(Again, to the other writers, feel free to write over this post.)
Sooner or later I need to get back to the important business at hand, writing about these annoying pests who write stupid regulations whose only purpose is to create super-awareness of a virus not even proven to exist. These are the ones who have littered our entire landscape with plexiglass and signs and pictures of footsteps and warnings to stay away from one another. What was Dante’s ninth level of hell – to be frozen in the center of a lake, unable to move? That seems a good punishment for these officious morons. I urge everyone to do what I have done, to take their idiotic signs, when opportunity allows, to the nearest john, depositing them in the waiting toilet water. Better yet, do so in a vault toilet where there are warnings about how difficult it is to remove trash. That would be perhaps Dante’s fourth level, a perpetual punishment of removing trash from vault toilets. Even this is too good for these medical Nazis. (In Big Sky, Montana, at a public picnic area, when we left there was a social distancing sign greeting the next user of the public restroom. It was too big for the toilet, so I had to put the stick end in and leave it, best available option.)
I need to get this out of my system, as it is minor. It is an early childhood experience that left a memory. As we go through life we accumulate these memories and store them, but there is little order or coherence. Memories are often wrong or misplaced.
I am one of four brothers, the youngest. We are Tom, Steve, Joe and me. Now it is just me. This memory must be important, as so much of my life that followed was dedicated to simply walking, carrying bare necessities, in wild lands. The urge to get into wild lands has been so strong that I have to believe that it, second only to my love for my spouse, is a driving force. It is a deep urge, to be a human in touch with nature. It requires abandonment of comfort but provides delightful side attractions.
This was perhaps 1960 or so. Our Uncle Ed had a cabin (nicer than the house we lived in) near Silver Gate, Montana. We were invited to stay there on occasion. I do not remember being at the cabin, waking up that morning, or how we got to the trailhead, but the four of us hiked to a place called Lady of the Lake.
Several weeks ago when we had our grandson with us we traveled up Lulu pass, a dirt road that leads back into the area once called New World Mining District. My objective was to find some tailings from the abandoned mines, as they often contain copper pyrite, known as fool’s gold. Fortunately, and at huge public expense, the area has been reclaimed, and pyrite only rarely turns up anymore. I ended up buying the boy a chunk from a store in Cooke City.
On that trip up Lulu we pulled off the road to a small parking lot and a large sign that said, to my surprise, Lady of the Lake trailhead. We did not have time that day, but I wanted to make that short two-mile hike once again. We did so on our recent trip.
I have only two memories of that day sixty years ago. One was a flat section of the trail. We walked oldest to youngest, so I was last in line. In that flat section as I looked ahead I saw my three brothers, each wearing a heavy sweatshirt, the back of each covered with mosquitoes. I had little hope of recreating the memory, but as we walked indeed for a brief section the trail did flatten out and could see blue sky above the tree line. I instinctively knew that this was the place that created the memory. There was nothing else like it on the entire trail.
At that moment I was overcome by sadness. I miss my brothers. We were not an unusually close-knit family, as there were large age differences between us, two prewar, two post. But they were my brothers, and they have all died, Tom and Steve as I sat bedside, one month apart in 2011. Indeed, that was the spot in the trail, and it produced an unexpected bout of grief.
The second memory was Lady of the Lake. The end of the trail opens up to a large meadow with grasses and wild flowers. Again, the memory is accurately preserved. Because Lady of the Lake is now inside the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, there has been no development over the last sixty years. It has not changed, at least as preserved in the eyes of a ten-year old boy.
If ever you are in Gardiner, Montana, there is a building near the Roosevelt Arch that houses Yellowstone Forever, a group that is dedicated to preservation of Yellowstone in its natural state. Maybe it was the 1870 Washburn Expedition, maybe later, that photographs were taken of various place in what is now Yellowstone. Some enterprising soul took those photos and went to the exact places and took the exact same photos again. They hang side-by-side in a side room inside the store. It is amazing how little the landscape has changed, for instance, a tree growing on a tiny island in the middle of a stream, virtually unchanged in over 100 years.
When I say Lady of the Lake has not changed in 60 years, I mean just that. As I came off the trail and into the meadow beyond which lay the lake, a rush on the senses is preserved now as then.
I am thankful again for wilderness, a place where humans ourselves are visitors who do not remain.