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THE DREAMING SEASON

two weeks of quiet

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Pt. 1

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Pt. 2

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Pt. 3

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Pt. 4

3/6

Any search for winter is also a search for death. We want to taunt it, and deny it, but those are also excuses for seeking its proximity. Winter sports are generally adrenaline sports: they synthesize great danger, while minimizing the consequences over the softness of snow. What we’re doing is not taunting death but setting ourselves, in slow motion, against a stark reality. Ours’ is a grueling and belabored performance of tasks necessary to survival. By carrying on through cold and dark, and grimly guarding our spark, we know life again as a fragile and precious thing.

Winter is not death alone. Life and light are found more radiantly there than anywhere. Only in the winter is the intensity of ambient light liable to blind you. Only there can a glance at the ground offer a complete record of every terrestrial species that crossed a meadow an hour or day before you. There may be less, but we can see more in it.

This is different from a summer trip. We are going to get somewhere. We need to get there. We’re not just passing time; we can’t. All our waking hours and energies go toward our destination. We have one speed: it’s the best we can manage. Meanwhile, small surprises throw us. There is ice on the bottom of the sled. Snow on our climbing skins. The weather blinds us. Through mazes of regenerating pine, we hold on to the trail like a lifeline. Nevermind, the signs are all buried: we proceed on faith alone. We are easily lost. And none of the gear holds up in the long run. The rubber is cracking on my boots. Ice crystals grow larger inside the sleeping bag each night. The straps and buckles are all frozen, it’s steadily getting worse. Our skin is swelling and scabbing. Jen’s toe is probably frost bit. Disaster lives in all directions.

We do it for the incomparable images and forms, light and purity, beauty. Life was not meant to see this place, this weather, this clearing of the slate. But among the burnt black boles of forest fires, the sense in which this season prepares the world for more life is clear.

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Pt. 5

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We spent the last six days in the Teton Wilderness. Here are a few snapshots: losing the trail over twenty miles from the trailhead. It reminded me too much of last year when hiking in to visit the trail crew I was lost for 4 hours in that unintuitive landscape of gentle folds, thick spruce, and skeletal ’88 burns: that day I was on my feet for near 35 miles. This time it was snowing and we had no tent. We continued and the jumble took form again; we could read it, we found our meadow. / At The Parting of the Waters, the bed of North Two Ocean Creek flows right down the Continental Divide before splitting into Atlantic and Pacific creeks: here, a fish could swim up the Mississippi drainage and out the Columbia. / A long tailed weasel, changing colors into winter-white ermine and looking splotchy blonde, came right up to stare at us before maniacally scampering on. We saw no other humans that day. / Hawk’s Rest is the common formed where two tremendous river valleys meet: the upper Yellowstone and Thorofare Creek. We stayed two nights in the ranger station, site of many stories, we ate pancakes and poked around great willow flats in falling snow and wondered if we’d be able to leave or if the snow would just keep falling. The most remote spot in the lower 48 is, notoriously, a couple miles away. / Beaver dams make excellent bridges across swampy meadows. We used three. They were helpful but rarely have I wanted, so badly, to stay.

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