This is my first journal entry after arriving in the Badlands. I arrived on 8/30 around dusk. I wrote this entry the following morning.
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Badlands, South Dakota
All things considered, the first night of camping [in my life] was...well an adventure. Given the aforementioned miscues [1. car was not organized well, which caused much digging through during my stop in Iowa, 2. failed to purchase/acquire a compass, hiking pants, flashlight, batteries; 3.failed to complete TFA phone interviewer training, which caused me to stop for an hour in Sioux Falls to try and finish, which I didn't 4. knotted the tie strings on all tent gear, making it difficult to undo 5. arrived at the Badlands at dusk, forcing me to put up tent in dark 6. used a water bottle with cracked lid that subsequently spilled three different times...in the tent 7. continuing to try to use said water bottle]
Given these miscues, as well as the trial and error process of setting up my tent, which included many trips back and forth between the car, I realize the importance of learning from these mistakes. This is especially true when considering my desire to set out on backcountry camping soon. Sleeping in the tent itself was not the most comfortable I have been, but that was to be expected.
The coyotes woke me around 2:00 AM. I know this because I turned on my phone to check the time, as well as to serve as a comfort, I suspect. I was terrified. I immediately began worrying that I'd left food in my pack, which was inside the tent (I hadn't) or that they could smell the jerky and food in my trunk (considering I can smell it when driving). In spite of rationally knowing this was irrational thought, I could not shake these worries. Their howls, yips, and canine moans pierced the tranquil setting the cicadas, crickets, owls, and other non-intimidating critters had so auspiciously created. Fear paralyzed me. I remained motionless in my bag, listening sharply to every sound, including the minute stillness in between their communications. Visions of the vicious pack closing in on me, surrounding me, filled my thoughts. Feeling contrite for ever considering this trip, I attempted to make silent compromises with a God I no longer thought to exist. Finding that to be a dead end route for personal salvation from my impending doom (ripped to shreds, no doubt), I searched frantically for some benevolent being or idea of being to bargain with. Ah, see the burden you carry when you eliminate religious idols from your belief system. You're left to rely on yourself. There, in that moment, I found myself no longer suitable to rely on. Sure, I got by just fine in the social system world. But there, encountering my own death, I found my place: I realized my own creatureliness. I was not above the rest of the creatures. I was bounded by the laws of nature just as they. I was vulnerable. WE are vulnerable. Once our societal cloaks and disguises have are stripped away, you will find yourself in it. The world. Not the constructed world of crafty humans, whom have created abstract symbols to represent what is real, but the raw existence of nature. The totality of being a creature-in-the-world.
That realization was the moment I found acceptance.My mind slowed its running to escape from what I thought was the predicament I found myself in, but as the mind eventually stopped the running, I became focused on the present. No longer fantasizing about grotesque endings to my life, or feeling insecure about my foolishness for putting myself in a situation where I was scared, or any other thought but that present moment, I realized that my mind had stopped running from itself and all of the false realities it constructs. I became present minded. I accepted that I am a creature in the world whose existence has the same natural laws apply to it as all other creatures. I will die. Life is a struggle to survive when you fight death. A struggle presupposes antagonistic forces engaging in conflict. Life is a struggle when we oppose the natural laws, deny them, or skirt them in any way. We create the struggle through our disposition towards an inevitability. Life leads to death. Life contains suffering. The more we fight this, the more life will be a struggle. But life is lived when you accept these conditions and live in harmony with the totality of existence.
I then noticed how the other critters of the night had executed a decrescendo in their song, acquiescing to the cacophony of the wild dogs - in understanding and acceptance of their place as creatures in the world. As the last of the howls pitched forth and receded away from the night, the other creatures resumed the full force of their songs. They realized that since death was not here for them now, they could continue to move on with their life.
In retrospect, I realize the coyotes and other creatures were simply conducting the natural orchestra of life, which is a harmonious concert that plays out every day and night, just as it has for ages and will continue to do so for eons to come. Why should humans think that they are in the audience merely listening in for entertainment? Or worse yet, how can we have the audacity to believe we are the lone conductor, leading this as we see fit and for our glorification?
The night of the coyotes has led me to drop my pretensions and humanistic egocentricity to take the natural stage and join in the beautiful song of the wild.