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An Unconstrained Future Condition

An Essay by Marty Steitz, HUPC member/webmaster from Minnesota

We enter the paved world of managed traffic, underlying threads of engineered sameness. I can’t remember if I packed the water purifier, and I feel like I needed more sleep.

Arriving at the campground we bask in the company of old friends with fresh hugs and new thoughts. The next morning, we arise and hurry through the picnic area to the trailhead. New waste cans? Painted outhouse? I can’t remember but it’s not important.

We adjust packs, pass around water, and breathe as we walk. We enter a wilderness constrained only by history. Eons of insects, fire, storm, sun, wind, geology. My mind slips effortlessly into awareness. It’s not hard; it leaps into thought with abandon. The trail comes to a cliff face, and I dip a toe into deep time to see what I can imagine. As we scramble along a pika firmly and repeatedly corrects us.

Thunderstorms at home have a comforting familiarity. A spring like others with summer on the way. A thunderstorm in the mountain wilderness is not comfortingly familiar; it’s right next to you. We’re amazed by how close it is - can it do that? Our hair stands on end and we dive for cover. The thunderclap is immediate, and I am anxious yet happy for the realness of it.

These are my sore shoulders, my lump under the camp pad - this is not my sleep number. But it doesn’t matter; I am tired. Not a dull, impatient tired but a remarkable, aware tired. At night dogs bark at home, and I yearn for the sleep that was before and I hope will come after. I try to forget I’m awake, a silly proposition. But here coyotes sing into the black and starry wilderness and I listen. I am glad to know I will remember this.

We cook a comical breakfast and sit by the river where a dipper insists we pay attention. The channel cuts so slowly but the water is always new. My sons’ happy faces shimmer with the daybreak waking the mountain across from camp, and I hold the moment close for fear of it slipping. But I do remember it. This memory is not a yellow-edged photograph fading in vinyl and plastic.

Gleeful blisters and joyously sore muscles arrive at the roadside campground. We talk of how wonderful this was and plan the next trip. We resolve together to dance through the wild country more often, as a couple times a year is clearly not enough. The following spring we move.

Somewhere in a Forest Service office the budgetary gears grind the carbon copy engineered coldness of a “properly functioning condition” into the forest plan. Categorical exclusions for logging roads, oil pads, timber harvests.
I hope someone loses the memo, perhaps from lack of sleep.

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