On the Other Side of the Range: A List of Riches
On the morning of a day predicted to reach the mid-nineties I load Bluebird and follow The Blackfoot River east and then a chain of lakes north to Lindbergh Lake, on the other side of the range from where I usually paddle. I plan to paddle to the end of the lake,
go for a short swim and return to camp for a late supper. Then I hope to watch a full moon rise over the Swan range.
As I sit at the picnic table before and after my paddle I make a list of riches:
my wife’s soft kiss as I depart
yesterday’s massage that left me almost pain free
an old tent that still provides shelter depending on how hard it rains
a multi-grain bagel, a can of sardines and an apple
a water filtration pump in a campground without a spigot
a place to sleep, even if on the ground, in a sleeping bag that feels perfect
memories that tell me how to get to this place and where to find the trailhead at the end of the lake
memories of having been here with dear deceased friend John and my friend Lee who is still more than alive
a Werner graphite paddle
an eight-year-old kayak that is almost good as new despite scores of paddles
a clan of warblers in the chokecherries
clothes that are comfortable and safe in a variety of conditions
a tube of sunscreen I can tolerate
two mini-monster cookies now, and three later
a butterfly on my right shoulder
sunlight in the leaves
not needing several people to help me park or diesel fuel for a generator that runs all night
an extra tea bag
an Optimus Svea stove that is almost as old as I am
a hot moist washcloth in the morning
a visiting rabbit that pads soundlessly through camp
a larch tree the sawyers missed or recognized should stand five more centuries
geese that swim past my stillness
a hawk on the path as I go for a walk at dusk
a female American Redstart who allows me to watch her while she forages on the ground.
After making my list of riches I pack up my tent, other equipment, and cinch down my boat. Ready to drive home, I suddenly remember a warm conversation the day before with a man who was new to the campground and lake. I decide to walk over to his site and say goodbye. I see that the man and his wife are packing up, but clearly they are eager for more conversation. Maurice and Polly ask me for more local knowledge, intending to return. Then the conversation drifts toward discoveries of things we have in common—years of teaching, friends in common, the sense that the earth is rapidly changing. This year rain in February washed all the mid-level snow out of the mountains and left many of the lowland streams de-watered or dry, a bitter foretaste of things to come. Walking along the trail around the lake, and then along the trail up to Crystal lake, I could not find a single huckleberry where there would normally be buckets of berries. The three of us are able to talk freely and openly about the evidence of change and the consequences, especially for wildlife, our children and grandchildren. This conversation feels like a drink of fresh water on a day that is already hot.
I could count my riches in objects or experiences in the natural world. But as I turn away from the red van Maurice and Polly have outfitted for camping, I also feel deeply grateful for human interaction and talk about things that matter. We discover shared concerns and values on both sides of a dry stream bed. This, too, is part of what makes us wealthy on either side of the range that rises above the lake.