A continuaton, in sterling silver.
A continuaton, in sterling silver.
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”
[On The Road :: Kerouac]
This ring, specifically, features an American bison skull, complete with textured horn sheaths, with a stalk of prairie grass growing up to split bone in two.
The prairie always takes back her own.
The higher I walk in the mountains, the thinner the air, the stronger the sun, the colder the wind, the sharper the stone. All the thinness, strength, coldness and sharpness rub up against me like a blade on a grindstone and I’m sure my surface wears away until I am a strolling core, a vaporous center, a balanced twig teetering on the fork of my thin legs — a wispy soul-shaped thing they call the spirit. A slim, wavering sunbeam on rickety grasses and green waters; as eternal and finite as any living thing.
I’m a gold gleaner.
I want to scoop the world up in two hands and press it to the smooth slopes of my face. Wash my eyes and cheeks in the purity of chroma before I step forth into a religious rite. This land is my cloak. I wear the wind draped over narrow shoulders and the wildflower bones are a belt about my waist.
This is a clean place. I want to be clean, too. Rubbed free of my rust and brokenness so as to meet with God in a high place in my most natural state.
I reach out and run my fingertips along the mustard yellow feathers of the tamarack; the trees are fledging out of their own skin, made jumpy by their own wild displays of color. Each leaf that drops, each needle turning to duff on the forest floor rings like a bell on impact. The forest is a choir. I know the words to the song by heart. I sing along. My voice bears wings, one thousand wings, and on each wing tip, a steady flame.
Down on the water I catch fish, tease them with the long loops of my line, flick tiny bugs at them until they bite. I bring them to my cold, chapped hands, carefully slip hooks from their lips and marvel at the way their wet skin reflects sky, stone, tree and my own bright eyes, drunk on seeing deeply in this empty space.
I don’t sleep, not until the edges of dawn fill the sky. It’s always like that in the backcountry — sleeplessness and cold, no matter how fatigued I am, even if I have good company I struggle to sleep. The space and quiet, the lack of beeping messages, blinking lights and glowing screens, the lack of pressure, the lack of sound sends my body into gentle shock. I have grown away from quietude, fallen under the spell of a gurgling, technological brew that simmers my mind and soul down to paste and ash.
When I am out, out in this space, I begin to rise once more. There are three stars in my belt. A bow in my left hand and arrows in my right. Two wings on my back to navigate these wild currents. My upturned face holds the sun for one eye and the moon for the other.
In the night, Farley is beside me, the curving line of his back warms me through the baffled wall of my sleeping bag. Tater Tot is beside him, still as stone, hard asleep. We make our bed, the three of us, in a 3x1ft patch of flat at the base of a talus field above a lake. Becca’s bed is much the same only she looks lovely in her tidy little bivy — a swaddling of technical fabrics, zippers and lofty encasements. I am my usual junk show, bedded down in the dirt like an animal on a thermarest that won’t hold air, in a rickety down sleeping bag under a haphazard tarp I cast over the reckless pile of dogs and girl to keep the dew at bay.
I lay awake there, in the inexhaustible and unsleeping black of the night, I see the conical forms of sub-alpine fir framing the sky above us, moonless and resplendent, juicy with the milky way. I watch the constellations spin forth in the dark; the dippers, pegasus, cassiopeia in recline, andromeda and orion. A bright, shuffling universe is a breath away, I exhale upon it, blow my ancient dust upward, somewhere the butterflies are stirring up hurricanes and my breathing is stoking a supernova into hot bliss.
I toss and I turn. I bend my knees and lean them against a boulder. I roll onto my side, press my hip bone into a divot and lay that way until my legs begin to ache. I flip onto my stomach, carefully open the valve of my thermarest and puff air into it, marginally decreasing my discomfort. I turn over onto my back once more. I tuck my hands beneath my hips to cushion the the press of my bones against the earth. I sigh. The dogs shuffle and paw at their wild dreams, burping, woofing, chasing and whining their way through the uncomplicated canine subconscious. All the while, eloquent stars deliver speeches in a blue language with silver tongues and I listen with a whole but tired heart, eager to know better the secrets of the universe. I want to retrieve my small green journal and pen, to flip on my headlamp and record some of these thoughts, but it is too cold, or I worry I will be sacrificing the next moment sleep might come creeping into the vaulted spaces of my busy mind, or I worry the thoughts aren’t worth recording. But this is the writing life. Everything is worth writing down. One can never tell until it’s all down on paper and left to age for a spell like meat in a smokehouse the quality of the blend, the depth of the thought, the beauty of the parabolic nature of a phrase. I lay in the dark and neurotically repeat poetic syntax that come to mind, hoping the words will hold with me until morning when I can scratch them down on paper while I sip my coffee.
The stars continue spinning. The nigh lasts and lasts.
Eventually the dawn drifts in lazily like a boat on a slow current and I dip into sleep in the arms of the coming light. I wake, momentarily, to see a the sky in a pink rage against granitic peaks. I doze off once more. When I finally wake up, fully, I mutter the word coffee to Becca, she mutters the same word back at me and so the day begins with the hiss and spark of two small stoves, the gurgle of boiling water and the scent of a hot brown liquid that will open our eyes and launch us into our day.
I sit down with my hot brew on a sloping stone over an emerald lake under a turquoise sky and I write this short string of words in my small green book, ”All I have to do today is feed myself, walk for a while, fish, take photographs and love my way through the Sawtooths. There’s only grace for me today, my own and that of the mountains.“
I look down at the water below me, calm in the brilliant face of morning, watch the adolescent chatter of minnows at the lake edge, swallow the last drop of coffee in my cooking cup, pick up my fly rod, tie on a dry fly and scramble down to the water to see if I can coax something sterling and miraculous to the surface, and eventually to hand.
This is a great basin, a holding place in the heart of a mountain range I adore. Peaks rise up in all directions, silent stones with endless, judging eyes and cold hands to hold the snows, the waters, the deer, the trout; so too am I held in the fairness of this space, like any wild, breathing thing, made beauteous by my own growth and decay, the tidy crumbling of my stone facades under the heat of God’s good gaze.
The higher we walk up the mountain, the more the landscape is reduced to waves of stony texture. The trees fade. All colors turn to shades of grey. The wild flowers shrink away. There is stone, sky and echo. I fling myself at all three. Riccochet. Break in three. Body. Spirit. Mind. I spill forth like talus, entrust myself to the curve of a slope, cling softly to scraps of rugged dirt, wear away in the wind.
I stand above a great stone basin, stand there simply in a frigid breeze, alone but not lonesome, dimished to singularity despite my excellent company. Becca and I brace ourselves against a grey, bird belly sky. We are as tall and delicate as rock at ten thousand feet, trampled and crumbling, resilient wanderers, stalwart survivors, old of soul and cell, young of spirit, reaching out to the sky with hands like tattered ribbons. Beggars. Thieves. Victims of beauty.
Where our hearts wander, our feet follow close behind. We walk that way for a day or a year, obediently trailing the purest versions of ourselves back down into the trees, beside still waters where our souls are restored.