7 July 2008
Up at 5:50 am, I kiss Christina goodbye, strap on my pack, and bike down the Montana Conservation Corps office. We load our rig (Blanco, a gigantic 2001 Ford Excursion (or Ford Extinction, as others call it)). Tools and packs strapped securely to the top, we merge on to I-90, west-bound for Ashton, Idaho, and the Jedediah Smith Wilderness.
The Jedediah Smith Wilderness abuts the back side of the Tetons–between the rocky pinnacle ridges of the Teton range and the Targhee National Forest in Idaho. The wilderness itself is just inside the Wyoming border. Established by Congressional Act in 1984, the “Jed” is an integral part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and home to many a GRIZ.
8 July 2008
Our day is spent hiking, clearing drains, brushing, and removing trees from the trail. Working in a wilderness area, we use two-man crosscut saws, rather than chain saws. Though slower than its motorized counterpart, the two-inch, razor-sharp teeth of the crosscut make light work of even 18″ Douglas Fir stumps.
We’ve seen little wildlife, but they’re here: the prints of a mountain lion and a moose both cover our own in the dusty trail this morning.
A full cadre of mountain wildflowers are in bloom. Today we hike past upland larkspurs (delphinium nuttallianum–poisonous, with spur-shaped stamen), silvery lupine (lupinus argenteus), common yampah, mules-ear wyethia (wyoethia amplexicaulis, the shorter cousins of full-sized sunflowers), and multitudinous little sticky geraniums (geranium viscossimum), with their pink and purple flowers and bright-red veins.
9 July 2008
I think the significance of the Tower of Babel lies not in the confounding of tongues, but rather in the proud guesture of the building of the tower itself. In a sense, one might reduce the whole of human existance to a struggle against gravity. So much of what we do centers on up–on conquering the indomitable force that keeps us all earthbound, humble, human. Viz., sit-ups, pull-ups, push-ups. Viz., climbing mountains, cliffs, ladders. We’re all engaged in a rich struggle to push ourselves up, to pull ourselves up, to climb, to soar. We raise a structure, we build an alter–lifting stones from the ground, raising them further from the epicenter of gravity’s pull.
It’s in this sense that I begin to understand how the building of an alter is a deeply spiritual act. An alter is an accomplishment, and a deeply human act: the act of building up, away from the ground.
One wonders: what possessed the builders of the Tower of Babel to build a structure that would reach the sky? It must have been, as the Bible tells it, hubris: to think that one could reach the sky. Or hubris: building a tower as transfiguration from earth-bound mortal to a god.
It’s hardly surprising that being of or living in the cosmos is always an attribute of a god or diety: for the Greeks and Romans, their gods living in the skies, or on a distant mountain peak. For the Christians and Jews, their god resides in the distance heavens; their “devil” is located deeply in the ground. For Hindus, Rama is a personification of the sun. Among the synonyms for deity is cosmocrat–a supreme and all-powerful rules of the earth, derived from the Greek cosmos + crat. Living in the heavens is as much an attribute of a godhead as omnipotence or omniscience.
10 July 2008
Hiking toward Hidden Lake this early this morning, we happened to encounter a Great Gray Owl, perched on the branch of a dead, bare tree. Seemingly undisturbed by our presence, he gazed at us while we gazed at him–swiveling his head around a full 180 degrees, in typical owl fashion. He let us approach to within 15 feet, cameras in hand (or, in my case, enjoying his presence and tolerance of us meddling humans), before flying off–perhaps in search of some breakfast.
11 July 2008
I–we–live with an excess of energy. We evolved in–and for–the primordial. For a life nasty, brutish and–for the least well-adapted–short. We–like any beast of the field–are animals built for survival, to struggle amongst the terrible vicissitudes of the wilderness.
We–though some are rapidly breeding that way–are not for the city, for feathertop beds with four inch memory-foam, for dinners with four forks, two spoons, three knives and myriad rules, for makeup, day spas, a full array of etiquette, regulations, creature comforts.
There’s too much energy in us, still, which, once recognized, can be readily identified all around us. IN the case of the musician or artist of athlete, this energy–designed for the struggle of the wild–is channeled in one’s passion, bt it music, art or sport.
But for those who lack an artists’ talent or an athlete’s calling, there must be some other outlet. These outlets are many–but too frequently destructive, or self-destructive. The smashing of microwaves, fights with strangers (or lovers), drug or alcohol addiction, senseless and violent wars–all attempts to drown or obfuscate that excess of energy. But never with much success, and too often with much destruction.
The best of these outlets, by far, is Feel is a return to the wilderness, the primordial. To challenge one’s strength and ability and prowess and tenacity and endurance against nature, to live for a time as nature intended, as we evolved to live.
Ed Abbey suggests that wilderness is necessary for civilization. Necessary may be too strong of a word–but complementary, certainly. Complimentary to a restful and complete civilization–one less ravaged by violence, drugs, anger and destructive degeneracy.
12 July 2008
There’s no easy to scribble one’s thoughts on one’s knee. Nevertheless, I’ll attempt it, rather than endure the dim, suffocating confines of the in-of-doors.
Today’s accomplishment: M-Crew (Mark, mark, Justin, Goose) fixed 38 waterbars that D-Crew spent the last four days working hard on but doing wrong. Donna (D-Crew leader) didn’t handle Mark’s (M-Crew leader) criticism of her poorly-constructed waterbars with much grace; she’s not a graceful person.
Yesterday, we cleared 14 trees (making our week’s total 35) owned on the Hidden Lake Trail past Conant Basin.
The trail to past Conant Basin has been particularly beautiful. We’ve climbed high enough (finally) for the trees to thin, giving us breathtaking views of the Northern Teton Range and the Jedeidah Smith Wilderness, as well as the stretching agricultural fields of eastern Idaho, beyond.
As we gain elevation, the mountain flowers change. We leave behind the silverly lupines and larkspur. We walk, instead, into fields of little yellow flowers (perhaps Cliff Anemones?) and huge mountain columbines with white petals, purple sepals and giant, shooting stigmata (bursting with energy, as though a shooting meteorite caught in motion).
13 July 2008
I love the way light blasts through the trees–this morning: tall, limbless lodgepole pines–hiking in to the worksite in the mornings. It’s like the sensation of the afternoon sun through the trees, watching out of a car window–but slower, brighter, more felt–and with the full dewy freshness of early morning.
It’s day seven and we’re cooking dinner and taking showers at the Porcupine Forest Service Guard Station (now just housing for Forest Service Personelle), courtesy of Brandon. Dinner’s ready–Train’s chili–and I’m hungry after a long day of swinging a pick-mattox and hiking.
Tomorrow we work a half day, then pack our tents and head back to civilization for a while. Or, in my case, back to civilization long enough to rent a raft before taking off again.
Photos from our last hitch are available at
http://picasaweb.google.com/tcrompton/WorkingOnTheBitch, courtesy of Tom “Train” Crompton.