Mountains This Time of Year
The hardest part of a guilty pleasure is getting started. Taking time for myself means leaving the projects that need to be done before haying starts and leaving my daughter, Abby, in someone else’s care. Somehow, some way, I managed to plow through those guilt trips, pack a few things into some paniers and catch a few horses.
I texted a couple of friends that I would explore a trail I had never seen and headed to the Bob Marshall Wilderness for three days of deep breaths.
Indian paintbrush greeted me within the first mile. Indian paintbrush has been one of my favorite flowers ever since the first time I discovered it blooming on the Utah desert, pushing 30 years ago. Its bright red flower felt like a welcome home.
I rode through an area that burned three summers ago. As the fire raged back then, my friends and I hoped the soil wouldn’t scorch like one of my kitchen pans; that seeds laying dormant could survive.
As my saddle creaked and I listened to hooves behind me, I spotted new aspen sprouts emerging from green grass and blooming wildflowers. That raging fire had created new opportunities instead of destroying them. Monster mule deer tracks and medium-sized elk tracks confirmed those opportunities. Life changes, but it goes on.
Purple and white lilies surprised me with their glory. Their delicate silken petals juxtaposed against enormous granite outcrops and sharp shale underfoot defined the greater glory of the Bob.
Penstemon, wild rose and buckwheat added to the bouquet.
A bald eagle glided while tweety birds chirped. A cinnamon black bear sniffed out some grubs among snail shells and fossils in the rocks.
My campsite had not seen humans in 2019. I hobbled the horses to let them graze, set up my tent and fed my dog. Before dark, I had the horses tied on the highline and supper finished. My book, Code Talker, complemented my camp by describing Chester Nez’s Navajo childhood in a family who camped as they herded sheep. I shared his respect for how his family gleaned their necessities from the desert.
The next morning, I broke camp in the sunshine, but clouds were building. I intended to make a loop on my unexplored trail – as long as too many downed trees didn’t wear out my saw. The trail wound across open ridges and through meadows. The horses kicked up creeping juniper pollen while the chokecherry and wild roses filled the air with beauty.
I lunched on pepperjack cheese, dried apricots and chocolate-covered raisins as the horses trimmed meadow grass and the clouds imitated skyscrapers. The map described several open ridges on my intended trail. I didn’t want to get caught in a lightning storm on one of those ridges so I scrapped the loop plan and set up my tent near a waterfall. As I tied the rain fly over the tent, pea-sized rain and hail bounced around my toes.
My book and I stayed dry. My dog kept my legs warm.
The next morning dripped from the sky as I sipped my coffee and let the horses graze their fill. I watched a red-tail hawk skirt the tree line as I hooked the paniers to the pack saddle. It wasn’t far to the waterfall. Discovering what was behind that waterfall had been on my bucket list for more than five years. Today was the day.
I jumped when I called my dog to lead the way. Startled, I realized I had not heard a voice for more than 48 hours, not even my own. I didn’t speak again. The Bob does not need another voice.
My steep climb to circumnavigate the waterfall led me through slippery talus, creeping juniper and rocky fossils to a surprising aspen grove. Water-loving trees growing on the south side of a 500-foot high hillside hinted at invisible underground flows that probably fed the waterfall.
I followed a mule deer trail around two ridges, then sat to glass the basin behind the waterfall, filled with more of the same and yet altogether different country. Evidence of other, older fires peeked from under vibrant colors. Timber concealed mysteries that I would not solve that day.
I realized once again that the earth doesn’t need us; we need the earth. Sure, we are the top of the food chain. We care for the land as well as we possibly can, we glean all we need and we exert immeasurable impacts.
But larger, more powerful chains exist in this universe.
I carried my renewed humility back down the slope to where the horses were tied.
They nickered their welcome back.
I stepped into the saddle and turned them toward home.
As I crested the last ridge and looked down at the trailhead, I could see my truck listing to the left. The front left tire was flat.
My life was back.