I set my alarm for 3:30 last Monday morning so I could get an early start on the sixty-five mile drive to Mirror Lake. The drive includes a beautiful 32-mile stretch of National Forest along Utah’s Mirror Lake Scenic Byway, and climbs to an elevation of nearly 11,000 feet. I wanted to see the sunrise over this beautiful mountain lake, then take in the glorious colors of Autumn on the descent back into Salt Lake City.
The drive to the lake in complete darkness was uneventful and quite peaceful. Being the only car on the road meant I only had to watch for deer, raccoon, and open range cattle. I took it slow, enjoying the stillness of the early morning and Imogene Heap’s CD “Ellipse”.
Arriving at the lake, I pulled into the parking lot and was pleased to find no other cars parked there. Today, this view was all mine, and I selfishly delighted in my good fortune. The dashboard thermometer indicated the outside air was 32°F. I was glad I had a heavy flannel shirt, but wished I had brought along a light jacket. As the first rays of sunlight began to appear, I grabbed my camera and tripod and emerged from the car.
As you might guess, Mirror Lake is pretty aptly named, as is Bald Mountain, the treeless granite peak in the Uinta mountain range which rises above the west side of the lake. Watching the morning mist rise off the crystal clear water evoked an almost magical effect. As the sun began to bring clear, new light to another day, I beheld one of the most beautiful scenes I’d ever had the pleasure of watching God paint: the brilliant image of Bald Mountain perfectly and vibrantly reflected in the mirror-like waters of the lake, almost glowing like a hot coal set on fire by the sun. The surface of the waters disappeared as they mirrored all that surrounded it instead.
It was enchanting! Like a 12-year old kid, I picked up a rock and tried to skim it along the surface of the water, and though its wet skin rippled, the mountain did not move. Birds began to sing, and then to appear along the lake’s shore. In a swiftly passing moment of Disney-ish imagination, I felt as though I could have held out my arms and these birds would have perched upon them; me and the birds thus engaged in glorious song! But even the beautiful scene I beheld before me couldn’t change the fact that I sing like a tortured frog, so I resisted the urge to stretch out my arms as a potential bird perch, not wanting to be obligated to sing should one actually land there. I was reminded that one of the blessings of being a child is they haven’t yet succumbed to letting reason take over and turn them away from what’s supposed to be difficult, so they just do.
And then, something in that moment struck me like a full-fisted blow to the chest. It was difficult to draw a breath into my lungs as a wave of unfulfilled dreams broke against my heart and drowned the joy I’d felt only seconds prior. I feared it was perhaps time to bury some of my dreams, rather than continuing to grieve their slow and eventual death. Maybe after the passing of 50 years, it was time to accept Joseph Campbell’s awareness that you sometimes must let go of the life you planned in order to grab hold of the one that is waiting for you. Could I learn to be happier here and now? Was I subconsciously preventing my own happiness, waiting to be happy when I get where I wish to be? And what if I never arrive at that desired place? My failure won’t be that I didn’t reach my desired destination, but that I didn’t find happiness in the journey. It was as though unfulfilled goals and dreams were now the only thing my eyes could see being reflected in the water. The birds were no longer singing either, but had switched to mocking instead.
Feeling anxious, a journal entry I’d written over 30 years ago slipped to the front of my mind. It theorized something so simple to grasp, yet impossible to realize. You see, I figured out three decades ago that the moment one begins to develop expectations is the very same moment one sets themselves up for and enables disappointment. I had expectations of being somewhere else by this stage of my life journey. I had expectations of being someone else by this stage of my life journey. Yet here I stood, where and who I am.
I realized how fortunate I am to be blessed as I’ve been blessed, with family and friends and my needs supplied! Perhaps it was time to reflect on and recalibrate my aspirations. So, I decided it was time to relieve some of the stress I create for myself from day to day by being happier where I am, but more importantly, by also being thankful for it. I determined to stop condemning myself and to take my own failures and criticisms more constructively. And so that I may test my 30-year old theory and avoid disappointment, this exercise comes with no expectations.