The tops of my third toes are blistered and leaking pus. My achilles are tight and creaky when I stand up. My abs are tight along my ribs and spine, when I arch my back to stand tall they scrunch brittle like a sun-faded bungee cord. The skin on my hands shrunk a size and a half under the last three days’ sun, they feel clumsy over these keys.
Miles of ridges unravel before my eyes and under my feet. I walk over deer, elk, moose, sheep, goat and bear tracks for days, the prints hours if not minutes old in the dust and their authors always already absent. Halfway along the occasional thread of a game trail, splitting a grassy ledge between 1000 foot limestone cliffs, I see and pick up a piece of rusted metal. What it is and what it did I can’t guess, but it’s presence could not be more rude if it had been dropped 200 feet straight down on my head. Memories are tripped open by singular, uneventful rocks and pools along my route. Greg made a wrong turn here seven weeks ago. I caught a fish here last August. Two years, eleven months, and 4 days ago I sat on this gravel bar, shivering crablike as the sun finally burned away the fog.
There is more than one way to have too much fun.
One way is to nurse fatigue week by week until your body pulls the plug and puts you on the couch for days with a fever.
Another way is to see so much, so deeply, for so many days that your mind cannot catch up, and the profundity passes by in a drunken haze of familiarity, numbness, and contempt.
Today I am guilty of both. Two days ago when I finally got out of the rightward tilting world shown above, where I’d been living for 24 hours, I sat on the edge of the White River and took off my shoes. My right toe third toe, and left big toe, were swollen and on their way towards infected. With no choice but to stuff them back in soaked shoes, I resolved to do things differently. So that night I caught and ate a fish, listening to the breeze in the lacunae between cottonwoods and the polyvalent sounds of half a dozen river channels on all sides. The next day I put on early, immersed myself in paddling, hiked through the heat of the afternoon, and grit my teeth through the uphill bike shuttle to finish a day early via 51 human-powered miles. When I got home, I sat in the Montana dusk of 11pm, ate my McDonald’s cheeseburger, and instructed M to not let me go hiking next weekend.
Body and mind deserve 10 days of trivia.
12 inch fish are ideal for trout on a stick. You’ll probably need to cut start holes in the flesh, and should use a green stick (so it won’t burn and break) from a non-resinous plant (I like willow), so it won’t flavor your fish with sap. Don’t go to crazy with the heat, and turn often. You’ll know it’s done when fat drips freely and the skin peels back with one fingertip. A reminder to embrace all sides of things.
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