I spend most of my (public) time here in Yellowstone talking to people about hiking. What trails they should or shouldn’t use, what kind of gear and supplies they should have, what they can expect to see and do, how best to watch* the wildlife, that kind of thing.
*Rule #1 for wildlife watching, by the way, is to do as I say, not as I do…Me: ”What do you mean, I shouldn’t follow the wolf tracks back to the den?” My Ranger-Friend: “You know, I’m not coming all the way out there to help when you get attacked…”
Invariably, people — being people, of course — will worry and ask about food. Oh, they’ll couch it in terms of “energy” and “nutrition” and “hydration” but we humans are just as worried about our stomachs as are your average grizzly and bison. “What do you eat,” I was asked once by a co-worker, “to recover energy after a tough hike?”
I thought about all the crap I should eat afterwards, about carbs and proteins and restoring everything I sweated out over the miles of the hike. I thought about it, then I decided to answer with the truth, “Pop-tarts and beer.”
Hell, the only reason I don’t take those two miracles with me on the trail is, well, have you ever actually TASTED beer out of a camelback? Yeah, not even I’m that committed…
So, okay…now, after my little snack, I’ve ticked the last box on my list and I’m completely content and happy. It was one of those absolutely perfect days to be out hiking. The kind of day you have to get out and take advantage of: a day of blue, blue skies and gentle breezes…a day of puffy clouds and vibrant wildflowers still in riotous bloom…a day of nothing but rolling hills and rich meadows as far as I could see…
A mile in and the noise from the road was lost to me…two miles in and all the worries and frustrations of the world were lost, as well…three miles, and I was in my element, looking for someplace new and interesting to explore…
Then I started to wonder.
Dammit, why do I do that? Why can’t I just relax and take it all for what it is? But nope, I’m a writer, I always have to think and wonder and imagine.
So, this time, I wondered about those who…well…those who wait. Wait for someone to tell them where to go, and what to do. Wait for someone else to discover, to teach, to explore. Wait for permission and for approval. Wait, when you get right down to it, to live.
I have this friend, someone I work with up here, who is competence and confidence personified. He spent a career as a firefighter, for Pete’s sake, finishing as Chief of a department. This man is no shrinking violet, no weakling and certainly no fool. But he waits. He waits for someone else to take him around the park…for someone else to lead he hikes…for someone else to do.
I don’t know if its upbringing, or something more innate, but I just can’t imagine being here in Yellowstone like that. Even when I was first here, even when I had no idea where the freaking laundry room was, let alone anything in the Park itself, I would just head out and find places to go and things to see. I would, of course, also find ways to get myself in deep shit, too…but that’s part of the fun! “Oh, hi, Mr Grizzly. How are you today?”
Beyond the Park, however, I most definitely can’t understand living like that. For good or for ill, I’m pretty much the embodiment of the whole “better to ask forgiveness than permission” theory of life. I can’t imagine waiting for someone to tell me to write…I can’t imagine waiting for someone to show me the path. I said it once before on this blog, a couple of years ago: if you always follow the trail — if you wait — then all you can ever do is walk in someone else’s footsteps.
And that seems a whole lot like living a life of fear. That, in fact, seems a whole lot like hell.
By the way, I wasn’t actually kidding about following the wolf tracks — I found the tracks of a pup and adult who were scouting for the rest of their pack, and followed those back to where the others had rested after the morning hunt. From there, the tracks & sign of the whole pack were (relatively) easy to follow for a few miles…