Almost always the wilderness has been a place I have gone to in search of something. Answers, solitude, fitness, healing. This time it wasn't working.
But it was a beautiful day to be there. I dropped my pack at the meadow and continued on another two miles to where the valley opens up. Snow dotted the talus slopes leading to Polaris Pass. Ahead, Frazier Lake nestled somewhere in the bowl, still winter. One set of footprints marked the trail, only one other adventurer come and gone. Nobody else had gone as far up as I had. I stared into the wild country ahead of me, trying to understand.
Sometimes you just have to pack a backpack and go, even if you only have twenty-four hours. The next day I would stand on the gentle curve of a hill with fifty other people as we said goodbye to a friend who left us without any warning, a lightning flash in the night. Life can be beautiful but it can also cut you deep inside, the two halves that make a whole, and I always want one without the other: love without heartbreak, travel without goodbye. I know it doesn't work that way. Lightning can come fast, a bolt of surprise and terror. Sometimes it starts a fire that can work its way across a whole mountain range. Sometimes it fizzles with the steady drumbeat of rain. Sometimes it comes out of a deep blue cloudless sky.
There was a time last fall when I was hot on a contractor's trail, checking on his waterbar clearing and tree removal from the Minam River. It would be forty miles total and as I dropped into the backcountry station I thought about just passing it by, putting some miles under me so that the next day would not be so long. Cindy and Michael were caretaking that week. Caught up with their chores, they lounged by the river, books in hand, beer chilling in the cold water. I knew stopping so early in the day would mean a twenty miler at least tomorrow. I knew there was a chance I would miss the contractor altogether. I knew I would end up hiking until nearly dark, GPS in hand as I tried to find the trail through an avalanche that the contractor hadn't gotten to yet. But still, I stopped early to spend the night. Now I'm glad I did.
Nobody can stop the lightning. You can't ever be ready for it to tear through your life, changing everything. You think you are; you set up your tent in the most protected spot, away from snags and tallest trees. You try to protect your heart so that when people are taken from you it doesn't hurt so much. None of this really works. In the end, the sky clears and life goes on, as beautiful and terrible as before.
See you, Michael.
|C. Sloan photography|