Sunday, November 22, 2009


Swaying on a log across a creek swollen with spring snowmelt. Searching for purchase on a crumbling rock face. Pointing skis downhill. The wilderness has taught me to trust, to leap, to take a chance.

"We'd better do something, even if it's wrong," Roger used to say as we loaded up the swamp buggy to go cut open fire trails. He said it when we were shaded up, watching a stubborn backfire chase itself across the muhly grass prairies. He would say it when we had no idea what we should do, but we knew action was required.

Sometimes the choices we made were spectacularly wrong. I've chosen the wrong way down a wrinkle in the earth's skin and been cliffed out. I've battled my way across a river, losing my thermarest and a tooth in the process. I've chosen the wrong man, the wrong trail a handful of times. Roger took two cubies down to the crew below and was trapped by fire.

It can be paralyzing, the deciding. Melissa used to leap from the skiff as we approached the cobble beach and I admired her ability to trust herself, to balance in the waves and uncertain footing. "What's the worst that can happen?" she shrugged.

The truth is, it can be pretty bad, making the wrong choice. In Alaska we heard about it all the time--the boats that flipped, the planes that disappeared. In the fire world, the stories piled up, brothers and sisters who did what we would have done,but who lost the roll of the dice.

I'm packing up boxes from a failed romance. I have made the wrong choice, but it's no different than the other times. I'm sure, given the opportunity, that Roger would carry water down to the crew again. That's the kind of guy he was. As for me, I still choose to cross the creeks, climb the cliffs and risk my heart.

There are times when it would be easier to be a different type of woman, one who lets life happen to her, who doesn't feel the urge to travel and live scattered across the country, moving on every few years. But I can't fit myself into that mode, no matter how I try. I want to see what's out there. I want to do something, even if it's wrong.

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