by Harriet Greene
Wind River Range, Bridger Wilderness, Pinedale, Wyoming:
The West was drier than it had been in years. Two nearby fires were almost under control. Elkhart Park was closed as well as the south entrance to Yellowstone, nowhere near our direction. After thirteen hours on the road we arrived at our friend’s home in Jackson Hole where we would spend the night. Our gear was unloaded, our food figured out, our backpacks packed and our age-old list, checked off, making sure everything was in order for an early departure in the morning.
In Hoback Canyon, ten miles south of Jackson, fire-fighting camps lined the highway and heavy smoke obscured the landscape. As the haze cleared, two sandhill cranes materialized in a meadow and watched us drive by, unconcerned at all the activity around them.
The day was clear, warm and slightly windy when my daughter parked the car in a meadow where cows and their calves watched as the two of us started hiking up the ridge on an unmarked trail until it disappeared; making our way through an old burn, a stop for a snack on a deadfall pine before picking up the path only to lose it again. The going was extremely difficult, climbing over fallen trees and struggling through underbrush, balancing our heavy packs, getting very tired and dejected because the trail couldn’t be found. The two of us pressed on until hours later we arrived at our destination, Lake Jacqueline. Roanne found a beautiful spot ringed with trees, already in shadow. It took minutes for our tent to go up, then much longer to hang our heavy bags of food. My university physics came in handy as I moved up the hill, so the angle wasn’t so acute, and while she held the bag and gave it a final heave, I pulled it up.
It was twilight when she heated water for tea after devouring the leftovers from lunch. Our sleeping bags warmed our chilled bodies as we stretched out, thankful to be where we were. My shoulders were sore, my calves scratched raw, and tender hip bones kept me on my back while I experienced a condition well beyond exhaustion. Roanne fell asleep while I listened to the sounds of the wilderness.
Suddenly, a far-off rumbling shattered the serenity. I lay still and listened. There it was, a bit closer. It wasn’t long before lightning lit up the tent and the first drops sizzled on our rainfly. Thunder ripped the air, crackled, groaned and boomed overhead while lightning never let up. It rained for about a half-hour, welcoming us back to the Winds and outdoor life.
The days passed slowly. On day six at 10:28 a.m. the first jet broke the sound barrier as the two of us roamed over smooth, amoebic rocks around the lower lakes of vast, barren, rocky, wild, 10,840-foot Bald Mountain Basin. The skies were busy thoroughfares as the jets continued hauling humans to and fro across the continent. Oblivious to the momentum of the multitudes outside these wilderness walls, I was amazed one could climb into the backcountry and stop time, or slow it down enough to enjoy the minutes and hours that made up a day.
As I sat sketching the fire pit along the trail, the creek sang behind me, the birds called in the trees, the clouds sailed overhead, the sun shone intermittently, the wind changed direction, and the jets continued. Fourteen planes so far. This was jet-counting day, confusing the illusion of where I was; six more jets over dinner, three as our dishes were washed, and two more while doing yoga as the sun sank, leaving the Angel’s wings straddling 11,600-foot Angel Pass etched against a slate sky. A slight smell of smoke drifted south from a fire that had started a few days ago at Green River Lakes. While in our sleeping bags playing gin rummy, four more jets passed.
Having been outside for eight days, I felt weathered - parched, burnt, strong, vibrant. I didn’t experience my usual early morning stiffness and wondered if it was the yoga, my diet, or the vigorous outdoor living that kept my blood pumping at a difference pace, feeding the tissues and cleansing the toxic elements of a sedentary life.
The first vaporous contrail appeared over Angel Pass and moments later the thunder of the jet’s engines could be heard. Living from moment to moment, aware of changes in weather, the need for clean water, warm food, warm clothing, the ability to alter well thought out plans, made for a full-time occupation. Here the hours pass more slowly - doing nothing but strolling amidst the rocks and lakes of a ridged landscape, reading in a warm tent, or drifting off into another dimension with a back-drop of chirping birds, a flutter of wings, a distant call of a hawk, the whisper of the wind around a canyon wall or the rainfly - all these pleasures reminded me that life was wonderful, that rest and relaxation were vital, and that simply keeping busy wasted our lives in accomplishing nothing of importance. Our reason for existence is all too often over-looked for a false sense of security promised by societal demands for accomplishment and the accumulation of things. We need so little and acquire so much and in the process miss the wonders of the natural world; the birds actually make music, the wind soothed a troubled brow, the sun warmed us, the moon moved our emotions, and the mountains’ massive presence provided security which we strove for all our lives. Nature provides all if you’re willing to take a risk.
Harriet Greene, graduate of McGill University in physiotherapy, moved to the US in 1970; hiked the Long Trail in the Green Mountains of Vermont and Mount Washington in the White Mountains of New Hampshire; a trip West convinced her to move to the Rockies where she fell in love with the Grand Tetons and Wind River Range. She found a small log cabin in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and settled in for twenty years. As an avid hiker, backpacker, author, stone sculptor and marble stonecut printmaker, she feels most comfortable in the alpine with a backpack, lost in some deep remote canyon with her youngest daughter. She has published six books, her latest, “Crossing the Boundary: A Return to the Wilderness and Freedom.”