- October 13, 2014
- Posted by Alex Baechle
Note: all citations excerpted from In The Shadow of the Sabertooth by Doug Peacock unless otherwise noted
Running on very little sleep. That’s OK, I ain’t driving.
And that’s most of what we’re doing today. Drive, drive, back over the pass on Hwy 2, we waved to Glacier on our left, were briefly confronted with our American past in Browning. Then we turned south for Choteau.
When we got there, and found the ranger station, we received a brief training on how to use these weird Haz-Mat-astronaut respirator suits. Apparently we’ll be cleaning mouse dropping out of a dilapidated cabin. Great. Taken with a grain of humor and a lusty gusto for new experiences, this hitch is beginning to sound… interesting.
After we were photographed looking silly in our space suits, we went to a US Forest Service bunkhouse and got our gear lined out for the packer, Kraig, a 32-year veteran of backcountry ranging in the renowned Bob Marshall wilderness. With the work done and my eyes drooping toward sleep, I made dinner for the crew - pancakes, bacon, and grilled cheese. Beds were available, tomorrow it will be tents and the cold, that’s nice…
Ah, refreshed! What a surprise beginning to this hitch! Yesterday was a trip. We watched “Happy Gilmore” in the bunkhouse, that’s crazy! Now a day later, with most of our gear packed in by Kraig and his mules, we are away from all such distractions, surrounded by the greater luxury of Wilderness – wilderness as it is institutionally ordained, a word to summarily collect a thousand million sensations and interpretations within a delineated geography.
The Bob in Fall, with the aspens yellowing and the smell of change in the air, idyllic streams trickling through a serene forest and all framed by white chalky-looking limestone peaks and crags… J.M. William Turner could have painted this landscape, Coleridge might have sung its essence… this landscape that is to be most missed by those who will never see it, never know it once existed, the totality of nature in its vastness, its incomprehensibleness, its indifference… a place to evolve…
Doug Peacock, grizzly bear man and Montanan faithful, argues in his latest book that the insecurities stirred in the human constitution by wild and untamed places are vital to our survival. He cites Muir, who “believed that natural selection created … his passion for nature … and ‘a natural inherited wildness in our blood.’” Humans have perhaps all but locked themselves out of this wildness within, perhaps have forgotten how to survive apart from civilized conveniences. And I’m no exception.
But with the threat of global warming, and the difficult-to-imagine scope of new challenges that it presents, nothing is safe. The ways of life that we take for granted could be removed in an uncomfortably rapid manner. Within our lifetimes! – glaciers will disappear, sea levels seem likely to rise, and quickly, and climate changes, coupled with our depletion of soil, water, and other indispensable resources (see Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America) could make the massive-scale food production we rely on impossible. In such ways humans have attempted to make nature subservient to us, a reverse of the conditions in which we came to be. But what happens when our hunger for resources outgrows the capacity of the earth to provide for us all? Is our artificial earth upon Earth viable, do we have the means to evolve with all our baggage, through drastic shortfalls to our expected utopias of plenty, past the illusion of infinite expansion?
It is in this context that I consider the significance of wilderness. We hiked through fourteen miles of it today to get to our worksite, a run-down forest service cabin that needs a makeover. We are gonna give it that makeover with the enthusiasm of cheerleader-BFFs…
To be continued…
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