Come along with me on a little walk. Our route starts on a nice, well traveled trail. As the trail quickly climbs from the river, it becomes narrower. We spot a cairn and keep hiking, only to have the trail disappear. For a moment it seems we might have to bushwhack, but the trail was so obvious, there’s no way it just dead ended here.
We backtrack to the cairn and retrace the path’s trajectory carefully through a band of baby aspens and voilà, we’re back on track. This happens a few more times as we climb over dead trees and thick foliage. We cross the creek on a log and suddenly the trees open into a big lake. We sit down by the lake and stare across the emerald waters in silence, but not complete silence. A breeze rustles through the trees, a fish splashes the water, and the birds talk amongst themselves. We climb higher, getting swallowed by stands of willows until finally the view opens to the jagged peaks surrounding us.
We look to each other and smile. Maybe we aren’t even humans anymore, but just another couple of animals wandering through the high country.
I’m back in a basin that I haven’t been to in a few years. It’s as beautiful as I remember. Maybe, perhaps, one of my favorites. Big, sheer rock walls and jagged peaks line the grassy meadow I am camped in. Like old friends, sometimes you must check in on your favorite places, and see how they are doing. The meadow feels a little dry, perhaps that’s the lack of rain. But there is still a touch of snow here and there, a reminder of the long winter we had.
There’s a resident rabbit that takes a liking to my tent and keeps me up all night. Sometimes it is chewing on something and other times it jumps and slides down the side of the tent, trying hard to get in. Awww, he needs a friend, I think, but more likely he just wants snacks.
The wildflowers here too are blooming. They tend to bloom in clusters: a large swath of asters, columbines in the gravel, a group of pink paintbrush way up high in the scree and, a new favorite, the multicolored maroon and yellow paintbrush.
I wander the basin in search of nothing. The wildflowers dance in the wind as the butterflies flit between them. Suddenly, my head turns and a herd of mountain goats bursts across the tundra. And then I realize there’s a whole family of them scrambling in the cliffs above. I watch them enviously. Their hooves! So nimble! Then I realize I’m the one causing their commotion and quietly walk over the hill out of sight.
I weave over, under, around, and through the rocks, delicately and deliberately placing feet and hands, like a bird with no wings, a spider with no web, or a mountain goat with only two legs and no hooves. A trickle of water running down the gully I want to go up has me instantly questioning if it’s right, but it’s gotta’ be. The other way for sure required climbing gear. I go up a little further, hesitant because of the slippery rock. I come back down and try to scramble up and around the steep, slippery section, but it doesn’t go. I go back to the trickle of water again. I poke up a little farther but only find more water and steeper rock, so I try to scramble up some rocks to the left. I pause, judging the consequences.
After a few minutes of hemming and hawing, I decide today is not the day. I need more beta, a partner, and maybe a rope. There are times when being scared is good and times when being scared is bad. I hope I always have the mind to distinguish the two, especially in the mountains.
Moving across big terrain by foot is the most freeing feeling in the world. The mind becomes liberated by the lack of to-dos and is content with just being present. Like the butterflies and the mountain goats, only the terrain, food, and water are the tasks for the day. While each animal moves in slightly different ways, movement is always synonymous with life — so long as we delicately and deliberately choose our next steps.
Call for Comments
- Can you share a time when you were forced to measure the risk versus the reward of your movement in the wilds?
- What is it about being “out there” that makes you feel a little more akin to other wild animals?