Originally Published: July 27, 2017 6:01 a.m.
Do you ponder as you wander? Or, is hiking for you nothing more than pounding ground to get from point A to point B?
I read about a hiker who found that time outdoors served as a catalyst for his imagination. He saw smoke on the horizon and he began to wonder about the sudden and drastic changes about to sweep through the area. He imagined that soon there would be no fruit on the trees and no livestock on the range.
How might he respond to the impending devastation during his next hike? He determined that he would rejoice and remain faithful rather than retreat in defeat. What about me? How would I respond to such a drastic change in the landscape? Once it was lush and green. Now it was bleak and black. I wonder?
I looked across the salt flats at Bad Water Basin in Death Valley, the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. What would it be like to hike across that bleak landscape? Would the path be smooth or lumpy? Would the surface be firm or mushy? I wonder.
I scanned the horizon at White Sands National Monument and Great Sand Dunes National Park. What would it be like to hike barefoot for miles in pure sand? Would it be hot or cold? Would there be any signs of life or would I find only evidence of the wind sculpting the surface? I wonder.
Gazing across the alpine summit of Wheeler Peak, Nevada, in whiteout conditions, how would it feel to be blinded by the wind and not know if I was nearing the edge? Could I trust my GPS unit to warn me about getting too close to the edge? I wonder.
HIKING IN THE BLACK
As the smoke cleared from the Goodwin Fire, I began to ponder about what it would be like to wander through Grapevine Canyon. It went up in smoke. I thought about the lush riparian vegetation, the wildflowers and fall colors. What about the bear, deer, and elk I have seen there? The waterfall and the babbling brook, what about them?
I have hiked in lots of places that have burned, sometimes recently, sometimes many years earlier. Bear Wallow Wilderness, the Blue Range, and Escudilla in the White Mountains come to mind. Then there’s the Galiuro Wilderness, Miller Peak, and the Chiricahuas in southeast Arizona. Closer to home, I think of the Mazatzals and the Highline Trail near Payson. Yarnell is especially significant. Each area rebounds. Wildlife flourishes. The land is resilient. What about us? I wonder.
While I have hiked in a wide variety of circumstances, I wonder about hiking “in the black.”
How would I respond to the devastation? What impact would it have on me? Would the trail be firm, or, would the footing be soft? Would the sound of the water be different? Would the water be a different color? Would it taste different?
Would there be any signs of life? Wildflowers? Birds? Insects? Would there be islands of vegetation, spared from the flames? Would there be signs of great erosion? Would the air smell smoky? Would stumps be left standing to groan under the weight of death?
Would birds of prey, screech in agony, finding no food? Would I look around in speechless awe, reaching out to touch the blackness and recoil under the weight of annihilation? Would I rejoice?
Ted Johnson is a columnist for The Daily Courier. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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