Powderhorn Wilderness, CO

Day 1.

Just finished dinner.  Sipping from a small bottle of Pyrat Rum at my campsite high up in the San Juans.  The mountains across from me are glowing purple and bronze in the late evening sun.  Cooling off.  The bugs have settled down for the night.

I drove to San Cristobal Lake from Boulder last night.  Camped right on the shore, launched my standup paddleboard, and took a dreamlike night paddle across the glassy surface.  Completely still and silent.  When I turned off my headlamp, all that was left were stars on the water, and stars overhead.  Floating in a world of stars and darkness.

Today, I started my first of 2 backpacking trips into the San Juans.  And it’s about time.  Don’t know why I never seem to get to the San Juans.  Perhaps the 7 hour drive.  Not a good excuse.  Need to take longer trips, and more frequently.  Need to loose the job.  There is a lot to explore out there, and only so much time.

The clouds above my camp have turned purple.  Purple against the blue sky.  So close I feel I should be able to touch them.

An elk walks through distant tundra.

Breathing slowly, and fully.  Naturally.  The “other world” is starting to melt away.  But this is only day 1.  No euphoric moments yet.  But the distractions are gone.  That’s a good start.  Just the necessities.  And of course some tea, rum, and chocolate.  Just for fun.  Because I can.  Because here I’ll enjoy them.  The rum tastes divine.  I take a sip.  Savour.  Fully experience the smokey, sweet flavour.  There’s only so much in this tiny little bottle.

Nothing to do, I sit.  Silence rings.  No breeze.  Nothing.  Another deep breath.  Then again, nothing.  Good.  I wait.  For what, I don’t know, but still I sit here and wait.  So much is happening.  The light fades, ever so slightly.  Changing everything.  The clouds.  The temperature.  A bird chirps.  Another answers.

Day 2.

Morning.  After a night of rain, I wake up to a bluebird sky.  Warm and breezy.  Perfect.  I fix some Peet’s coffee and add a little powdered creamer.  Coffee in the wilderness is pure JOY.  My senses are awakened.  I sit and read Alan Watts’ “Still The Mind.”  He talks of humans and potatoes.  Who is more civilized?  A good argument for the potato.  I’m convinced.  I stop reading and look around.  I see the plants with compassion.  A true empathy.  We understand each other.  A heartwarming love develops.  Not just inside of me, but all consuming of everything.  We share the same space.  I am a visitor, but welcome.  We smile.  The trees, the flowers, the grasses, the sky, the sun, the breeze.  We all smile.  The energy is buzzing.  Or is it the coffee?

Afternoon.  Storm brewing in the north.  Camp is set up though, and now I’m just waiting for it to arrive.  Let the show begin.  After a long day of hiking over mountains, across scree fields, and alpine tundra, I could use some down time.  But for now, it’s just dark sky and thunder.  I’m camped right at treeline by a small pond.  A lone tree holds my bear rope and food bag.  Green grasses and yellow flowers surround my camp with vast expanses of velvet like tundra, rock outcroppings, and distant mountains for my view.  I’m way off trail, so privacy is guaranteed.

The Powderhorn wilderness seems to me to be a lightly traveled place.  The trails are faint to non-existent, and no one is here.  The way I prefer it.  There is, however, a large herd of elk that I’ve seen several times so far, always quick to spot me from far away.  It’s funny that a herd of close to 100 elk would be afraid of one slow, tired hiker carrying a 40 pound pack.  But they always take off when they catch sight of me a mile away.  Stopping to look back at me, making sure I’m not chasing them.  I continue my slow trek and show no sign of attack.  The run anyway.

The rain starts.  Sitting in my tiny tent, the sound of rain is all consuming.  Sounding twice as strong as it is as the large drops hit the tent fabric.

The rain continues.  Off and on.  Feelings of loneliness.  Cravings.  Typical on day 2.  It will pass.  Cravings of music, beer, warm soft skin.  Try to stay in the moment.  Need to waterproof this tent.  It’s dripping from time to time.  Not good.  But the rest of my gear is working good, and my dinner of pizza was splendid.

Evening.  I danced to the music in my head on alpine tundra under fading light.  Beautiful, perfect, improvisational jams stored in memory banks from hundreds of live concerts.  Purple mountains and sheets of rain in the distance.  I am truly alone here.  Solitude at it’s most solitary.  Waves of emotion.  Moments of clarity.  Gratefulness.  Freedom.  This wilderness exists.  It will always be here for us.  Waiting.  Patiently.  Even if we never go, it’s here.  And sometimes that is enough.  Just the knowing.

Day 3

Late morning.  So much is happening in my little meadow.  Bugs of every conceivable color, shape, size come buzzing by and stopping to investigate.  Amazingly enough, none of them seen to bite.  The clouds drift past in all of their various formations.  The sun is out and a moderate breeze has the grasses and flowers in a constant dance around me.  In my meadow are two large beds of black lava rock.  One contains a small pond and the other is dry.  Upon close inspection, the lava rock beds provide housing for countless varieties of small animals, spiders, reptiles, and bugs.  Large birds flow overhead and occasional elk wander by.  All of this in my tiny meadow.

I sit in my camp chair and just watch.  Occasionally, I pick up Alan Watts’ book on meditation.  If I were to die in this moment, what would really change?  I would be as I was before I was born, 39 short years ago.  The colorful butterfly would still land on the yellow flower.  The birds would still soar overhead.  The breeze would still blow, and the grasses would still dance.  But who would contemplate them?  Perhaps a small child in a similar meadow on a similar day.  A sinking feeling in my stomach.  But yes, this body wants to survive.  To continue on.  As all life wants to persevere.  This is natural in all of nature.  However, at that last second, before the rabbit will be eaten by the coyote, there is a surrender.  A transformation will occur, and life will go on.  And when I sit here and fully surrender to the present moment, I KNOW, with out a doubt, that “I” will always exist.  The “I” in me that is the same as the “I” in the rabbit.  The “I” in me that is the same as the “I” in the coyote.  The “I” in me that is the same as the “I” in all of life.  For as long as there is life, I will exist.

12,000 feet.  An ideal elevation.  Treeline.  There are some trees, but they are very spaced apart.  Everything has room to spread out. Not life overcrowding life.  Not up here.  We are far from the tangle of thick forests.  Views expand in every direction.  Mountain ranges are visible from a hundred miles away.  Weather can be seen approaching from vast distances, usually never even making it to here.  No humans.  No machines.  No roads.  Just wilderness.  Heartbreakingly perfect wilderness.  Everything in it’s perfect place.    Very similar to the desert, really.  But a more suitable temperature for July.  Highs in the upper 60s, lows in the upper 20s.  Sunny during the day and usually a storm in the late afternoon.  I’m always intrigued by the wildlife that chooses this elevation.  They could easily walk, crawl, fly anywhere they wish, but they choose 12,000 feet.  There are flies here.  There are flies in the city.  But the flies here are slightly different.  They seem to sparkle more.  Certainly cleaner.  And the elk seem much larger here then I’ve seen around my house at 7000 feet.  You won’t see a marmot below 12,000 feet.   They waddle by in their thick fur coats, announcing their presence as you walk by.  What are they trying to tell us?  Perhaps, “Hey there, give us your food!”  The biggest threat to an unattended food bag at this elevation is the marmot.  Or perhaps they’re saying to the other marmots, “Look, there’s a human!”  In a similar way that we would say, “Look, there’s a marmot!”

I should go take a hike.

But first, I would need to make lunch.  That would require pumping water.  This I’ve been casually contemplating for a few hours now. Instead, I continue to sit and survey my surroundings.  If I move, I may miss something.  A colorful bird or a moment of clarity.  Thoughts of the “other world” may creep back in.  Better to sit still.  Breathe deeply.  Write in my journal.  At home, I’d be frantically looking for something to do.  Don’t want to waste time.  Need to check the bank account, catch up on e-mails, Facebook, the weather in Sedona.  But here, the distractions are gone.  And in their place. . .Peace.  Essence.  Essence of life.  I’m content to let things be as they are.  If it rains, let it rain.  Everything I need is at arms length.  There is nothing really to even decide.  Apart from should I eat.  Should I drink.  Should I pee.  Apart from basic survival, nothing has to be done at all.  The brain goes into “sleep” mode, and of course, meditation becomes your reality!  The quickest, easiest, secret back entrance way to meditation is to go backpacking.  But it must be solo!  Once you are past the jitteriness of day 1.  The cravings of day 2.  You just fall into it.  It’s effortless.  Months of tension are released in a matter of hours.  The past?  Work?  Bills?  What past?  Everything is perfect right NOW.  And NOW is all there ever is!

I sit in wonder and amazement.

Here I am.

Day 4.

Meditating on a bluff overlooking Brush Creek.  Breathing and humming.  Sounds of the rushing creek in the background.  And in this moment, as I write this, a large moose walks up a grassy meadow across the valley.  First moose sighting of this trip.  He seems to be barking, quite like a dog barking under his breath.  This moose is jet black against a vibrant green hillside in the morning sun.  A moment later, he disappears into a aspen grove.  the sun is intense today.  I’m camped much lower, about 10,300 feet as opposed to 12,000 the past 2 nights.  The vegetation is lush and the trees are back.  Spent last night under the star speckled sky.  Shooting stars, planets, satellites, and the foggy milky way all in clear view.  Fell asleep in my camp chair enjoying the comfortable warmer air.  Liquid dreams of sex and love as the sounds of Brush Creek carried me through the night.

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