It’s another year, another season in the mountains. Last summer I shouldered a heavy pack and enough primitive crosscutting tools to gain a 19th century woodsman’s approval and set to clearing the main path up the Entiat valley with my work partners, Martin and Peter. We transformed from the soft outdoorsy types we arrived as into rough part-feral trail workers. So returning this year to work in the nearby Chelan district would be a piece of cake, right? Right. I guess things have a way of turning out exactly as they are and not the way you envisage.
One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about the wilderness is the many truths and stories it tells. Deer, for example, have salt-deficient diets and they will stalk your camp and steal your delicious ultra-sweaty salt-encrusted shirt should you hang it on a branch outside your tent. And this gem: where there is standing water, there are mosquitoes. Your body is full of truths, too. Sometimes these truths are particularly challenging – like when your brain says “Yes, you are going to do this thing” but the sudden searing of nerves screams “NOPE!” Of course, it helps if you listen to your body’s story the first time and not, uh, the second or third. There’s likely some lessons tucked away in there about practicing patience and knowing your limits and learning to pace yourself. Big picture stuff. But I’m not here to complain about a minor back injury.
[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]So why did I return to wilderness trail work this year?
Two words: fame & money.[/quote]
Ha! Just kidding. Working on the trails will earn you payment in equal measures of sunburns and stunning vistas. You might find fame with the deer if you forget about your shirt often enough. Really, though, it comes down to the details. How the trees and weather shine incandescent when the shy sun re-emerges after hours of pouring rain. Tracing veins in a leaf as light filters through. Memorizing the colors of wild paintbrush: coral, ochre, carmine. Watching an umbral dance play out on glaciers as the clouds above shift and swirl. The stunning silence of the mind after seeing no one for days.
A couple years ago I found myself walking on a long trail at the zenith of a longer adventure of self-discovery, awareness, and action. At the time, my reason for hiking the trail seemed vague and bland. “Why not?” I’d respond to hikers who inquired. Upon later rumination I decided this: choosing to hike was an act of self-preservation. By walking through the living wilderness I became alive. To this day it feels as if a tiny part of the mountains, rivers, deserts and forests have become a part of my body like an extra particle in my blood – the wilderness particle.
So here I am – another year, another summer in the mountains. With the absence of major fires so far, the trail crew, Jessy and I have accomplished a fair bit of work in the uplake Chelan area – logging out trails, fixing tread, cutting brush, replacing signs. We’ll keep on truckin’ and despite my mid-season stumblings, maybe I’ll find my groove yet.