Returning to the world.

Forgive me. It’s been almost three weeks since my last post which is a record. I’ve kind of let myself go on a lot of levels since Cam died, including eating somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty pounds of chocolate and sugar in various combinations…which I admit I thoroughly enjoyed but in a probably perverse way.  Still, sometimes you need to stop doing everything and just float for a while.  Let the wind blow you around.  Drift. Rest. Think. Remember. Digest.

There’s much to digest here.

But this morning I feel myself returning to the world again, both figuratively and physically.  The hubster and I spent nine days out of the last twelve running away to the wilderness every chance we got and there’s nothing quite like getting out on the water surrounded by snow capped peaks, and paddling for miles and miles and miles to help rebuild a crumbling perspective.

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I think everyone develops their own way of finding a path back to that feeling of home at their center when they’ve become lost…prayer, meditation, service, gardening, cleaning house, work, family, friends, community, etc.

For the me the way back has always involved the silence and deep mystery of the natural world. It’s where I instinctively turned as a child for congregation and confessional and where I’ve returned ever since, especially when a wound needs tending.  The stars and storms, mountains and forests, wind and waters have a way of taking the torn, raggedy edges from any injury and pulling them gently back together again, giving them a chance to meet and knit and eventually scar over.

The hubster loves the wilderness, too, only for slightly different reasons.  He feels the silence, too, and needs it as much as I do, but his nature is more wild than mine, or at least wild in a different way.  Where I crave the wonder and mystery of vast and ancient forces, he’s after all the grand adventures that wilderness provides, and over time he’s taught me a little of that particular joy he finds in throwing himself, over and over, against inclement everything…weather, conditions, terrain, the absence of any kind of safety precautions.

Looking back I have to both laugh and shake my head at some of the stupid, stupid, STUPID things we’ve done over the years. The hubster is naturally fearless and impatient of anything that stinks of planning…which I, on the other hand, tend to be a little obsessive about. (My basic nature exacerbated by the depression.)  But he was always so irresistibly charming and relentlessly persuasive that I followed him anyway, over and over again, into situations that were way over my head.  Often over his head, too, but then he loves that.

But since we were lucky and actually survived it all, I now have a treasure cache inside me of memories when I followed him blindly through the labyrinth of all my clamoring terrors to emerge in breathtaking places of grace that were magical and impossible, as if I’d flown there.

My God. I shudder to think what the darkest years of the depression would have done to me without him there to drag me along behind on his adventures, bumping and pointing out every last, little, innocuous threat along the way. I’m pretty sure I would have ended up as a shut-in. It’s really too bad that the man can’t be bottled.

I owe him much, this beloved husband of mine.

Happy anniversary sweetheart and thanks for our continuing grand adventure together. I do so love you.

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It’s Still Wilderness Without The Crowds

Okay.  Time to post, no matter what.  I’m being distracted by travel, spring gardening, a writing project, a new hobby, the intense gurgling coming from our dog’s stomach, lint on my pajamas, insecurity…you name it.  I published a post last week, left it up for about four hours, then took it private again because of my old friend, the obsession about Will it offend somebody?  I can handle obsessing about the quality of my writing, I’ve got some protocols in place to keep that one on leash.  But my fear of offending some unsuspecting, trusting reader out there is a lot more savage and last week it leapt out of nowhere and just mauled me.

Which makes it about two weeks without a post, so this…my friends…is gonna be it.  (And probably safe and bland as well.)  Here we go.

We escaped to the Sawtooth mountains again last weekend for some long, gruelling snowshoes through the shitty conditions that always exist up there in April.  It was like seasonal dawn…a transition between stable states.  It wasn’t exactly winter anymore but not full spring yet either.  There was a lot of major snowpack melting down at the rate of a foot a day with all the resulting soft snow and slush, puddles and rivulets, marsh and mud.

This is what it looked like on the first day:

And this is what it looked like two days later:

Who knew snow could melt that fast?  We were amazed.

The great thing about that much mess though, is that nobody else wants to be up there.  The snow is worthless for snowmobiling or cross country skiing, and the area is still too wet and cold for the hikers, backpackers, and river-runners that turn up in droves during summer.  Hunters can’t hunt, ranchers can’t graze their cows yet, and no one can drive off the pavement and not get stuck in the mud, no matter how good their four-wheel drive is.

Actually, I take that back…the Fishing People were already in the valley, which surprised me.  They’re apparently even crazier than we are when it comes to non-deterrence from muddy, boot-sucking conditions and we saw a few of their camping caravans set up in places where the river bends up near the highway.  I wondered at it considering that the Salmon River is swollen, turbulent, and loud with all the snowmelt right now.  I’m not expert but are those really decent fishing conditions?  Or were the Fishing People just fed up with winter and willing to pretend for a while…just to tide them over until the fish really do show up?

Perhaps they were just practicing becoming one with the river.  I’ve heard that’s a big part of fishing, too.

In any case, we had the entire mesa to ourselves, although a neighboring, palatial home owned by a rich doctor from Wisconsin had left a light on again…which drives me absolutely nuts.  I mean, a security light?  Really?  Like…what?  Robbers are going to strap on their snowshoes and trudge two miles uphill to carry off their big screen TV in a backpack?

I really struggle with things like this.

There’s an interesting dynamic going on in the valley where the family cabin has sat for decades.  The Stanley Valley (webcam link) is a relatively poor region mainly populated by ranchers, forest service employees, and a few scrappy souls who eke a living out of the brief but intense summer recreational tourist trade.

It also lies one easy mountain pass away from the extraordinarily wealthy town of Sun Valley, part-time home to Hollywood celebrities, a smattering of billionaires, and an internationally reknowned ski resort.  Over the last decade or so, a lot of that money started pouring over the hill into the Stanley valley, mainly in the form of real estate purchases and second homes/mansions.  This has driven local property values way up creating a serious problem for the less financially-fortunate natives watching their property taxes climb into the rarified air of pretty-much-unaffordable.

With this as our backdrop, now imagine a large mesa perched about halfway down the  valley where the humble family cabin sat in relative isolation for decades.  It served as home base for the hubster’s mother, one of the first nurse practitioners in the state of Idaho who founded and then ran the small, rural medical clinic in Stanley for twenty-five years.  She was a tough old bird even when she was young, on call 24/7, snowmobiling up and down the hill in an area known for some of the most frigid winters in the continental U.S., hiking the two miles up and down in the mud season when neither car nor snowmobile would work, and deeply beloved by those in the region who wouldn’t have had easy access to medical care otherwise.

Fast forward a few years and now multi-million dollar homes have cropped up all around the cabin, making for some interesting neighborhood dynamics.  Don’t get me wrong, everyone who owns up there is united in their deep and abiding love for the entire valley.  We’re all drawn to the place for the beauty of the mountain wilderness, and every neighbor I’ve met is generous, willing to help, and friendly.

But there are natural differences, too, created by the politics of money, the politics of natives versus second-homers, and the politics of environmental concerns versus property and commercial development.

As I’ve watched the building take place over the years it’s gradually sunk in how strange it is…that these days we human beings love our wilderness so much it makes us want to build our homes and communities right in the middle of it, which then, of course, makes it not really wilderness anymore.  We want to be near wild animals so much that we build on the land they need to survive, or we long for the pristine woodland glade so much that we blast a road through the rest of the virgin forest to get there.

It seems so irrational and yet so deeply human, too, to love something so much that we’ll actually harm it to have it.  Like small children hugging a puppy to death, our deep, instinctual need for the beauty, silence, and healing of true wilderness is leading us to damage and even destroy it when that’s the last thing in the world we want to do.

I don’t know what the answer is.  And I have to be careful, too.  Clearly, where the Stanley Valley is concerned, any lofty observations I make about human encroachment are laced with a built-in conflict of interest.  I remember once hearing my eldest brother, a successful real-estate developer around the Pacific Rim, make some acid remarks about how often the first people to move into an area then cite environmental protection as a reason to keep everyone else out.   There’s a lot of truth in that and I feel the sting of it here.  It’s very easy for me, with legacy access, to point fingers at the newbies who only want to do the same thing that we did, only first.

So these days I just try and go up when it still feels most like wilderness to me; i.e. when nobody else is around.  When the silence is still deep enough to catch the faint sound of the river rising up from the valley below, or when the night is still dark enough to see the stars twinkling and shooting outside the window as I lie there in bed for hours staring, unable to go to sleep for the wonder of it all.

That’s why the hubster and I both actually love the shitty April conditions, and why it’s totally worth it for us, hauling a forty pound pack on our backs, uphill, in the dark, through slushy snow and mud to get there.  Just because nobody else is nuts enough to do it.

Except for those Fishing People, but that’s okay.  They’ll never leave the river.

copyright Dia Osborn 2012

There and Back Again

Hi!  We’re back from our Thanksgiving adventure up in the Sawtooth Mountain range and I wanted to do a quick pictorial tour of our journey there and back again.  John of Going Gently once did a post with a pictorial tour of his village in Northern Wales, and it was such a great idea it inspired other bloggers to explore their towns, take photographs, and set up virtual tours of their own.  It was fascinating to me, exploring different geographical regions with their histories, through the eyes of the people who live there and love them.  While the town that I live in is as rich and worthy of exploration as any, I’m afraid my deepest affection is reserved for the natural world.  So I thought I’d put together a little photo tour of our journey up to the family cabin and back instead.

Here are some winter photos of the Sawtooth Mountains, Highway 21, the Lowman to Banks highway, and Highway 55 down into Boise, Idaho.

A succession of winter storms passing down the mountain range the day after we arrived.

A shot through the window during the cold snap (-25 degrees Fahrenheit)

The first blush of dawn on the morning we were leaving.

…the blush deepening…

First rays of sunlight hitting the peaks.

And finally, morning has broken.

This is where I really wish I was a better photographer…as the rising sun hit the landscape, it’s reflection off the snow caused a brilliant, sparkling effect.  Everything looked like it was embedded with diamonds.  It was magical and breathtaking.  This photo falls sadly flat by comparison but at least it gives you an opportunity to exercise your imagination.

This is the beginning of the three hour drive home on winding mountain roads with patchy snow and ice.  We came home a day early to try and beat the next winter storm (which would have closed this pass completely.)  Here are some lovely winter scenes along the way.

The creek which flows along the highway and eventually feeds into the Payette River.

A waterfall which flash froze during the cold snap.

Most of the highways through the mountains around here were built over the original dirt logging roads.  Here’s a spot where, years ago, the road builders blasted away a huge part of the rock during construction.  It’s always amazing to me how nature takes these wounds and, over time, creates a new beauty.

There’s a significant amount of geothermal activity throughout the northern tier of mountain states and Kirkham Hot Springs, here, is just one of many, many hot springs to be found.  The heated water bubbles up out of the ground through springs on the mountainside above the river, then forms into small streams that eventually cascade down in numerous waterfalls here.  It’s a popular spot all year round.  If you look very closely you can see a couple of tiny, half-naked people in the far right of the photo.

The mountainside in the background was devastated by a major fire about seventeen years ago and the pine trees are just starting to grow back now.  The story of the fire is an interesting one.  We get a LOT of  big motor homes lumbering around on the two lane roads through the mountains and they’re generally pretty slow.  They’re supposed to pull over and let others pass if they get five or more vehicles following but sometimes the drivers can be stubborn.  In this case it was a retired man (with wife) from out of state who refused to pull over.  The line of cars behind him had gotten really long which inspired some honking and general annoyance but he steadfastly ignored them all.  Then, one of the double back tires blew on the fifth-wheel rig he was towing and the metal rim of the wheel started a stream of sparking as it rolled along the asphalt.  The driver however was somehow unaware of the problem.  (Perhaps he was so busy infuriating the people behind him he didn’t notice his rig was pulling heavily to the right.)  It was the height of summer and the sparks flew off into the dry brush along the roadway and started fires everywhere they fell.  The traffic behind him  went nuts, honking and yelling and trying to pass him on dangerous turns to get in front of him, but he just wouldn’t stop.  In the end he went for something like eight miles before they finally managed to pull him over.  The fires he set off were catastrophic and devastated hundreds of miles of forest.

I wanted to get a picture of the deep, river gorge that runs parallel to the road here but this is as close to the edge I dared get.  Right past the snow at the bottom of the photo is a cliff with a thousand foot tumble down into never-never land so I opted for caution over a fabulous photo op.

Coming up on the left is the Dragon’s Spine, a series of  rock formations coming down the mountainside that look like plates on the back of a gigantic stegosaurus.

Closer…

…and closer…

…and here’s the top of the Dragon’s head.

The cliff at the right is where the Dragon’s head comes down to meet the Payette River and you can see how the water has frozen over where the bend slows the flow.  (Not the greatest camera so not the greatest photos but it’s the best I could do.  Sorry!)

And lastly, here’s the Thunder Mountain train.  It’s running on tracks that are part of the old railway system the timber companies built through the mountains to export the felled trees.  There used to be accidents where trains would go off the rails and dump their loads into the river, creating massive log jams.  The only trains that run here anymore though belong to the Thunder Mountain Line, a tourist affair serving either dinner, or wine and cheese, depending on the time of day.

That’s it for today.  I hope you’re all having a fabulous weekend!

copyright Dia Osborn 2010