in tandem right where we were, a few feet apart, each feeling more alive than ever because of the shivery white beneath our snow pants.
Leaving that day, I stayed in contented silence for most of the peaceful trail back to the parking lot. Instead of grinning like the day before, I smiled soft while humming worship tunes. Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, Open the eyes of my heart…I want to see You. The realization hit me that sometimes when I miss the things I set out to do, it’s not all opportunity lost. Sometimes even better memories come along.
Actually, that’s pretty much guaranteed. All I have to do is shut off the disappointment and open my eyes to what is around me. Not only that, but it gives me a hopeful eagerness toward the future of still catching a snowy sunrise…someday. And that inspires more hope within me, of which I can never get enough of.
At least that’s what I learned that beautiful morning.