Section B - Day 6: Presence & Deep Time
KM Hiked: 28. Territory: Blackfoot/NiitsItapi, Stoney, Tsuu T'ina, Ktunaxa.
The next morning, I sleep well through my alarm and am packing up my camp when the other two GDT hikers walk into the clearing and, again, scare the living shit out of me. They have already been hiking for an hour and a half. This is likely the last I will see of them. Thru-hiking relationships are strange. You meet others on the trail and are instantly bonded by a shared mission and shared hardship. You might leapfrog each other for days, weeks even, and then without warning, never see each other again.
We launch again into delighted chatting: Tornado Saddle, that ridge walk, the weather. Then climate change comes up. We talk about how fucked up it is to be outdoors-people at this time.
Everything seems well, the water rushes in a thousand tiny rivulets down the side of each mountain. The green is ubiquitous, punctuated only by the joyful reds, yellows, purples and blues of the wildflowers doing their fecund duty with the fat bumble bees. But we know, intellectually, that all is not well. We know that this will not all last. Even if worldwide emissions were ended tomorrow, the world will not be the same place in 10 years. We talk about forest fires, and the dying salal and western red cedar on our beloved coast (they are from Seattle). We talk about how precious this all is, and how we need to stay present with it all.
I feel angry with myself for not being more present on this hike. How much time I spend missing home or distracting myself from pain and numbing with headphones. I realize I am crying a little bit. I try to wipe away my tears discreetly. All these days alone and in pain have made me emotionally raw.
We know it is happening, and that we are heading into a massive species extinction that will in all likelihood render these ecosystems unrecognizable in our lifetimes. But the cognitive dissonance is too much. I cannot imagine it, really. The water sings over the rocks like liquid silver. The wind rustles the deep green canopy, The air is thick with humidity, gathered in the hollows of this valley overnight. The birds sing their morning chorus, fluting, cackling, warbling over one another.
I don't really know how to comprehend so much death amidst so much life. I feel like I will completely fall apart if I do. So the conversation trails off, as all conversations about climate change seem to these days. What can we possibly say? We can't completely abandon ourselves to the dread and foreboding, so we return to an easy conversation: The shitty muddy trails and our wet feet. We crack some jokes and they are off again.
As I pack my tent, I vow to try and be more present, even when it's hard. I won't forgive myself later, I think, if I don't.
The day takes me up and over Fording River Pass. It is big, wild, high alpine terrain. It's so windy that I'm transported, fearfully, back to that windy day on Avion Ridge. I am being buffeted about like a rag-doll again, and I promise myself that if I have to drop to my knees again I'll turn right back around. But it stays steady and, heart in my throat, I make it to the crux of the pass. It's at the base of a mammoth cirque which looks as though it has cradled a glacier until very recently. I whisper an apology to the small pieces of blue clinging to its walls and gratefully drop down into the shelter of the trees.
It takes me forever to find the trail again. I'm crashing through thick alpine willow and stumble upon first, a beautiful alpine lake, and then a large rock filled with tubular spiraling fossils. coral from the Devonian. I am reminded of deep time. If this was all once a vast, offshore coral reef, before it was a glaciated mountain range, what might it be four-hundred-and-twenty million years again in the future?
I feel like a small, lost ant again, but in a better way this time.
I waste too much time looking for the trail that afternoon, and don't make it to my intended campsite that night. I barely drag myself to the nearest water source and set up camp. I fall asleep, once again, to the sound of rain on my tent.