Like a worn donkey with a carrot dangling overhead, I slogged on through the bitter cold, mustering enough in me to force another step forward. And another, and another. The weight of my pack, tent and gear pulled me down with each step. The wind whipped icy whip cracks against my face, cracking my lips and searing my eyes shut. I cracked them open, peering out through bleary slits, as I continued through the winter wilderness. Frost had frozen to what remained of the grass beneath the carpet of snow, and it crackled beneath the tread of my Keen Targhee boots. I went on like this, slow but steady, for what seemed like days. The only thing keeping me up were them boots.
Pine and rock cascaded all around me as I trekked up along a steep, slippery pass until an overlook expanded before me. The clouds parted, revealing a brilliant blue expanse that extended over the mountains and beyond for as far as I could see. Mountain peeks and crags littered the picturesque landscape, providing a deep contrast against the elements. The break in the weather filled me with a renewed energy and my pace quickened.
I spent the rest of the night enjoying the fire, and the stars. I came all this way to sit beneath the night sky, to experience the natural world, to see wildlife, and to simply find peace. The hustle and bustle of modern lifestyles had worn me thin, stressing my body and pushing my mind into a place I didn’t want to be. Depression and anxiety, and tension had worked its way in my life, controlling me until it had poisoned my very outlook on life. So I laid there, on the cold ground, beneath the trees and the cosmos, and I breathed in slow, meditating with each long drawn breath. I reconnected, feeling at peace, and filled with a deep sense of belonging.
I laid there for ages, taking in each twinkle the stars gifted me, and with each meteor that sliced the black sky, and with each, I said a prayer and thanked the animate force that’s in all life. Eventually, the stars blurred and my eyes grew heavy. Before retiring into the confines of my 4-season tent, I covered my dwindling fire with a campfire defender cloth to keep the coals alive. I retreated into my -15 sleeping bag and let the sounds of the howling winds, the creaking trees, and the singing coyotes loll me into a peaceful sleep.
In the morning, it wasn’t the wind that woke me, nor a winter storm, but the snorting of a large creature outside the walls of my tent. I had missed the sunrise and cursed myself for it. The sun streamed in through the aspens and flooded my tent with a golden light that illuminated the silhouette of a huge, mammoth moose. His wide antlers were tremendous, and with each turn of his head they seemed to grow and elongate against the fabric of my tent. I feared he might trample me, but fear was overcome by curiosity and awe. I sat still, listening to his grunts, snorts and call until my eyes watered with the beauty of simply being near something so wonderful, powerful and enchanting.
The natural world is the most beautiful and powerful thing we have in this world, and even though humans have made an unconscious attempt at rivaling her, Mother Nature persists and will always persist, with or without us. Through the experience of fighting through the snowy mountains, experiencing the clear night sky at elevation, and being mere feet from something as miraculous and impressive as a bull moose. I am filled with wonder, that quickly turned to sadness, as I wonder if this place will be here next year, and the year after that. And the year after that…
(Main photo by antrover via Flickr)