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Smoothing Wrinkles

By Catherine Arveseth

It was my first run into the desert since the boys were born. My worn-out Asics wobbled over the washboard road. Heart and lungs fought for equilibrium as I heaved the dry air and trudged a mild ascent. I needed some time alone – away from the people I loved most.

My calves and quads began to burn. My chest flamed with the sting of oxygen deprivation, but I pushed ahead, anxious for solitude. At the top of the hill I stopped to take in the view. The west desert sank before me then stretched wide into a scape spotted with sagebrush. A cloudless sky rose like an enormous blue curtain above the blackened rock. I was entirely alone.

“Go to the mountains or the desert. It smoothes out the wrinkles in your mind,” I said aloud. My Dad read those words to me when I was a teenager. He held a Louis L’Amour novel in his lap and quoted Brionne, a wise cowboy father who tells his son to go to the desert (or the mountains) “whenever you feel that things are getting too much for you.”

And there it was – the desert – in all it’s lonesome glory. I hopped the fence (meant to keep motorists out) and passed a tiny sign that read “3 Fingers of Death.” Yikes. That sounds foreboding, I thought, as I watched the dusty trail trifurcate at my feet. It was like choosing Door 1, 2 or 3. I had no idea what was on the other side. But taking the warning as more fun than fact, I picked the middle finger and kept running.

Suddenly, the trail pitched and I slid sideways to stop myself from plunging six feet below. My legs trembled, untrusting. Phew. I’ll take these shifty legs over a mountain bike any day, I thought, as I squatted on my haunches to scuttle down the precipice that nearly sent me flailing into a full-on face-plant.

The trail emptied into a wash still wet from last night’s rain. The ground felt silty and soft. I ran thirty yards, looked back once to see my footprints in the muddy ravine, rounded a sandstone corner, then left the shadowy canyon behind.

Sunlight drenched my face, poured into the cells of my skin and warmed my home-bound frame. I felt more alive than I had in months. Settling into a comfortable gait, I found that steady respiratory state, and ran.

When I run alone, words come. Ideas creep in and solutions rise out of the foggy mix. Leaving the edge of civilization helps me shed whatever has been keeping me from God. It isn’t always easy. I have to be ready for what I will hear – that there are doors I need to open, mud to wade through, paths I should travel with caution. But the wrinkles that obscure my vision or unsettle my peace are smoothed flat and I recognize His voice.

There is a reason God’s prophets have always gone up into the mountains – why some of God’s most profound teaching has been done in the wild places. His children aren’t distracted there – they are accessible, alone. Even Christ chose mountains – often.

Something happens to our cluttered souls when we go up (or out) into the wilderness. We hear ourselves. The silence cleanses us, and God is free to speak.

With two babes at home needing to be fed, I slowed to a walk, stopped, and listened to the lonely. To the Holy held inside it. Then, turning east to retrace my steps, I padded a new set of footprints into the muddy wash.

How often do you make time to be alone? Does it help? What experiences have you had with God in the wilderness? Tell me about your quiet place.

About Catherine Arveseth

Catherine Arveseth is mother to five children, including two sets of twins. She is an exercise physiologist by profession, writer by passion, loves hiking with her family, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and the edge of an ocean. She and her husband, Doug, began their family in Virginia but now live in Salt Lake City, Utah. She blogs at wildnprecious.com.

15 thoughts on “Smoothing Wrinkles”

  1. This is beautiful. I like your allusion (Is that what it's called? — not an English major)) of turning east and making a new set of footprints. That's how I feel about New Years each year: a time to reset my compass to head in the true direction to meet up with the Savior.

    Girls' Camp. Girls' Camp is my ultimate Wilderness. I have had the privelege of going at least 15 times over the past 27 years. And when I am there, out under that huge sky full of stars, with no lights anywhere near to drown out the Milky Way, and no little kids of mine to try to keep tucked into bed, I can sit under that blanket of diamonds and even though that should make me feel smaller than small in God's eyes, instead, I feel almost a direct contact with Him. I have had many truly sacred and holy experiences in all that dust, and among all the constant background noise of girls singing camp songs or playing cup games or even pranking. I've witnessed even grown men crying, begging to get to come back again next year to be a camp dad again because they've never experienced anything like it, and once you experience it, it's like an instant addiction.

    The mountains offer a much more personal temple experience, in my opinion. Your own private time with God and His Son. Some people yearn for the beach and tropical isles and the ocean. I hunger for the mountains; for nature; for the stars; but ultimately for those intimate moments with my Maker when words are so inept and useless.

    Over the past couple of years, I find my regular "alone time" at the temple each month. It is a blessing to be able to step outside the world to recenter myself and mostly just to feel love and peace.

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  2. Wow. I loved this for so many reasons.

    I miss the mountains fiercely some days here in the woods of the East. I like to run too, but don't do it much as I'd like. Here, an hour north of NYC, my place of contemplation and centering is a lake. I sit by it, while the kids play in the sandbox or swing (once I've pushed them enough) and I stare at the water, the clouds, the trees and I marvel at God's handiwork in my life. I revel in the sounds of my children and wonder at the blessings I have been given. The quiet of those moments fills me with strength to endure the "eternal round" of my daily chores: laundry, dishes, dinner, cleaning.

    Thanks for reminding me I need to get the wrinkles out regularly. Might be time to head to the lake (well bundled with boots on).

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  3. So beautiful and so true!

    My back yard, altho, not so far away, does it for me.
    I have spent a lot of time convalesing etc, and have had to escape to those places in my mind, or writing and reading and pictures. I've been blessed that i have done some wonderful traveling and do visit those places again in my head – Barrow Alaska, Lake Louise, Canada, the artic! Yellowstone National park, Wy, Nova Scotia – they are a part of me, and i can go there anytime i stop and breathe…

    But lately, i just need to go out on my back patio and breathe – and is the most wonderful thing in the world! our little corner of the world. It all blends tog and i am renewed. i try to do this once a day – but, i don't, thank you for the reminder! and the reprieve!

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  4. Cath, I LOVED this. I love the sacred spaces I've found in nature, and just yesterday I was pondering Moriancumer's experience at the top of the mount, and how he (and so many other prophets) were directed to the mountains for their commune with God.

    I have many places in nature that have given me peace over the years, but my current favorite is a trail that begins just a mile from my home. I've had many moments of peace and learning while running to and on the trail.

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  5. Strollerblader – you're perceptive. Yes, it is an allusion or metaphor for the changed person I was after my experience in the desert. I came to the trail hell-bent and broken, but left cleansed, filled, and directed. Two very different sets of footprints. The symbolism was slightly cryptic so I'm glad you caught it.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about girls' camp. You're lucky to have had it be such a significant part of your life. I too find I have more intimate experiences with God in the wilderness than I do the temple, but He definitely resides in His house and I am always blessed for doing work there. It is a most sacred and holy refuge.

    Sage and Traci- thanks for telling us about your quiet places. Your lake sounds beautiful Sage. And Traci – sometimes a scrap of sky in our own backyard is all we need. You both make the point that we can find our own personal "wildernesses" wherever we are. Thank you.

    Kerri – You hint towards all the beautiful symbolism we find in the word mount or mountain. I would love to know about your favorite trail.

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  6. Catherine, this is beautiful. Thank you for your lovely post.

    We all need time alone with our thoughts and God, but it is often hard to come by. I love your L'Amour quote too. My family loves to camp in the mountains, but like all families, the kids just fight! But the mountains! What they do to/for us! Our family is never happier than when we're together in the mountains. I know it's not being alone, but just being away from all the distractions of life is such peace to me and my family.

    I had a friend convince me to start running with her this summer and it has brougt a joy into my life I had never known before. At first, I dreaded running a long run on my own. Now, I relish it.

    @Strollerblade: thank you for sharing your Girls' Camp experiences. That is a calling I have never sought but should look at with your eyes.

    @Traci – my family's favorite place in the whole world is Yellowstone. We just made plans to go there again this summer.

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  7. I love this story. I used to be a regular mountain trail runner before I got married and had three beautiful children. I would take my yellow lab, Rocky, and head for the hills in my shorts, t-shirt, and running shoes. Just us, in the beauty of the woods. I HAD to be in the mountains every week… it was a part of me, and it fed my soul and helped me become centered and still. I needed stillness at that time in my life. I need stillness even more in this time of my life but rarely take the time {or have the time to take} to find that stillness inside. I miss my time with God in the mountains. I miss the feel of dirt and rock under my running shoes, the cool mountain breeze rushing past my cheeks, the way the sunlight would pour through the canopy of trees above me, making a lace-like pattern on the ground beneath me. Thank you, thank you for reminding me to take time to be 'me' again… thank you.

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  8. I am not quiet enough at the moment to even think about my quiet places…

    But I loved this piece. Beautiful and breathtaking and great food for thought about the importance of remembering to "go into the mountains."

    I'll be pondering over this one. Thanks for sharing.

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  9. Stacey – you're so right. We crave this alone time, need it, but as you said, "it is often hard to come by." Writing this has been a reminder to me as well. That nurturing our souls, finding time for silence, allows me to better hear God. I can't drag myself out of bed in the mornings to run unless I'm meeting some friends. But on those rare occasions when I go out by myself, it is good. I relish it too.

    Kierstin – "I need stillness even more in this time of my life but rarely take the time {or have the time to take} to find that stillness inside." You're speaking my language. And your point about "being me" – strengthened my resolve to do better. Thank you!

    Kristin – love your honesty. A time and a season, yes?

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  10. I have learned this recently, too. I have never liked to run because I always get so bored. DH bought me an I-POD so I could listen to conference talks while I run (which I like to do). But lately I have been just running and thinking. I've figured out many of life's mysteries that way. 🙂

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  11. I have had a wilderness experience over the last five years that has drawn me closer to the Lord. It might not have been up in the mountains, but I was in the wilderness of my own soul..sometimes a terribly isolated place to be. After much wandering, I could finally hear a still, small voice guiding me to the paths I should be on. Thanks, Catherine, for your lovely piece reminding me of God's great mercy and his desire to show us sacred and quiet places.

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  12. How I miss the mountains and deserts of the west! I sometimes feel a bit silly that I yearn for them so intensely. I run a lot of beautiful, wooded trails here in NC but I couldn't agree with you more about how mountains touch our souls and can open conduits to our best selves and to God. You capture emotion and ideas so beautifully when you write. It was like I was there with you in the gorgeous desert.

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  13. Stephanie2 – running and thinking. A great combination really. Somehow (I wish I knew the exact mechanics) the physiological and spiritual are very connected. How wonderful to recognize your understanding of "mysteries." Thanks for sharing.

    Melonie – Ah, you've made the leap there – to the wilderness of the soul. My heart goes out to you. I would love to learn more about your experience at some point. I've felt isolation during "wilderness" moments too. Sometimes from those around me, but also from the Lord, when I wonder why the heavens remain silent despite my asking. I wrote a poem years ago (during a personal wilderness/spiritual barrenness) about Lehi's dream. 1 Nephi 8: 5-8. How he follows a man dressed in a white robe that I presume to be Christ or a messenger. And where is he led? To a dark and dreary waste. Eventually light and understanding come, as you so beautifully explained. "After much wandering, I could finally hear a still, small voice guiding me to the paths I should be on." But not after much pleading or as you describe it, "wandering" on Lehi's part. Those are difficult times. I'm glad you (hopefully) have moved into the light now. Thanks for taking this metaphor to the next level.

    Jen – "Mountains touch our souls and can open conduits to our best selves and to God." Now that is beautiful. Thank you.

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  14. That was a beautiful post that certainly gave me pause. Living in the desert I all-too-often ignore the blessing of being able to quickly and conveniently access that solitude. I should take advantage of that opportunity more often.

    In the summer I love to drive up to the San Bernardino Mountains to get some cooler air and to absorb the piney smell that permeates the air. I've had deep spiritual experiences there because of the clarity that comes from being away from the noise of even my small city (and interestingly usually out of cell phone reception).

    I also spent a summer in St. Louis doing door-to-door sales (worst job ever), and would frequently take a lunch break at the temple, just sitting on the grounds and pondering.

    Seeing I know all these blessings, how can I make this a regular occurrence instead of a random event? That's a thought I'll be chewing on.

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  15. You are an incredible writer.

    For varying reasons (extreme weather, illness, injury or seasonal allergies), I've had to limit my time walking outside which is my favorite place to commune with God. But, I am grateful for other quiet places when I am given moments to spin inward. I am at a season of my life when I spend a great deal of time driving in the car. I find this to be one of the best places for me to pray and reach out to God. And, if all the kiddos are happily occupied, I find myself at my kitchen sink washing dishes and thinking of God.

    Thanks, Catherine.

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