Some of my favorite outings this season have been to the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. This area is a northern neighbor of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness where I usually work. It’s always fun to go join another trail crew and see some new country. Our colleagues on the Wenatchee River Ranger District put us on horseback and led us up steep glaciated valleys through big timber. The trails inevitably climb up into meadows and reach for the sublime subalpine right on the Cascade crest. That’s where we unload the tools from the mules and proceed with the mission.
It’s early fall in the mountains. The shorter days trigger color changes in plants. As green chlorophyll drains away, reds, yellows, and purples light up. Rains have brought out the mushrooms, and they too are all colors except green. Many shapes as well, from the classic cap and stem of storybook toadstools to coral-like clumps emerging from the layer of brown needles on the forest floor. There is still plenty of green since conifers keep their chlorophyll year-round. They are capable of eating light even in deepest winter thanks to energy reserves in their roots. Green grasses tinged with gold tempt the mules to snatch a bite as they pass by.
This last trip to the Henry M was free of the dramatic weather that made our last trip so memorable. No lightning, no torrential downpour. The air was warm and humid as a minor weather disturbance passed over. The clouds kept the light subdued and almost smoky. Lots to pay attention to as the miles passed under Martha’s hooves. Riding is nothing like hiking, at least for someone who hasn’t spent a lot of time in the saddle. Martha is a pro but we haven’t worked together enough to have that wordless understanding that people and animals can come to. Let’s just say that she gave me opportunities to learn how to shift my weight as she moved, and how to stay on when she trotted and jumped over steps and mudholes. I found myself responding with muscles trained by physical therapy and yoga. Of course, it makes sense–move from a strong supple abdomen and spine. Find balance in a dynamic situation. It gets easier with practice.
When I got home and turned on the laptop, there was a comment about my last post about the bridge. Brian wrote: “Is there any way for us folks stuck at our desks to see some of the sights you are talking about (and taking pictures of) via Google maps or something similar? I know that I can’t be the only person who would love to zoom in on this bridge and get a general sense of wonder and awe from the scenery.”
First of all, thank you to people who are willing to sit at desks so that I can do what I do. I started writing this blog purely selfishly, as a reason to make myself write. It has evolved into more than that. Reader responses have helped me to see that there are lots of people who vicariously join me out on the trail. That my experiences and observations have the power to connect with readers from various parts of the world. I know that I am living an unusual life. It’s a conscious choice, to walk away from the security and safety of a desk job to keep sawing and chopping and living in the dirt and experiencing first-hand.
Second, I had to think about Brian’s request for awhile. In general, I’m opposed to guidebooks and websites that spoon feed outdoor information to consumers. I believe that people should look at maps, talk to friends, and go discover details for themselves. It’s not possible to plan or control a mountain trip for a desired outcome. Things change. Something always comes up. This is part of the experience. So I don’t want to give too much away in my writing.
But…here’s the rub. We live in the 21st century and have access to all these amazing tools. Where do I draw the line between my rebellious Luddite leanings and my curiosity about bright shiny technology? I confess that I use Google maps, and have been known to waste time flying around in Google Earth. So here’s what I have decided: sometimes I will add latitude/longitude coordinates to a post, and those who are motivated can dig deeper into visuals. But in return, I want to know that sometimes you turn the computer off, walk away from your desks and go outside to open all your senses to the world. Even if you are in a city, there is weather and light and geology. Your body is in relation to terrain. That’s what I want you to experience–space and air around you. Write and tell me about it.
(Photo: Pass Creek. Approx. N 47 degrees 55′ 48.49″, W 121 degrees 10′ 25.41″)