We accepted a new job:
To visit places that others fought passionately and successfully to preserve.
Explore them, admire them, give thanks.
Push ourselves daily
Then eat ravenously and hope to clean up before dark.
Collapse in our cozy tent bed and sleep blissfully in the outdoor air.
Perform minor feats that sound heroic:
1. Cross streams.
Balance along dead trees, still or shaky, solid or covertly rotten.
Ford a Wyoming river up to our chest, boots and packs overhead, while current pulls us its own way.
Bushwhack-slog through a Colorado bog.
Hop rocks, placed by nature or by a careful fore-hiker.
Skip across stalwart Montana wooden bridges fit for oxen.
2. Scale peaks.
Climb non-slick Utah slickrock once undersea,
Strewn boulders or endless loose broken slate of former mountains,
Grabbing a rock handhold, or the occasional carefully placed cliffside chain.
Step over lichen-covered boulders — spotted orange, green, yellow, black — in relentless sun,On hard-trodden dirt, or shady cushy pine needle paths.
3. Ponder time.
Gawk at blackish middle-earth gneiss schist,
Improbable looming arches and windows, eroded spires, hoodoos — swirling, slanting, mysterious.
Explore white-rimmed downcast canyon edges, dolomitic crags, crumbling sandstone,
Red, orange, gray, black, blue, even purple.
Don’t step on the biological soil crust, working the long game, beautiful in its utilitarian ugliness.
4. Meet water.
Hear wild rushing snowmelt: from my tent at 2am: is that a roaring creek or O’Hare runway?
Paddle glassy lakes soon morphed into crazy whitecaps;
Powerful but sleepy rivers perfect for backward sleeping floating.
Portage your bright yellow boats through the woods.
Bathe in the icy water if you dare (one of us will, the other refuses).
5. Drive roads.
Notice the shape and movement of clouds;
Big open expanses of wheat fields, sunflowers, irrigated crop circles, or nothing at all.
Travel boring highways and twisting canyon roads, a million-dollar Colorado highway with no guard rails;
Bumpy dusty unpaved roads.
Honor the truck that makes it all possible.
6. Other duties, as needed.
Feel and embrace whatever weather you have.
Hand-grind the coffee, hang the hammock, suspend the perfect tarp overhang.
Be bear aware: everything smells to a bear—please toss your Grand Teton dishwater in the toilet.
Shower outside thoroughly but carefully without full privacy.
Smile and celebrate the happiness you see in almost every hiker’s face.
Compare trail notes like 19th century explorers.
Muse long and lovingly about family and friends.
For short bouts, forget the strange noisy old man across the continent.
Love each other more than ever.