Tuesday, 28 November 2017

I Willingly Accept

Walking up the Kokanee River, the surrounding woods hued in the vanishing colors of late fall. Slowly, I  make my way on foot, north and west, moving down wind of the animals inhabiting this valley so that I do not scare them. Symbolic markers of their presence are evident: nibbled twigs on the river flats, day beds in the forest, a month old salmon carcass draped over a rock, lines of tracks criss-crossing the mud. My trajectory is guided neither by map nor hiking trail. I have no plan or itinerary. The direction I follow, the speed of my gait, the distance I travel, whether I linger at one spot or another all depend upon the feelings in my gut. I don't know if I'll walk a mile or a dozen. Out here my focus isn’t on getting to a particular spot, but rather simply on experiencing the nature of this place. For these reasons I don’t always make the best hiking partner.

Standing at river side, listening to the sound of flowing water, imagining glacial wisdom being whispered to cobble as it tumbles from the high mountains. I dip my finger into the channel to include myself in the conversation. I love being surprised by feeling the sudden pressure of an eagle’s wings flapping twenty feet overhead, or the primal humility that rushes over me whenever a grizzly emerges from behind the cover of trees, but I also love this–the potency of unmitigated sensation, more authentic than an unfiltered photograph, the simple, sensorial, sharpness of the water’s cold.

In a while I come to a point of ungulate crossing. Dozens of elk, deer, and moose tracks have amalgamated here. A well traveled path cuts a line from the forest to sand bar, than across the river I can see a muddy trail leading up slope. With this many hoofed animals, I expect to see wolf sign but instead find cougar tracks.

A mother and her single kit.

Automatically I lift my head and look around. I'm not afraid, just more alert, my awareness becoming as crisp as the fresh tracks are in the mud. Hunters might call me naive for traveling in the woods unarmed, but in all my years exploring some of North America’s wildest enclaves, these creatures have never expressed anything but curiosity or outright indifference to my presence. If I ever have an encounter that feels dangerous, I'll do my best to respond accordingly, just like any other animal would, but I also understand that by stepping foot unarmed into a wild landscape, I am signing a very old contract–the terms of which I willingly accept.