Death Hollow, Utah

An excerpt from local adventure-essayist’s forthcoming collection

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Scott Stillman


On March 26, bestselling indie-author Scott Stillman’s second book, Nature’s Silent Message — a collection of introspective essays about his mostly-solo backpacking adventures across Western U.S. mountain ranges and desert canyons — will be available to readers worldwide. His first book, Wilderness, The Gateway to the Soul, published in 2018, peeled away layers of social conditioning to reveal the timeless wisdom and ancient beauty of the outdoors. In Nature’s Silent Message, he continues his poetic observations of human nature as it relates to the brilliance of Mother Nature that abounds in our public lands.

Raised in Fairfield, Ohio, Stillman moved to Boulder in 2003 and has spent the years since exploring remote corners of the land. Along the way he’s worked as a bicycle mechanic, Uber driver, and held both conventional and unconventional jobs in order to fund his travels and stay on the wilderness path. Recording all his journeys with pen and notebook, he writes primarily about our spiritual connection to nature, and below is an excerpt from his forthcoming collection.

Death Hollow, Utah

Bizarre. Seductive. An ungodly dreamscape frozen in time—Death Hollow is at once grotesque and beautiful, foreboding and alluring, snaking its way through an ever-darkening abyss. Its massive domes are reminiscent of Yosemite, reflecting light and color in a peculiar way that suggests illumination from within. The gaping crevice tunnels its way through gleaming white sandstone, bound for the Escalante, the Colorado, eventually the Sea of Cortez. 

In the desert, the story is always the same: water—finding its way, penetrating its path of least resistance through sand and stone, to the ocean at last.

Nature’s paradox: the thing that shapes the desert is what it lacks the most. 

I’ve walked miles to get here, over slickrock passes and scarped ravines, eventually descending a precipitous path along a 600-foot cliff. The crude trail was created over a hundred years ago, for horses. Horses? Riding a horse here seems implausible, yet somehow they managed a way down this primitive route—from Boulder, Utah, down into the murky depths of Death Hollow, then back up the bleached sandstone to Escalante—the only link connecting Boulder to the outside world. The Mail Route, as they called it, back before the assembly of roads.

Boulder must have been some isolated town. An old telephone line, a single strand of rusty wire, is still anchored to weathered pines, in some places lying on the ground, yet still somehow intact. A message from the not so distant past, of a simpler time, when adventure was a way of life.

The job description of mail carrier has certainly changed since 1909. Back then there were many such jobs, jobs that required adventure. Instead of traffic jams, these people navigated rugged landscapes, unpredictable weather, and the general uncertainty of the wild. We’ve civilized ourselves quite well, removing ourselves almost entirely from the natural landscape, all for the modern comforts of civilization. It’s no wonder we’re so restless. These wild places were a part of us for generations. They’re in our blood.

Just being outside changes everything. Cooking, cleaning, gathering water, setting up and breaking down camp—these activities are not just means to an end, but part of the overall experience. I’m peacefully unhurried. There is no urgency, no race against the clock, so I relax into doing as the experience itself. No more preparing for the moment. Everything is the moment.

I try this at home but fail. There’s always somewhere I’m trying to be, running toward a future that never comes. Because I’m too busy preparing, racing toward peace and contentment. Now, peace and contentment consume every waking moment.

***

Ominous clouds. Whipping wind. Feelings of radical inclusion, grand indifference. Everything is starkly equal. I could fall from a cliff or be struck by lightning and nothing would change. No ambulances, no sirens, no helicopters. No onlookers, no traffic jams. No story on the evening news. Just the whipping wind. These fallen strands of wire. These ominous clouds.

Grand indifference. I find peace in that. Put in my proper place. No religion, no philosophy, just plain, simple, hard fact. Unobscured reality. A refreshing escape from the everyday illusion of our modern world.

The cold truth is—we don’t matter. No more than a bug, a rock, or a tree matters. In this vast inclusiveness, we are all equal parts. And this is entirely the point, to be part of the shebang. Not to live separate closed-off lives, or to live the longest, or acquire the most, or domesticate the Earth, but to be part of the whole experience. To suggest otherwise is simple delusion.

Wilderness is not some vacation, some fairyland, some place of refuge from the real world. Wilderness is the real world. Earth in its natural state—before we got our filthy hands on it.

In wilderness, we are immersed in truth. It becomes abundantly clear that our pain derives from our false sense of separation. Here, that separation is utterly and completely gone—gone like a bad dream. We’re returned to our natural order and place in the world. No better, no worse, but equal to everything else.

With this grand indifference comes radical inclusion and I feel only love—for the plants and flowers, chipmunks and hummingbirds, snakes and scorpions, seeps and springs, the passing clouds and the rays of sunlight—my kin. Like a long lost brother, I’m welcomed home.

To feel this in our civilized world is nearly impossible. Our feelings of separateness are so prevalent that they’re contagious. Even if we practice yoga, or meditate, or pray—feeling one with the infinite universe for a few blissful uninterrupted moments—our feelings of separateness creep right back in through the back door. In a world where everyone feels separate, it’s simply too much to overcome. But here I’m surrounded by trees, and they are enlightened! And the rocks—enlightened! Among them, my state of disconnect is the exception, and I’m attuned to broader perspective. Welcomed to a new world.

In attempting to connect us all through electronics, we have succeeded in universal disconnect. The constant alerts that beg every last drop of attention rob us from any connection we had in the first place. We are constantly being whisked away. The moment has been lost. We are all trying to find it. Searching for the only thing we know is truly real.

Now I find myself driving ten hours to Escalante, hiking ten miles into a remote canyon, so that I might finally grasp some reality. This, of course, is insane. But the journey proves worthwhile each time, because here lies reality in all its glory! Free from the constant buzz of civilization, I can finally feel my place in the world. And there is nothing really spiritual about it at all. Just plain simple honest truth.

What we need is a revolution. A paradigm shift. A breakaway from technology and a re-connection with the natural world. For when we disconnect we reconnect—with the truth of who we are.

Nature will welcome us back, as she always does with open arms. We are part of her as she is of us. Her love is so deep that it overflows our hearts, spreading out into the rest of the world. But don’t take my word for it—I’m just a student. Go see for yourself. Leave your electronics at home, hike down into a remote canyon and sit, listen, wait. You may not feel anything at first, but just keep sitting. Listening. Waiting. Eventually, after a few hours perhaps, a few days, a few weeks, you may start to feel something.

Shhh…

Listen…

It’s in the rocks. The trees. The wind.

Don’t make sense of it. Don’t try to put it into words. Just listen. Truth is silly, wise, profound. Nature speaks a simple language that gets right to the point. Listen not with your ears, but with your heart. Feel the love grow, then reciprocate. When you reciprocate the love grows stronger, overflowing with truth. Just keep sitting. Listening. Waiting. Soon, all feelings of separateness will dissolve, as you re-reconnect with the world you were born into. The one deep inside you know is real.

On the bill: “Nature’s Silent Message” book release, Thursday, March 26, scottstillmanblog.com