Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Hiking Hungry Horse

Posted By on Tue, Dec 4, 2012 at 4:00 AM

A light covering of snow blanketed the ground; the soft crunch beneath my boots echoed like a bullwhip in the crisp November air. The lip of the dam stood before us, and over that infinitesimal three-foot barrier the wind promised to carry the curious over 500 feet to the river below.

Standing on so many feet of concrete, tempered steel, the product of the blood, sweat and tears of all those war-weary men, who sought a reprieve from even the faintest hint of humanity, I could almost feel the three long, cold winters it took to complete the dam between the cracks.

View of Hungry Horse Reservoir

Teetering lodgepole pines, skinny tamarack and the unmistakable victims of holiday genocide, douglas-firs, dot the hillsides leading to the 25 peaks that may have seen the soles of rubber and no doubt hold the souls of men who came before. The visiting season to the area around the dam ended more than a month ago. No other human breath clouded the air before us. Only the cadence of clanking wire on beam filled the space ahead of our ragtag group of city-born and dirt-raised trekkers, a reminder of how alone we were.

Deer grazed on dead, dry grass as we moved further from the dam and up along the hillside, meandering through the remnants of FDR’s legacy, and I wondered if those who cut and built these roads knew what would come after them, or if their minds were still clouded by the dust that covered everything they once knew and loved back home on the farm.

The silence that enveloped us was eerie, yet strangely comforting. A labyrinth of downed trees and shrubbery revealed dead brown foliage, and broken limbs reached out in every direction making the going slow.

Everything was the same, and everything different, and I could understand how those two workhorses, Jerry and Tex, managed to lose their way in this weathered wood over a century ago, roaming for thirty days and thirty nights with nothing but the shells of wheatgrass to fill the aching stomachs, waiting for death and welcoming its warm embrace, only to be found with ribs protruding like the fingers of the Reaper himself, the image bestowing the dam, the river and a mountain’s namesake.

Long strands of frosted grass reached out and grabbed at our legs as if to tell us to slow down and look around, to look around and remember that we were but trespassers in a land that knew no master nor wanted one.

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