The headwaters of the Robbers Roost system, where the blackbrush is eaten and birthed by shifting hollows in the sand, the Henry’s block the western horizon, and the lines of the slots marching down to the river just fail to blend in to the background.
The summits of certain limestone ridges in either the Sawtooth or Lewis ranges, vertigo, block land, and far beyond the prairie potholes shining to the east, the curve, both organic and geometric sweeping down to the imagination of limber pine and the thread of glistening creeks to the west.
The subalpine meadows, those moose-beaver capillaries up at the flat culmination of the Yellowstone, where lodgepole and aspen tangle and formerly fluvial cobbles erode out of elk crossings.
These are my favorite places.
They have certain commonalities; water, but not too much, middling altitude, at least occasional snow, the hardier species of evergreens, long lines of sight. And most crucially, not many people. None of the aforementioned places, each of which has been the object of my long romance, suffer too much from popularity. Neither does my latest interest, which despite being in sight of town here gets many more elk tracks in any given month than person tracks. This lack of appeal is, for me the romancer, at once a mystery and a blessing.
The lack of general attention cannot be due to lack of visibility, or inherent virtue. It might be to uneven accessibility, though that seems a poor excuse. It is likely due to obscurity, to the intimidating facade, the certain lack of sweetness and initial ease. People generally like shade and comfort and plenty of trees, rather than light too harsh and revealing. They favor water, at predictable intervals and in secure abundance, and the unquestioning and perhaps falsely optimistic way such conditions seem to accommodate life. In the same vein, they like creatures to be obvious and to human intrusion oblivious, a naivety which comfortably maintains human otherness.
All of my favorite places contain vibrant life. Mule deer, and in the more subtly more verdant places, elk, trace the lands pulse across ridgelines, footprints pounded by history just off the crest to stay hidden, for eyes and the wind, and to avoid the worst packed-in snow and peck across the nape of the best browse. Waxwings and Chickadees garland winter trees, knowing that harshest sun is on the long days of winter regurgitated as seeds and nuts, swollen potent with fat.
Knowing such a landscape begins with the voraciousness of novelty, something that in the days destined for the future can endure for years. Familiarity at some point breeds contempt, wherein intimacy can provide a flaw at each corner. Other mountains cut your shoes less, have smoother trails, easier curves. The turn, finally, is when the singularity of dedication takes over and idiosyncracy and outright hazard are celebrated, part of process whose journey has already been placed beyond question.
This week, it is good to have.