I thought that someone died at my neighbors' house last night. It was near dawn, that no-mans-land between first light and the dregs of the night, the worst time whether you are awakened by a pattern of swirling red and blue lights or if you are in a tent and something big and unseen passes by. I sat up under the sheet, only the sheet because heat has shoved its big shoulders into our valley for days now and it is hard to sleep and breathe unless you are lucky enough to get to higher elevations.
My neighbors and I intersect in the realm of porches, community dinners and sometimes at the lake. We don't meet in the wilderness; it is not a place they go. Sometimes I wonder what they think when they see me heading out early in the mornings, the thump of a backpack or skis in the back, and then, hours later, me hobbling back in, tired from the day's travel. I'm not really around much and I know I miss out on that entwined fabric of lives lived close. It is a line I try to walk: cultivation of friends who may not want to do what I like to do and vice versa but important all the same.
The stretcher was loaded into the ambulance. The lights were turned off. It moved away. Later I would learn that it was only a serious fall, not a death. Just a catch in the throat, not the real thing.
At times like this, writing about my little adventures to the canyon and the mountains seem almost meaningless. Worrying about what to carry on the trail, if we have enough food in our resupplies, seems trivial. We all live in our little self-absorbed bubbles, our own canyons.
At the same time going to the wilderness seems more important than ever. Reaching that true connection between a piece of land and a person, to me, is the best I can hope to achieve. Being in the woods makes me a better person, as cliche as it may sound. It quiets the restless footsteps of my soul. It allows me to care about something that will last a long time: rivers, mountains, trees. Things that will last long after my own ambulance moves away.