Monday, June 19, 2006

To my students as they decide to leave...

Cedar Forest south of the Yaak Valley

Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park

Sandia Mountain in New Mexico

The tendency nowadays to wander in wildernesses is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature, and to get rid of rust and disease. Briskly venturing and roaming, some are washing off sins and cobweb cares of the devil's spinning in all-day storms on mountains; sauntering in rosiny pinewoods or in gentian meadows, brushing through chaparral, bending down and parting sweet, flowery sprays; tracing rivers to their sources, getting in touch with the nerves of Mother Earth; jumping from rock to rock, feeling the life of them, learning the songs of them, panting in whole-souled exercise, and rejoicing in deep, long-drawn breaths of pure wildness. This is fine and natural and full of promise. – John Muir

My family and I had planned a weekend excursion to Ouray, Colorado. At the last minute I backed-out; I’m still not completely sure why. We stayed around the house most of the weekend with the exception of a trek to nearby Sandia Mountain (10,678 ft) on Sunday, to hike the trails. Unfortunately, Sandia was not in the cards either. All trails were closed due to fire hazard.

Our original destination of Ouray was inspired by Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged. The town is located in a valley of the San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, ten miles north of the more famous community of Telluride, but so difficult to reach, that the drive is nearly an hour long. I say my trip was inspired by Ayn Rand, because I only recently decided to visit after learning that she had used the town as a model for John Galt’s secret hideaway in the Rockies, after she had visited the valley in the early twentieth century. Ouray is also known as “Switzerland of America”, so with those selling points we were more than ready to hop in the car and tour the local “alps”.

Motivation, in general, has been a bear for over a month. Maybe it is the summer heat; perhaps its just having my daughter home from school. I’m outdoors a lot more, which should be inspirational enough, but everything in this high desert is uncomfortably dry and I long for places I loved in Montana, such as the Yaak Valley and Hebgen Lake where moisture wasn’t such a commodity. I expected to feel a sense of return to the alpine lakes of Glacier Park by visiting Ouray. It was this need for return that I believe led to my feelings of dread towards the leaving of Colorado, before ever visiting – and ultimately, my avoidance of the trip.

Now the weekend is over and the chance to experience beauty has passed. I can’t answer for my behavior. Most days my wife follows along with my ebbs and flow, though when I’m out of ear-shot, I’m sure she fields her share of questions from our children. It is said that John Muir’s favorite spot in all of Glacier National Park was Avalanche Lake. At this moment, I’d give anything to have to worry about fearless bears while hiking the path to Avalanche Lake in Glacier. I’d equally love to hop in my Rover and make a path just south of the Yaak near Thompson Falls, Montana. There is a place, there in the Cedar Forest, where you can sit inside one of a handful of leviathan-like trees and smell the rain as it passes through the branches and is absorbed by the sticks and needles along the outside trail. It seems like a place where one can always find the rain. Sometimes a longing for rain is just a longing for home.

Although I no longer teach, I have former students that have now graduated and are making decisions whether or not to leave Montana. I still feel as if they are my responsibility. I still want them be "good citizens". I still long for their happiness. I have trouble telling them there is a better world beyond the Rocky Mountain backbone as it curves an eco-system from Lake Louise in Banff to the geysers of Yellowstone. As much as traveling is a part of my soul, I spend a number of my days longing for the brush-covered paths to the streams and rivers branching from innumerable arteries that preserve the life of my Montana.

Young Kodiak, this section is especially for you. Take your time growing-up, marry late and see whatever it takes to make you feel full of life - but if you ever treasured spirituality, never let loose of your Montana home. It will help you to remain a child as it has all of us that experience it, no matter what moment we choose to embrace it in our lives. – DN

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