The Wilderness Trail
One late August evening in 1972 I climbed a low ridge above our sheep camp in the Alaska Range. We were camped in a high mountain pass. It was above timberline and the only thing that grew up that high was the thick alder brush. When I first got to the top of the ridge the sun was just going down and not a critter could be seen. I could see for several miles up and down the pass, and the high glacier peaks across the valley.
I sat there enjoying the pristine wilderness before me, reflecting on God’s great ability to create such a beautiful jewel. The sun going down had spread long shadows across the valley and the only sunlight left was a splash on the peaks. A light breeze had begun to blow through the pass and I knew the temperature would soon begin to drop. I couldn’t think of any place on earth where I would rather be. The whisper of the wind; the smell of the alpine valley, and the quietness of the wilderness brought a feeling that God was there with me. It was an experience I had never had before.
Just before I got up to leave, I noticed that several caribou and moose appeared in the valley below. I also saw a big grizzly walk out of an alder thicket above me. They had been bedded down in the alders all during the day and now in the late evening; they had stood up and began feeding. I had no idea they were anywhere around. Several big rams also appeared in a meadow high above me across the valley. I could hardly believe my eyes. If I had left ten minutes earlier, I would have missed the whole show.
Since that day I learned that there’s a lot more to see in the wilderness than meets the eye. Sometimes we miss all that’s there because we get in too much of a hurry. Sometimes we need to slow down, and be quiet. Sometimes we need to listen instead of talking so much. There is much to be said about the quietness of an alpine meadow or a lake in the wilds. There’s a lot that can be said about the honking horns and disrespectful drivers of the city. There’s a lot that can be said about the pushing and shoving in the malls and the smell of exhaust fumes. It is enough to make me long for the “quiet places”. Personally, I don’t think I could survive without my “quiet time”. It is where I get in touch with my Creator. It is where I rejuvenate my soul and clear my mind. It is where I find out, once again, who I am and “whose I am”. It is where I find peace. It is the place that I find the strength to live in this world and yet be a part of another.
Unfortunately most people will not have a clue about what I’m writing about. It’s hard to explain in words, so you must feel it inside. Unless you have been there you may not understand, but take my word for it and try it for yourself. You will never be quite the same again.
I suppose that a lot of town folks don’t venture far out of town because they are afraid of what’s out there. I can’t even imagine living like that. Most folks live out their lives in what I call a “quiet desperation”. Every day is much the same as any other day. I believe that a “rut” is a grave with both ends kicked out. Why some people choose to live a life of boredom, is because they don’t know any better way to live. I have always felt that when my life was coming to an end, I didn’t want to wish that I could have done something differently.
I remember as a kid, I heard the old folks say that they wished that they could have done things differently, but now they were too old to do it. I made up my mind that I was going to get out there and “live” an adventure every day. I wasn’t going to get old and wish I had moved to Alaska and lived my dream. I wasn’t going to wait until I was too old to walk the mountains and follow my dreams up into the clouds. I have been lucky.
I have followed the dall rams into the clouds. I have hunted the grizzly with a bow and arrow. I have hung the big moose horns on my wall. I have built my dream log lodge overlooking the Kenai River. I was lucky and found a wife who shares these same dreams. I have found that a mountain kid can live in peace in this unsettled world. I have come to know that “happiness” is a result of pursuing your dreams.
It has been said that a person can live without much food or water. They can live without warm clothes or the basic comforts of a home, but they can’t live long without hope.
I look back on my life and see a little kid with a head full of dreams, and a heart full of hope. My dreams have been as big as I could imagine them, and the anticipation of adventures, have been beyond description. I have made mistakes as everyone has. I have struggled, and gone through lean times. I have battled long months with the pain of cancer and won, and I have suffered personal loss that cut my heart out.
I have seen the mountains beyond the mountains, and I know what’s there. I have the seen the wild creatures living in their pristine valleys. I have felt the warm rain drops on my face and had snow storms surround me with a soft, blanket of white. I have stood in the Alpenglow of an Arctic sunset, and I have bathed in the warm glow of the midnight sun.
I have seen the caribou herds that were scattered for miles across the arctic tundra, and watched a big bull moose through the fog, in an early morning lake. I have walked in the footsteps of the ancient Trappers and the Mountain Men, and I have hiked the unnamed trails of the Alaskan wilderness. I have reached up to touch the Northern Lights and in doing so, I touched the face of God.
Somehow, I managed to hang on to the wide-eyed enthusiasm of a kid. I have been lucky enough to live the adventure that most people can only dream about. The only thing I would have done differently is “bought a better pair of boots”.
I suppose that the average person would be satisfied sitting in their recliner and watching the outdoor channels on the television. They seem satisfied just looking out of the window at the rest of the world and wondering what is really going on out there. Then there are a few of us that would rather be “in” the adventure than just watching it go by. I like watching it snow, but I would much rather be out playing in it. I enjoy watching a good hunting movie, but I would much rather be out there doing it for myself. I never have been much of a “spectator”, when I could be in the game.
Just because I turned 61 this year, doesn’t mean that I have to slow down on my activities. I will slow down when they scatter my ashes in the Alaskan outback. Some of us will never be satisfied unless we are in the thick of it. I guess I’m a bit different than most folks. My priorities have been born in the mountains, my Soul belongs to my God, my Heart belongs to my Family, and my Spirit belongs to the Wind and the Wilderness.