September 19, 1987: The End

Here it is. The last weekend in the Backcountry. I’ve really got mixed emotions about it. The past month or so I’ve really been looking forward to getting back to ‘civilization’. But now that the end is here, I’m not sure if I’m tired of all the negative attitudes around here. I’ve really let all the bitching get to me, and that’s really the reason I’m glad to be getting out of here. I read On the Loose last night and it made me think about what I have back here, not just in Yosemite, but in the wild everywhere.

We leave: part of ourselves.
We take: sand in our cuffs, rocks, shells, moss, acorns,
driftwood, cones, pebbles, flowers.
Photographs.
But is the picture a tenth of the thing?
A hundredth?
Is it anything without the smell and salt breeze and the yellow
warmth when the fog lifts?
Oh! But I got all that, too.
It is exposed forever on the sensitive emulsion sheet
Of my mind.
It’s a shame that a race so broadly conceived should end with most lives so narrowly confined.
Why should we waste
Childhood on the children,
Poverty on the poor,
Antiquity on the antiquarians,
Or woods on the woodsmen?
So why do we do it?
What good is it?
Does it teach you anything?
Like determination? invention?
Improvisation?
Foresight? Hindsight?
Love?
Art? Music? Religion?
Strength or patience or accuracy or quickness or tolerance or
Which wood will burn and how long is a day and how far is a mile
And how delicious is water and smoky green pea soup?
And how to rely
On your
Self?
How far is a mile?
Well, you learn that right off.
It’s peculiarly different from ten tenths on the odometer.
It’s one thousand seven hundred and sixty steps on the dead level and if you don’t have anything better to do you can count them.
“One and a half? You’re crazy, we’ve been walking for hours!”
It’s at least ten and maybe a million times that on the hills
And no river bed ever does run straight.
“What’s this, Frog Creek?
Is that all the further we are?
Look, tomorrow we gotta start earlier.”
Red exhaustion rips at your throat
And salt sweat spills off your forehead and mats your eyelids and brows
And drips on the burning ground
And your legs start to turn to rubber and collapse like a balloon.
“Pretty soon I’ve got to rest.
How much farther? What’s the use of this God damn work anyway?”
The long distance runner is paid by the snap of a white thread across his chest.
You are paid by the picture at your feet.
You can feel the muscle knots tightening in your legs
And now and then you reach down to test the hard lumpiness.
The passes get easier and finally you’re just laughing over them.
Every step and every strain and hard breath and heart pump is an investment in tomorrow morning’s strength.
You’re watching the change with your own eyes and feeling it under your skin and through your own veins.
Fibers multiply and valves enlarge and walls thicken.
A miracle.
At least if the species has lost its animal strength
Its individual members can have the fun of finding it again.

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Categories: Backcountry, CCC, Yosemite | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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