Bowing Before Entering Sacred Places
Photographs and Article by Mari OmoriBefore beginning each hike, my mother puts her hands together at the trailhead, and prays for a fun, enjoyable, and safe hike for the family. She always states that we are just visitors, and kindly asks the mountains to let us pass through. She would then bow and begin the hike. When we return from our hikes, she would put her hands together again and give gratitude for the safe hike and good weather. If we came across bears, she would give thanks for their presence in the wilderness and have no one (including the bears) harmed during the encounter. My mother has the habit of bowing before entering sacred places such as churches and temples. To her, the wilderness is also sacred and she bows in respect to the land. This is a ritual that she has created on her own.
Soon I found myself doing this along with my mother before each hike. For me, it was an opportunity to realize that the wilderness is a dangerous place and to leave my ego at the entrance of the trail. Doing this helps me to make reasonable and logical decisions should I be caught in a sudden thunderstorm or snowstorm. There were several instances where I was convinced that someone or something was watching for my safety. On a long day hike deep in the West Kootenay Mountains, I encountered a grizzly bear that swiftly ran by 25 feet away from me. On another hike within the same mountain range, I made it back in time to my car before a heavy rainfall began. Before the ultimate downpour started, I took off my hat and bowed at the entrance in gratitude for my safe (and dry!) return. There have been too many times when the mountains paused the rain long enough to let me safely return to my car.
My wish for people to enter mountains as if it were sacred was greatly heightened this past summer. I witnessed a beautiful mountain that has fallen into tourism. Unaware of hiking etiquettes, hikers were picking wildflowers. Another group of hikers went off the trail and sat down in the middle of a meadow to take pictures of themselves. Alpine meadow areas are sensitive, so it is best to stick to trails. One of my saddest moments was hiking for several hours to only come to a peak that had a view of clear cuts and logging roads carved right up to the neck of a mountain.
I wish for all to enter wilderness areas as if entering a sacred place, to mindfully walk through what is left, so that we can keep its pristine presence and allow this beauty to continue to renew our spirits.
“When I would recreate myself,
I seek the darkest wood,
the thickest and the most interminable, and
to the citizen, most dismal swamp.
I enter the swamp as a sacred place--a sanctum sanctorum;
there is the strength, the marrow of Nature.”
Henry David Thoreau
“There’s no music like a little river’s,
It takes the mind out of doors and sir,
it quiets a man down like saying his prayers.”
Robert Louis Stevenson