Inspired posts to inspire growth
The distant temple calls and the corresponding jingle of Balinese prayer bells occasionally cut the silence of the desolate night. The sky moves quickly, haunting fog dancing with a full moon whose light casts an arc on the towering Mt. Batur above. The fragrant pine forest conjures memories of landscapes once traveled, while dew-covered grasses lick our legs.
The trail ambles casually up the mountainside, Lake Batur slowly shrinking in the background.
This is an unguided midnight ascent of the active volcano, the rejection of the guide not intended as a slight to the local economy, sometimes the call of adventure simply lurks at the edge of “what we’re supposed to do.”
It took a stealthy demeanor to navigate the frequent requests to employ a guide, and now, after checking into a local room and feigning sleep, as the expression goes, “the coast seems to be clear.”
The temple whose cacophony of calls reminds us that we are indeed hiking in another country finally comes into view. It’s late, and now all that remains is a ground littered with the plastic evidence of an eventful night, a few exhausted locals casually dragging on clove cigarettes– too tired to make conversation, and a medley of chickens and dogs foraging for a midnight snack.
We silently nod in passing and continue on into the darkness.
Mt. Batur is one of two active volcanoes on Bali, the other; the imposing Mt. Agung (3,148m). After spending my time exclusively on the vibrant coastline and in the lush river valleys and rice fields, stepping foot onto the quiet, serene volcano feels like a journey to the core– a revelation into the source of all that Bali owes itself to, culturally and geographically.
Personally of greater significance, is the internal dialogue the mountain seems to afford. Call me sensitive, but nature always speaks, and I’m often able to listen, much to the chagrin of ebullient hiking companions for whom silence has no place.
Yet, it is the silence of nature that drew me out of post-college despair, the claustrophobia I felt as an unpromising path into complacency lay before me. Nature became my beacon, and it has been nature I’ve continually turned to in moments of challenge, doubt, and uncertainty.
The tone of this conversation however, is different. Bali has been working her magic on me ever since arriving, and this feels like a celebration; the crossing of a threshold into a new personal frontier, as the old in me hardens like the pyroclastic flow my feet now carefully tread upon. The feeling is one of pure acceptance and joy, as a fledgling who discovers the capacity to fly.
The forest abruptly gives way to a field of igneous scree, the path ascending straight ahead. The fog clears and the light of the moon shatters all fragments of imagination. The scale of the land here is overwhelming and diminutive feelings percolate through the senses.
As a child I recall being taken to the Detroit Institute of Science, and an IMAX screening of “Volcanoes.” The only image I retain is of the soul-shaking encounter with the magmatic ejaculate and unstoppable force of a reality I could barely comprehend, while struggling to find the theater exit through a stream of tears. Since then, volcanoes have held a mystical appeal, a childhood reverence inspired by a simple fear.
The sky lightens. The fog comes in waves. The peak still sits several hundred meters away, victory conceded to the rising sun. It matters not that we don’t reach the peak at dawn. After all, this isn’t Everest. So we rest in elated defeat before reaching the top, the views none the less dramatic from our position.
The trail to the peak is a spiny precipice spiked with thermal vents billowing sulfuric steam into the early morning air. It is a humbling experience to stand in such company, the peaks forming a special fraternity from Java to Lombok.
As the risen sun casts my shadow onto the dreamlike fog in the foreground, the feeling of humility deepens.
I’d like to think we climb mountains, gaze into the night sky, swim in the deep, because inherent in these experiences is the perspective of awe; a heart-pounding, tear-inducing state as equivocal in its depiction of solitude as in its decree of infinite interconnection.
Or as John Muir so eloquently put it:
“The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.”
At least, this is what I hear before breakfast on a volcano in Bali.