Hills and Valleys, Gyri and Sulci


Libby Goldhirsch. '20

On a good night, about 2,500 stars are visible to the naked eye. Or, if you have my 20/100 vision, about 1,000. I must have counted them all by the end of the summer. If you aren’t sleeping in a field under wool and celestial blankets, curled up by your most dear friends in the world, tracing ancient shapes in the fabric of the universe, was it even summer?  For the last seven years, I’ve devoted a week of every summer vacation to my own personal heaven; a quaint, hippie outdoor camp called Ravenwood. This summer was the brightest of all my camp years. We traveled to Link Lake and camped out for several days, surrounded by deep blue lagoons and the sun-kissed Whitefish mountain range. On one of our final days, we went on an adventure I’ll never forget. This is the story of pain, perseverance, and perception.

The night before our great adventure, all ten boys and four girls sat around the crackling fire and talked about our day to come. The plan was to hike up over the nearest ridges to the largest mountain in the Whitefish Range. The real challenge wasn’t the 3,500 feet ascent or the ten mile plod up exposed ridges — no. When our counselors revealed their plan for the day our jaws dropped. We were to hike up the mountain in complete silence. Quietude was valued heavily at Ravenwood; we were told that a silent mind is the key to tranquility and peace. We were also told to find a rock to represent something we were ready to leave behind in life, whether that be a relationship, bad habit, or an unconstructive idea. At the top of the mountain we’d leave our rocks behind after having the entire hike to work through the process of cutting those strings. One statement in particular stood out in the cloud of advice from our counselors. It came from my favorite instructor Josiah. He had been staring into the fire while everyone else was fretting quietly. He looked up, shook his flower child hair, and said the words I will never forget: “All you need to do is stoke your inner quiet. That’s the key to meditation, zen state, whatever other principles of a quiet mind you want to cultivate. Feed your thoughts to the quiet, and you’ll make it through.” Little did I know just how much I’d need his words on the other side of sunrise.

We woke up that morning with dew on our sleeping bags, stars in our eyes, and worry on our minds. I was daunted by the hike ahead of us: I’m not accustomed to hiking, and already there was a setback in our day. I was in charge of packing my best friend Grace’s hiking boots, and I had conveniently forgotten them at base camp. She had conveniently twisted her ankle the day before. Feeling guilty, I decided to take one for the team and give her my hiking boots; leaving me to strap her flimsy Teva sandals over my feet like the useless seat belts on airplanes. I took one puff off my inhaler and we were ready to start. The hike started off with grueling switchbacks. I was already exhausted. My mind was racing with negativity, and all I could think about was turning back a mere mile or two into the hike. Silence was poisoning my brain, and my mental conflict had no outlet.  I lagged behind the pack with the rest of the wheezy folks, lunging and panting. About a third of the way up, I found my perfect rock. It was triangular, soft grey, and it fit in the palm of my hand perfectly. I passed it from hand to hand, trying to release some of my inner discordance.


After what felt like weeks of our arduous trek, our counselor stopped us to say the first words we had heard in hours. He told us there was a lake down a few minutes off of the trail. Those who felt like they couldn’t go on had the option to stay behind and rest at the lake while the rest of the group continued to the mountain. I was surprised to see so many of the campers that were so determined a few hours ago slip off the trail. If they couldn’t do it, how could I? The clouds of bad vibes in my brain rumbled and boomed. I wanted more than anything to stay. But I wanted to go even more than that. So I offered to take their rocks to the top for them, and nine out of fourteen of us continued up the trail. I was in disbelief that I had chosen what felt like the march to my death, and I kept walking before I could change my mind.

It’s funny what things will stick in your mind as you’re hiking up steep switchbacks in the blazing sun, exhausted, silent, and barely moving. I had the Pepto Bismol © jingle stuck in my head: “nausea, heartburn, indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea…” over. and. over. I also had Josiah’s words in my head. I pictured every step feeding my soul, building the fire of my self confidence and coming closer and closer to who I wanted to become. My words have always been my fuel, but that day the lack of them is what kept me going. I almost didn’t make it up that mountain. The last half mile was a blind, tunnel vision stumble up a rocky ridge to the summit. When we all made it, we weren’t smiling. It wasn’t until we all set our rocks down on a cairn and let out a wolf howl that we broke out in huge grins. I can’t tell you how it feels to hear that wild noise after deafening silence for 3 hours. It was unlike anything else I had ever experienced. We sat down on the windy summit and after eating a quick lunch we basically skipped down the mountain.  Like our abandoned rocks had weighed 100 pounds. Like the burden of the world had been lifted from our shoulders.