I looked out from my perch… It is alive, I thought. I listened to myself breathe as I thought this. Not life in the way I would imagine. It is alive in the way that water is alive, filled with direction and intention. The wealth of shapes plagued my eyes, so much happening all at once, frozen in this moment so that I could walk across the surface of creation and destruction without them rising to strangle me.
-Craig Childs, Soul of Nowhere
It is time to train for the Bob Open, spring time, time to enjoy the world in the way I like most: hours from the road on my own feet. Skiing and the snow which require it are well and good, they bring us life, after all. But humans are meant to enjoy their fruits in kinder climes.
Often I wonder why I am where I am, following as I was yesterday a faint trail through snowy forest, postholing and sweating. I am often afraid in such situations. It would be easy to break an ankle falling through a snow trap created by willows or a log, despite my attempts to read the tea leaves on the snow surface I did that many times this weekend. Beyond that, fear of my immediate and petty injury or death, I worry about the continuance of my personhood. Fortunately, I have things to come back for.
The words I’d written seemed vain and fleeting now that they were in black ink. Perhaps this was what people who once lived here understood: there can be nothing but desire, otherwise a person might sit in this black infinity and never move again…Fire could free the words in my notebook just like this knife could free me. If I were to cut my tongue, I thought, sever it completely, then I would silence the weaknesses of my voice. Without my tongue I would never speak, never try to reduce this landscape to something conceivable. I would close off this avenue of escape from the desert, becoming even more a creature of the land.
Friday afternoon was beautiful, with record high temperatures. The Middle Fork was running clear, and just too high to wade. I made a lazy crossing in the Alpacka Scout and enjoyed dry trail through the burn.
Spring had come alive with flooded trails and elk, deer, bear, and wolf tracks. The next day I labored over two passes, postholing, loosing and finding the trail, climbing down and up 10 foot snow banks to cross streams, and eventually descending back to a southerly enough and snow free hillside, with old growth leading down to the creek. It’s been on my list as having good rafting potential, and even with only the Scout the flow looked just enough. You give up plenty in a little packraft with no deck, especially if you’re almost six feet and have to prop your feet up on the tubes on either side of your pack, which is a good angle for waves to firehose down your rain pants. Getting in and out requires different tactics, but in the willow sieved and deadfall ridden first third of the creek I got lots of practice. It seemed that a moose had descended that stretch a day before me, and whenever I was hauling boat, pack, and paddle through the drifts in the wake of moose tracks I knew I was on the right path.
Eventually, the log dodging around every corner came to an end when the meandering creek cut into gravel. A few rapids as a canyon rose around me had me nice and soaked when a toothy drop and rising shivers told me it was time to roll up my gear and hike the rim. Around the corner the deepening canyon poured over a series of drops I’ll never run, whatever the boat. A good elk trail on the rim, exposed to the sun and so dry and well traveled, took me down to the river.
The wilderness does not merely threaten us, however plausibly, with death. It threatens to make us look at how undifferentiated from the rest of everything we are. Individuality, which allows us to understand, anything, is a fragile veneer all too vulnerable to weathering.
Just as Childs put down his knife, kept walking, found water, and completed his journey to meet his wife, so to do my thoughts go when floating around an unknown bend. My life exists for others, and those are the ones I come back for.