One gratifying fact about our wilderness is that there’s always somewhere else to go.
Mercifully, the Lava Mountain fire is almost history now, and the heroic crews have gone elsewhere to defeat other flames. But back in the day, a few weeks ago when we had no idea which way the fire would go, I needed to escape the smoke and the threat.
That day I chose a trail I had scarcely explored before, although it’s on public land very close to home. It’s a very tiny “wilderness”close enough to hear the highway, and far too small an area to entice me most days. You either quickly run into dense undergrowth or are forced uphill toward a steep back road that I know all too well.
No mysteries, or so I thought. On that day, though, it passed the most important challenge: It was not down-wind from the fire.
We set off down the trail, dog and I, in search of new discoveries–he in search of scents and with luck carcasses, and me of new sights. Especially, I wanted to find a route to the river this time.
Before, I had always failed to reach the riverbank here. Wherever I walked, it was hidden beyond dense thickets of underbrush or too far down a rocky slope to reach on foot. (What drives me to set a goal of reaching the riverbank? Food for thought some other day.)
I decided to deviate into a small thicket of trees, off the trail, where we’d never explored before. We scared up a few deer and a rabbit, but came quickly back to that steep slope toward the well-known road.
So I turned the other way, and quickly found a narrow game trail leading up the side of a steep ravine.
What was that interesting shape foundering at the edge of the ravine? We soldiered on, dog and I, and came to a wonderfully gnarly old tree that had spent its life in combat with a boulder.
Life often persists and triumphs out here despite daunting odds. Reminds me now of the firefighters who finally brought the Lava Mountain Fire to 90% containment, driving it off into the wilderness, without the loss of a single structure or, more importantly, a life. (But I didn’t know that then.)
I could clearly hear that elusive river, chattering along below.
We returned to the meadow at the end of the main trail, and set off crashing in the general direction of upriver. The dog was hoping for a way to charge toward the water — no hike is complete for him without a swim — and I kept directing him away from banks that looked to steep for him to climb back after his dip.
Eventually, a small break in the brush appeared, with a rocky descent of just a few feet down to a nice beach. I urged him on, and followed carefully. After he had paddled back and forth and explored for a while, he bounded back up the slope.
Not so easy for me; I had to grab at some tree roots and hope for the best.
That was how, on all fours, I came to notice this ancient water gate just upstream, rusting and hidden deep in the undergrowth–a relic of someone’s efforts to manage the river, long ago.
Why does this seem a treasure? Because it’s something I found that few people must know about these days. I won’t be able to travel that nearby section of road without thinking about it.
Back in the meadow, I looked up at the sky. No smell of smoke, but there it certainly was, still invading a typically heavenly day in July in Dubois.
However, I was content. We’d gotten away, explored, and made discoveries within a few hundred yards, only a few miles from home. All would be well, I felt at that moment. And eventually, it was.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016
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