Wind River Fall

A summer has passed through the Wind River mountains once more, and the wind’s gone cold. Out of the field again, I’ve gained nothing more material than a good solid stink, but this trip in particular got the wheels turning once more. How to live the good life? Where’s the satisfaction to be found? Am I living by fear or am I injecting the necessary energy to keep the real ball rolling?

Invented on this last course, in collaboration with J. Spaulding, is the concept of the Anablog:

An·a·blog /ˈanablôg/ Noun: Blogging by use of analog technologies. Verb: To record on paper opinions, information, etc. on a regular basis. Journal.

The following is Anablog #2, as numbered on paper.

As I walk through the pre-dawn darkness by headlamp, my light begins to catch on the reflective tabs on student tents which, though they plan to leave before us, are for some reason still standing.  I’m carrying all of my possessions in the bag on by back, and I greet them with a “Good morning, gentlemen” as I pass.  As an afterthought I add:  “If my memory serves me, today is the first day of Fall.”

“Feels like it”, one of them responds through the frosty dark, though I can’t quite tell who.

As I walk on towards the kitchen, where Gabo is preparing water for coffee and for the morning maté ritual, I think about the absurdity of what I’ve just said.  Fall doesn’t come at once, but as a slow and rolling tide punctuated by occasional rapid advances.  Though the nights are now longer than the days, it was last week that the crowberry turned yellow, earlier still that the blueberry bushes purpled, and the lupine have been standing at seed for weeks.  The calendar says that Fall has just begun, while the golden quaking aspens disagree– more like halfway to Winter here.

Over breakfast, we watch the sun rise like the pagans we must be here.  Like Anasazi ruins, our kitchen was placed to catch the morning solstice sun, which came at 7:09 over the Eastern hills, first painting the spruce behind us a rosy pink before warming our faces and then our cores.  We discuss the invention of the calendar; how ancient cultures must have had men who watched the sun, how the solar standstills when the sun reversed its track from south to north and back again could form a quartered calendar, how being able to mark and know one day each year would let you count stone-after-stone the days of the year.  This was a task reserved for the few wise diviners of the stars, whose power and influence must have come from the ability to predict with certainty some events in an otherwise unpredictable world.

But the men and women working the fields grew their own calendar, and knew the natural signs and stages that were the harbingers of their growing seasons.  How well did the wise sun-watchers know the calendar of leaves and roots and blossoms?

Time passes.  Now we’re walking the Old Glacier Trail.  As we walk, an elk is bugling in the woods below.  We’re high above, surrounded only by scree and bunchgrass, and the elk’s call filters up through the wind first as a faint whistle, and then through the calm as an echoing, mournful cry.  Jared say that it’s practically tradition for him to be ushered off by such a call, and it seems right– a kind of lonely seeking that is the voice of a world moving likewise onwards.

Here, above the pines, the path is braided like a glacial river, splitting and rejoining where the path was once flooded, or where a stream claimed dominion over a straightaway.  Each split and each reunion is a track, a story left on the ground.  On the hill we’ve just climbed, the trail splits five-wide, the mark of one cowboy’s Wind River story in this June’s high snowpack.  Clayton Voss is his name and his camp lies at the convergence of Dinwoody Creek with the Downs Fork.  He’s a horsepacker who makes his way, and has for many years, by ferrying folks around the east side of the Northern Wind Rivers.

As we walked through hip-deep snow in early July, he and his hired help were digging out the glacier trail at Double Lake, trying to push the horses in further to finally make camp.  He and his family rely on the summer season to support themselves– he’s never been later to make his camp than in this year’s high snows.  Riding in time after time, he and his led their mules around the nearest snow-free ground on this pass, and each week as the snow melted the cut another braid.  Five weeks of digging and hauling, written there on the ground like a single bar of sheet music, noteless.

The cold Fall wind dies off as we round the hill, heading East.  Here the path is a single braid, sometimes wider or less so.  It traces across glades, past scraggly white pines and through woods dense with deadfall.  A switchback cuts an open hill above sandstone cliffs, and twenty more lead down to the river.  Wading accross, the cool water makes my boots heavy, but it’s a welcome feeling.  Leaving wet footprints up the far bank, we’ve crossed an invisible line back from the margins to the center.

The next morning, the tent is covered in a sparkling frost.  Orion is still high in sky.

It will be winter soon.

Category: Adventures, Travel, & Writing


  1. Patrick, you weave a pretty web of words. This post made me feel like I was walking right along with you in the morning as you passed the tents and sitting there drinking mate in the early sun. All that is left to say is thank you for sharing your writing.

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