Camp. Many people would not consider going camping without a campfire, but I find that in most situations a campfire just deters from the experience. I tend to camp mostly in high alpine areas unprotected from the wind with no existing fire rings. And I don’t like creating fire rings in such pristine places. But this is a truly unique campsite. One of the finest that I have been to. It’s high on a grassy knoll and in a small cluster of trees that perfectly shield the wind. But with windows on three sides looking out to two alpine lakes and down a lush river valley. To my surprise, there just happens to be an old fire ring placed perfectly in the center of the trees, yet far enough away from my tent. It looks as though it hasn’t been used in years. None of the typical rusty cans, melted glass, and cigarette butts that typically accompany your high use campsite. And there is grass growing out of the middle. Tonight is cold and windless. Perfect campfire weather. I make a small squaw fire of seasoned pine. The fire burns clean with almost no smoke. It warms my heart. Dinner in front of a camp fire. Mid-solo. Night 4. Deep in the backcountry. Off trail. Clear mind. Warm soul. Toasty body. Full belly. A comfortable rock to sit on. A smile on my face.
These are the moments that make up my life. The ones I look forward to. Dream of. Will look back on. When I’m old. That perfect fire. In that perfect spot. At those pristine lakes. In the Wind Rivers. ”Ahhh”, I will say. ”Those were the days. Young and free. Alive with dreams as big as the world. What I wouldn’t do to go back there.” And in an instant. Like magic. Here I am! The old man gets his wish. Once again.
I know of no better way to live my life than from the perspective of that old man. That 90-year-old me. Because I always know what he would say. And it’s never “I should have worked more. Saved my money. Been more responsible with my life. Bought a nicer car. A bigger house.”
I sit into the late hours of the night. Just me and myself. Getting to know each other better. Sipping tea. Stoking the fire. High on life. In the Mighty Winds.
I’m the luckiest man alive.
I have walked the rooftops of the world.
Tasted the sweetest mountain water.
Found God in the desert canyons.
And found a woman who loves me unconditionally.
All of this in just 40 years.
3:30 am. Get up to pee. Count 10 shooting stars in less than 2 minutes. One of them taking 5 seconds to travel across the sky. There is no moon. But there is enough starlight to illuminate the walls of this great basin. Creating the effect of a star filled fortress. Of all the places I’ve been, I believe this to be the clearest, darkest night sky I’ve ever seen.
Morning. Sunshine. Warm mountain air. Passing clouds. The lake surface is a mirror. Reflecting the jagged peaks. The blue sky. The puffy clouds. Surrounding the lake are spruce trees. Eight to ten foot in height. Symmetrically perfect. Astounding. Given the fact the snow pack must cover most of or all of these trees in the winter time. They retain their flawless shape while perfectly preserved in the fine crystals of Rocky Mountain Powder. A harsh yet fragile place of perfection and beauty.
Late last night I walked out the to water’s edge to look out upon its jet black surface. The twinkling stars of the night sky were reflecting off the water. I then turned to look back at my camp, glowing and flickering in the firelight. I committed to etching this magical image into my memory for life. I had never seen such a perfect camp. Then chuckling and grinning at the dreaminess of it all, I imagined a circle of dancing bears around my glowing campfire in the woods. Overhead in the night sky was the Big Dipper to the north. And the Pleiades to the south. Two constellations that have always been there for me. Keeping me company. Watching over me through my many solo wilderness travels. Sending them love and gratitude, I thanked them for this life. Rich with leisure and abundance.
I have two more days to spend in this wilderness. I shall not take a single moment for granted.
Pausing to take another sip of my tea, I gaze out over the water. Two small ducks from opposite sides of the lake are paddling out to meet each other. They meet in the center of the lake and then continue their morning paddle. Side by side. Across the glassy surface. No apparent agenda. No hurry. No destination in mind. Just a peaceful morning paddle. I think of my one true love. Back in Boulder. Patiently awaiting my return. In two days, I get to see her.