Peregrinate with Purpose My WordPress Blog

November 21, 2020

Missouri Breaks 4

Filed under: Uncategorized — Joe Brehm @ 2:47 am

July 2nd. There are no clouds in the taut blue sky for our last day on the river. The sun blazes quietly; the land is so bright I fear I’ll go blind if I don’t wear sunglasses (which I disdain). 

As we near James Kipp and our takeout, an adult bald eagle sits on an eroding ledge not far off the water. It does not fly off as we pass, a sentinel bidding us something unspoken and understandable. I imagine it is something like stoic gratitude for caring about its river. Soon thereafter

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, we hear the strange roar of cars over the bridge, and the bridge itself becomes visible–the same bridge where the house wrens are nesting with cliff swallows. 

The conversation turns to cheeseburgers and our post-river plans for the next few days. We will have to somehow load all of our food and gear into my small SUV and strap the 15 ft canoe to the roof

, and drive back to where we shoved off many days ago. 

As BJ offers several remarkably detailed suggestions of places we can go over the weekend before we must leave Montana, it occurs to me why I still feel bad about the canoe incident. He has grown immensely in his understanding of Montana and in his capabilities as an outdoorsman even in the last couple of years. I didn’t give him enough credit. As Anthony de Mello writes in his spiritual masterpiece, Awareness, changing in instances like this is quite effortless. Now that I truly understand my own outdated perception of BJ, it evaporates instantly. There is no need to apologize, only to move forward with better understanding and accurate responses. When we have dinner at his house two days later, conversing about the serious issues surfacing in our country, including fishing, I notice myself giving him the respect he deserves. I think he notices the change, and appreciates it, without saying a word. 

July 4th. A small herd of mountain goats approaches near the rim of Our Lake on the Rocky Mountain Front. They descend towards us on the same trail we are using to approach the lake

, and we hop off on the downhill side. They walk right past, close enough to touch, hesitating a few times to smell us and move on down the trail. Their hairy legs give them a yeti-like appearance. Shaggy wizards, Juip calls them, like ancient gurus of the mountain. Many of the mammals around the lake seem semi-tame from so much human presence, including chipmunks and a long-tailed marmot. A small group of hikers feeds the marmot as they chain smoke along the shore. 

This lake is a steep few miles, but one of the most quickly-accessible alpine lakes along the Front, and gets a lot of traffic. On our hike up, a girl passes with a big handful of white lady slipper orchids she picked. We stop and eye the bouquet

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, curiously horrified, as it passes on down the mountain, mouths dropped in disbelief. Lady slippers are so rare in our neck of the woods that picking any is unthinkable to us. Then again, this mountain landscape is immense, and I don’t believe in scolding kids for picking flowers. She looked happy, bouncing down the mountain with them. 

The lake spills over sheer rock, descending rapidly in wild grace. Eventually, it contributes to the South Fork of the Teton River, which flows into the fresh plains of Rocky Mountain Front in braids over glacial deposits. There is no soil to speak of here in the glacier’s wake, only rocks and plants that tolerate them. 

August 2nd. The challenge with a trip like this is re-entry. Life on the river is simple: eat, drink, observe, paddle, joke about Connie’s Bottom, cook, make fires, journal, listen to coyotes and owls, sleep soundly. No news, no deciding what to do about the latest political meltdown, phones are merely cameras and otherwise useless. Transitioning back to secular life is usually quite difficult. 

We have been home (Southeast Ohio) for almost a month now. Lightning flashes again and again to the south

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, trailed by faint rumbles of thunder. The lighting flashes take me back to the battlefield at Little Bighorn; Junip and I drove past the preserved site on our way back across the country. The sun was setting over the rippling plains and pockets of ponderosa pine

, the western sky turned a rich orange and then glowed red. A huge storm cell writhed to the southwest and we drove straight towards it,  the colors of sunset and the storm giving palpable life to the battlefield. Though we could see no gravestones, no carnage, the stories speak loudly, still. It happened HERE, not in some history book, the Lakota and allies fighting for their land and way of life. Perhaps the land is still electrified by these spirits who linger because the conflict has yet to be resolved. The same greed for land and resources still looms, still threatens native people, all people, and the ecosystems on which we depend. 

When considering this transition from wilderness back to modern society, I always think about a solo backpacking trip many years ago into the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area north of Missoula, MT. On a long hike, I encountered packed snow on the trail that was melting slowly in the early spring sun. A ridge formed that held my weight. If I stepped right or left of that ridge, I sank 3 feet into soft snow. In fact, even when I stepped correctly, this would still sometimes happen. For me, anyway, this has been a near-perfect metaphor for walking the line between wilderness and modern society. I have to walk carefully, and even then sometimes I sink into frustration of the modern world’s separation from nature and its effects on so many people. 

On that same trip, I climbed a ridge with a grand view of the valley carved out by Rattlesnake Creek
, and pondered this very conflict a few hours before hiking out. The experiences that have enriched my life and helped define my place in the world–sitting alone by a clear stream and watching a mink bound along the bank, looking out over a moonlit frozen lake, listening to indigenous leaders and elders share their cultures and experiences–carry responsibility. They are akin to the geologic forces that carved out the path for Rattlesnake Creek

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, providing direction as I peregrinate through our complex world.

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