The best 2014 essay for Sandpoint High was written by Nathan Schwartz

Posted on Monday, June 30th, 2014
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I once read a quote by John Muir that said, “The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” Being of the engineering and science realm, this quote sparked my interest.I wondered how a forest could be a lens into which one could look and see the universe around them. Because I had no actual examples of this quote being played out in the real world, I soon stopped thinking about it. However, my contemplation  of this quote was renewed this past summer when I backpacked to and camped on the top of Scotchman Peak. This trip proved to be the answer I was looking for and proved to be by far the most extraordinary  wilderness experience of my life.

The whole trip took root when I thought it would be fun to watch both the sunset and sunrise from the highest point in Bonner County. Upon convincing my brother and some friends to make the trip with me, we checked the weather, packed our backpacks, and made our way to the Scotchman Peak trail head. Because we wanted to be on the top for sunset, we began our ascent of the trail in the afternoon. Upon reaching the top and setting up camp, the sun began its slow decent behind the far off mountain ridges. Since the sky was clear and we were perched on our high vantage point, I was able to see the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. Once the last few rays of sunlight were lost behind the jagged mountain horizon, we started a fire and simply enjoyed the darkness ofthe evening. Although this sunset exceeded my expectations, the sunset was only the beginning of the universe I saw that night.

Eventually, the only light my friends and I could see came from our fire, our flashlights, the distant dim lights of the surrounding towns, and the stars. These stars enticed the group into lying down in a clearing filled with rocks and staring into the heavens. Because the stars were so bright and the sky was so clear, one could see clearly the Milky Way; a startling scar on the canvas that was the night sky. Never before had I seen the Milky Way with my own eyes. I had only seen pictures in documentaries  and astronomy books. I stayed in that clearing for what seemed like hours, simply staring into space. I soon realized that I had felt small in comparison to the mountain I had hiked, and the mountain was dwarfed by the ability to see hundreds of thousands of miles into the universe. After a while, I retired for the night, only to wake soon after and experience a sunrise like I had never before witnessed.

The combination of the beautiful solar events and the unexpected star gazing experience started me thinking about Muir’s quote. I recognized that hiking and camping on Scotchman Peak proved to be a much more effective telescope than anything I could buy. Little did I realize, being in the wilderness enabled me to witness the universe on a basic level. Now, I understand the point Muir was driving at. I understand the connection between the universe and the wilderness. However, do not think I am satisfied with this one time experience. This was merely a stepping stone into my exploration of the wilderness and the universe beyond.

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