The author tramps into the woods with an urban friend to show her a taste of the Wild with a view of mountain lakes
Memorial Day wasn’t a holiday my friend at the time and I were particularly fond of celebrating as such. Except as the beginning of the long Summer so Holy to those of us who abide in Cascadia, the Pacific ecoregion where the Canadian Southwest and the America Northwest merge into a hidden country as new as it is primeval. I’m gonna call her Little Stars in the Sky, and we dated for a few short months. Sweet, intense, brief, sad, and, then, mutually complete. We’re friends these days, comrades, actually, altho we see little of each other anymore.
Nevertheless we share a mutual sense of respect for the other person. While both of us are Tauruses, and I suppose I have a certain appreciation for Tauruses, we were so different. She is all Paris-London-Rome-Shanghai-Rio-Chicago-L.A.-art-fashion-film-cleanliness-shoes, and I’m all mountains-rivers-forests-deserts-swamps-bugs-dirt-snow-clouds-&-sun.
Today Little Stars in the Sky chose to go on a day hike with me. I made sure it was a simple day hike, especially as I had to outfit her. We were gonna go forth into the mountains on a damp, chilly-warm day and get all sweaty and sore! Maybe pee in the bushes and poop in a hole chupped hurriedly out of the ground behind a big ol’ nurse log. Yes, one thing I appreciate about outdoor adventure is the way such experiences in Deep Nature reduces our cerebral minds down to those primitive foundations where bodily functions rule.
We were both excited to get out of the city and explore the backcountry so close to our home city of Seattle, Washington. The Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area is large and lies within the North Cascades ecosystem or bioregion. It links up with a crazy quilt of other wilderness areas, national recreational areas, state parks, national forests, and North Cascades National Park itself to form one of the largest, most complex wild, natural areas in the United States. These areas are all that’s left, however, in the wake of long-drawn out and contentious struggles between those who sought to conserve and protect wilderness for both recreation and the sake of wilderness for its own right and those who sought to exploit the densely rich aggregation of natural resources for development and profit.
These environmental & recreation versus energy & development battles began in the 1950s and resulted in the establishment of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness in 1976. Doing so ended up requiring an Act of Congress followed by then-President Gerald R. Ford signing the legislation into law. One of the most powerful and noteworthy requests for President Ford to veto the bill came from the U.S. Forest Service itself, then much more beholden to resource extraction industries. These battles continued, however, with persistent pushback and pull harder efforts. The most recent conflicts regarding the Alpine Lakes and surrounding regions were resolved as late as 2014 and 2015.
We spent Memorial Day afternoon tramping up the Pratt Lake Trail from the parking lot off of I-5 in the east-west Mountains to Sound Greenway. Our mark in time was Monday the 25th of May 2015, and we found ourselves immersed in deep, lush, mountain forests. While moderately steep in places, the trail is relatively easy and well-maintained. We passed the branch-off to climb Granite Mountain and continued on towards Pratt Lake. I knew we wouldn’t make it all the way to Pratt Lake as initially planned, and both of us were at peace with the circumstances. Merely a combination of distance, time of day, changing weather, and intention…which was to simply have fun hiking in the woods among lakes and mountains. We passed several small waterfalls cascading thru stones and logs thick with emerald-green moss and branches broken from winter snows. The air felt so clean and healthy. Ahhh, we both inhaled deeply and chuckled at the other’s goofy antics. We goofed a lot with each other…as long as no one else was around to stare at us like we were crazy.
Eventually we paused at an overlook along the ridge connecting Granite and Pratt Mountains. Below lay Olallie and Talapus Lakes, two of the more woodsy gems of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. We had clear views of Olallie Lake as misty rain clouds drifted down from the peaks to blow away along a steep network of deep ravines carved out by small streams and leaping waterfalls. We agreed to stop for lunch and to take pictures.
Our adventure was quiet and peaceful. We saw a few other hikers out and about. Everyone smiled and nodded. A few stopped to engage in brief and fun conversations about and for being out on the trails. We all felt incredibly blessed and fortunate to live in a part of the planet where so much wilderness managed to be saved, however small it actually is relative to what was lost. Cascadia is one of the most diverse regions on the planet in sheer quantity and quality of so many different kinds of outdoor adventure. Some of the primary reasons I moved here from the East Coast was the astounding number of trails to hike and bike, rivers to paddle, mountains to climb, rain forests to explore, desert canyons to get lost in, snow to ski, lakes to canoe, seas to sail, and for those so inclined, scuba diving to see everything from submerged train wrecks in Lake Washington to giant Pacific octopus in the Salish Sea. I’m unable to scuba dive with my old ear, nose, and skull injuries, but my youngest daughter, my stepdaughter I helped deliver and raised into her teens, is certified to dive. Nowadays I love to hike and scramble.
Some of the greatest pleasures of outdoor adventure are those opposite of the adrenaline rush. Pushing forward with ease and grace, even if suffering in heat and cold, wildfire smoke and dust of drought while putting in long miles backpacking up and down the mountains, often seems to be the best medicine for those of us who struggle with depression, anxiety, loneliness, and seek relief from the violent, antagonistic, and commercialized excesses of civilization. Of course, even the faintest trail is but a tentacled neuron of human civilization extended into natural terrain artificially set aside as “wilderness areas” and “parks” by human institutions. We go forth equipped however lightly with gear and clothing made from minerals and petroleum mined and drilled from the earth. Perhaps low-wage workers and even slaves make the items we use without thought or feeling. Capitalism is all pervasive, and we must transition to a truly post-capitalist local-global 21st Century civilization without getting lost in emotionally-charged, pushbutton battles over terminology based in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
We leave all those behind, tho, to nourish our peace of minds and gladness of hearts, to exercise our joints and muscles, to get our blood pumping and our breath flowing with vigor and practice. We may meditate, or pray, or simply gaze around in unabashed awe. Sometimes the best hikes with close friends and loved ones are those with the fewest words. Such allows one to grow aware of present moments and not distracted with machine-gun chit-chat about the outside world. And so we walked quietly back to the car, talking softly, even when, sigh, I had to veer off the trail deep into the forest to take a big, fierce dump.
Our drive home was holiday heavy. Even so, cruising with traffic felt as smooth as a boat sailing with the flow. Our lives flowed on, unraveled, and continued along different journeys even as water flows down from all directions into the same deep, deep, worldwide ocean.
Our idyllic hike, however, had one significant disruption. It smoldered as hot coals under the sand. The lessons took me too long to learn, and eventually I learned. Just wished I’d learned such things as a child and not as a middle-aged adult. The events unfold during and even long after our lunch break along the Pratt Lake Trail overlooking the lakes below on the afternoon of Memorial Day Monday the 25th of May 2015 Common Era.
“Are you taking my picture NOW? While I’m trying to eat?” Little Stars in the Sky asked me as I fotografed her sitting down about to peel the shell off of a hard-boiled egg. She made a face, too. As a published fotografer & journalist herself, she’s waded into many a crowd capturing images of people engaged in myriad activities. The thruhiker in me wanted to laugh in the ribald messiness of Nature, but I refrained from explaining to this “city girl” how honored and refreshing many long-distance backpackers feel to be called, “hiker trash.” For the most part they enjoy having their pictures taken while all smelly and unwashed.
So I first posted a picture of her preparing her lunch here, justified doing so, and then I realized my act was disrespectful. Was there the historical or journalistic imperative to record and publish everything? Perhaps. I chose to back away, however, when I discerned a higher ethical standard of power versus force. For me to publish a foto of her wherein she clearly did not want taken would be a violation of trust, an energetic variation of forcing her out into the open when she didn’t wish to be seen. Eating, after all, is an intimate biological act. Being fotografed is also an intimate act of sorts, as it captures one’s appearance with one’s light. It wasn’t a bad picture of her either, and that is irrelevant to the central issue. Instead I included a selfie Little Stars in the Sky took of us laughing and having fun at movie theater a few days before our day hike into the Wilderness.
Both of us returned to immersing ourselves in nature and to the privacy of our own thoughts and feelings. The air felt still with an occasional breeze ruffling the branches. The lakes were as old, grayed-out mirrors laid flat upon the dresser top. We contemplated pushing on further, for Pratt Lake was a beautiful sanctuary even further back from the crowding trail heads, but agreed it was time to turn around. What’s left of the wilderness remains for you to get outside in to reconnect with your own inner self while in nature. What’s left for you to enjoy still needs to be maintained, preserved, protected, and, yes, even expanded. A few years after this dayhike, I learned the movie, “Wild” translates from English into Portuguese as “Livre.” Livre means “Free.” This discovery in turn reminded me of an earlier film, “Born Free,” really means to be born “Wild.” Wilderness evokes a sense of absolute freedom, freedom from the socially and culturally imposed limitations and artificial responsibilities of our regimented civilization.
So go forth into the wilderness and be free! Even if it feels uncomfortable. Yes, get outside and play! Yes, play! Play with noise, and play quietly, and play without fear. Grab a map, stare at an app, and go hike! Call yourself to the trails! Get wet! Get hot! Get cold! Get dirty! Eat up and drink down! Woo HOO, have fun. Seriously, people, let us choose to enjoy our lives no matter what the circumstances. Let’s enjoy life even if cruel horrors snap and yaw along the edges of our sanity. It’s OK to feel afraid, and don’t let fear stop you. Go forth anyway. Go! Aye, get out and hike! With love! Yeah, you eye-rolling, head-bobbling cynical ones, feel the love and go hug a tree and let little spiders run free along thy arms and cheeks. Be wild! Be free!
William Dudley Bass
Tuesday 10 October 2017
“Alpine Lakes Wilderness,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpine_Lakes_Wilderness.
“Ecology of the North Cascades,” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecology_of_the_North_Cascades.
Mountains to Sound Greenway. https://mtsgreenway.org.
Copyright © 2017 by William Dudley Bass. All Rights Reserved until we Humans establish Wise Stewardship of and for our Earth and Solarian Commons. Thank you.