Ochenski: Where the wild things are 

A week of sharp relief in the backcountry

“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.”
—Steve McQueen

I spent all of last week backpacking into the Chinese Wall, deep in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. By modern societal standards, such excursions are deemed primitive and dangerous. Carrying all your food and shelter on your back, walking mile after mile on thin trails through dark, primeval forests, drinking water that has never seen a drop of chlorine, and, horror of horrors, totally out of range for our hiking partner’s ubiquitous cell phone. All the while we were camped in the middle of grizzly country where, as noted bear man Doug Peacock has observed, there are plenty of “animals that can kill and eat your ass anytime they want to…” Yet, when we left the wilderness to reclaim the endless amenities of our so-called “civilization,” the real and imagined dangers of the backcountry seemed to pale by comparison.

For a full week we managed to survive without hearing George Bush’s nasal twang warning us of some new threat from the shadowy “evil-doers” of the world. Somehow, we made it through the week without the benefit of Dick Cheney’s irritable and continuous defense of Halliburton’s unconscionable rape and pillage of the national treasury. And we found true peace and deep solitude in virgin stands of old growth that have never known the not-so-gentle touch of chainsaws wielded by Judy Martz’ “forest physicians.” Here, in what our governor would deem an “unhealthy” forest, trees simply live until they die, then fall over and provide a rich home for insects, mushrooms, and small animals, rotting ever so slowly as they eventually return their nutrients to the forest floor from which they came.

Every night we were feted by the wonders of the Milky Way spread across the sky, undimmed in its majesty by the countless lights modern humans so foolishly believe necessary to ensure their safety from, of all things, predation by their fellow humans. The predators in the wilderness roam at night, too, but mostly they are following their noses in the primal search for food. What little dried food we had was hung far away and high above our camps, out of reach and hopefully out of range for those sensitive, questing noses. Our sleep, coming after long days on the trail, was deep, peaceful, and undisturbed by the nightly cacophony of police sirens, train whistles and screeching tires so common in the cities of our frenetic society. Instead, we were lulled to sleep by the quiet gurgling of mountain streams, gently tumbling over the rocks on their way to the valleys far below.

Morning found us sitting on the banks of these wonderful clear streams, stuffing the tents, sleeping bags, and assorted accouterments into our backpacks, shouldering the loads, and heading up the trail again. We walked in solitude, meeting very few people. Those that we did meet were mostly on horseback, wranglers leading dudes from Chicago or Houston who sat uncomfortably astride, butt-sore and looking warily into the trees while their mates and kids appeared to ponder why they were in the middle of a Montana wilderness instead of enjoying the pleasures of Disneyland or Dollywood. Given the generally pained looks on their faces, we wondered why they were here, too.

On day four we broke from the depths of Moose Creek into the unbelievable beauty at the base of the Chinese Wall. An abundance of wildflowers filled the high alpine meadows and giant boulders lay tumbled where they fell from the cliffs above, dwarfing us as we rested in their shadows. The 1,200-foot high Wall stretched endlessly to our northern and southern visual horizons, and far down valley we looked east to the Rocky Mountain Front where we had entered the wilderness. Alone, in total silence except for the occasional birdcall and the whish of the clean wind coming over the Continental Divide, we reached up to almost religiously touch the Wall, standing in awe of the massive natural spectacle that had drawn us here.

Three days later, we exited the slow and quiet harmony of the wilderness for civilization once more.

Upon our return, the world seemed, if anything, more whacked out than when we left. In a plot twist beyond the most bizarre imagination, an arrest warrant for counterfeiting has been issued by the new Iraq government for Ahmed Chalabi, the guy whom the Bush neo-cons wanted to put in power after the war, and who assured us we would be met by flower-throwing, freedom-loving Iraqis once we “liberated” them from Saddam Hussein.

Closer to home, even the mainstream media has finally caught on to the fact that Gov. Martz’ plea to halt coal bed methane exploration in British Columbia because of potential environmental damages would have much more credibility had she not so hypocritically shown such callous disregard for Montana’s own environment in her rush to hand over our natural resources to a panoply of corporate raiders. Meanwhile, our would-be governors rolled out so-called “new ideas” that are little more than replays of the failed initiatives of the past.

As everyone who spent the last week in the chaos we call civilization knows, the nation’s terrorist Threat Level has been raised to Orange as the White House desperately seeks some way to salvage a stupid war born of aggression, lies, and an insatiable desire to concentrate even more wealth in the hands of the “haves and have-mores” who are, in his own words, President Bush’s “base.”

None of this comes as a surprise, but somehow, after the week in the wild, it all seems a superfluous ruse. “The Land of the Free” appears less so by the minute, as restrictions are piled upon restrictions, paranoia reinforces paranoia, and the new Police State of America emerges.

As our civilization becomes ever more fearful and bestial, Montana’s deep wilderness, albeit filled with “animals that can eat your ass,” seems a much safer place to be.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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