Big spaces lead to big ideas. Another two hundred pound log is foisted on the fire, a shower of orange swirls up, banging into the stars. The vision is bigger here because it is a land unimpeded. Every fire burns and every river carves boulders. Our minds were made for this.
The white sand hues to pink in the firelight as a dog wallows into its relative softness. Spikes in his fur stick up, for it is wet. As the sun dipped below the horizon, he shook out the deep green still water and the aerated gin clear water that slid effortlessly over channels of granite. His proximity to firelight and humans is an incredibly old and durable bargain. We’re in it together until our mutual end.
It takes an effort to look through the urgency of work in front of you and choose to break away to drive and hike the long journey up a river where your friends will be. It is not the endless toils that you remember; they merely pay for the things that you do remember. These friends are situated in the bosom of wilderness; shedding the accustomed overlay of contemporary life for that of simply being human. Moving along in a band of fellow creatures. Our Pleistocene selves are down in there somewhere, along with all of the vulnerabilities, fears, heightened senses and free time that accompany such a pure status.
The gulf between ourselves and wilderness can be swapped out for the gulf between the ceaselessly sliding river and your back against a log, staring into a campfire. In the daylight, the spectrum of color moves from cream colored sand underfoot, clear water flowing over white metamorphose, green deep water eddying about continual mysteries, dark green wall of forest opposite bank and Bitteroot blue sky washing up out of Ponderosa treetops. In the night- in the moonlight, the mystery is all that matters. The definition of the landscape is at once nostalgic and unanswerable.
I nearly step on a juvenile rattlesnake as it slides from under my clumsy feet and rolls down the bank, its small rattle buzzing indignantly. This is what we take from wilderness. Sometimes it reminds you that there are threats out there. Sometimes it just bangs you up. But every time, it gives you a true measure of what it means to be a human walking the earth. We are not a species that thrives in an environment free from danger. We are a species that is meant to pushed against all of the contours of the planet.