The first epic walkabout of the summer was up Grizzly, in the shadow of two of the nearby fourteeners. Here, beyond the mine ruins and four by four tracks we wandered out into the outback, the Backcountry, the wilderness. A realm of profound silences and unspoiled expanse.
I told my daughter that philosophically I am still very much a Buddhist, despite the heresies. Yet, as the years in mountains and the distance of the walkabouts increase, I find my theology, if it can even be called that, more in line with that of John Muir and Edward Abbey. Their writings becoming more gospels than the sutras. And I quoted from the book of Desert Solitare;
"I dream of a hard and brutal mysticism in which the naked self merges with the nonhuman world and somehow survives...Paradox and bedrock."
"You're just crazy-scary mountain man, Dad," my daughter said. "But you've been everything at one point or another."
"Crazy?!? Me?!? My dear, I'm amongst the sanest cats I know," I said. My daughter just smirked and patted my shoulder.
"Of course you are."
Both the mountains and deserts fascinate me; both environments being portraits of extremes. It is within the high bosom of a great mountain chain I have found home and myriads of adventure. Although, I ache for the lifespan of a star, so I may explore both landscapes throughly, and then perhaps the rest of the cosmos. I told Sabina's mother once I was going to live to at least one-hundred twenty, and then seeing about going beyond that.
So far, so good...
I promised Sabina an exploration of ruins we spied along our trek if we could spend some time in gulch at the foot of the great peaks. Despite my archaeological intrigues, I find when I go on walkabout, I prefer to Hansel and Gretel amongst the wildflowers and rocks and aspens. She likes the ruins and has several books on the subject. The mining history of our Sahel fascinates her, which is almost comical, given my position on the board of our local historical society.
"You two monkeys just wanted to go climbing," Sabina teased when she caught my daughter and I scrabbling up a rock face, Whistler whining plaintively after us because he could not follow.
"And?" I called back to her, as though that answered everything. Perhaps it did.
I perched in the sun on top of the great rock, spying thousands of potential campsites and places to explore in that stretch of borderlands between the tundra and montane. The scope of the sky was humbling and the landscape seductive. These days, the outback of the Backcountry are my badlands, which are quite different from the ones I cut my teeth upon down below, and somewhere I have no desperate desire to escape from. Here, the Divine speaks in incorporeal voices with the tongues of the wind and rain, raven and rock, pika and river, tree and snow. If you listen, you can hear these whispered riddles that can take lifetimes to solve, but are never fully answered.
True to my word, we explored ruins that appeared to be from a more recent era than the antiquity of the mining days. Perhaps a half-century or a little more. Still, Sabina and my daughter clambered about every abandon structure the could reach, Sabina telling my daughter what various pieces of equipment were for. There was talk of looking up the mine's history in a borrowed book for further details. In the meantime, Whistler and I followed the course of a river, finding flat places to relax.
Epic walkabouts mean epic meals; grilled leg of lamb and potatoes. Wine and recounting the day. Loose talk of the next great adventure. That good kind of sore and exhaustion that comes with epic miles of wandering and exploration. It reminds you that you are, indeed, alive, which is always a wonderful sensation to have.