Escaping into the Changing Colors – Big Creek Lake, Montana

The lake laps gently, trickling like a fairy’s laughter. Across the other side a waterfall roars like wind tearing through a canyon. The birds cry, saying their good nights. A faint breeze plays coolly on my nose.

The sky cleared to almost blue from the dark storms of this past afternoon. When I pulled into the parking lot of Trailhead 11, not a single soul was there. The dark skies turned the forest a dusky shade even though noon had just passed. I strapped my pack on and checked my boots.

Every time I leave my car it is like that last look before jumping. It is a commitment to the unknown trials that await your trail. So I began: into the lonely woods I stepped. The only sign of humans was a pair of boot’s imprinted into the dirt heading back out.

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I thought the isolation would scare me, but its peaceful lull sung my nerves to sleep. As I wound up the valley my thoughts ran wild, finally able to be heard by my brain. The trees sat around, massive and craggy with moss hanging off their branches like an old hag’s cloak. The forest held me close shrouding the valley, teasing me with glimpses between the trunks and emerald moss. I strained my neck to see the bowl of a peak. It appeared as if the gods held a bouquet of autumn flowers in the middle of their craggy granite palm.

Eventually the beauty took over the mundane thoughts of home. My nose inhaled, hungry for the sweet smell of earth that hung heavy from the rain. My eyes struggled to tear away from the beauty to glance at the treacherous rocks under toe.

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I wove next to and away from the creek hearing its roar in and out. Sometimes only the wind broke the quiet. Other times I jumped as a grouse beat its wings like bellows.

It’s fascinating how quickly we grow use to the constant hum of life, how attached to its distraction we become, so much so that silence makes us uncomfortable. When I walk these woods alone, I must sit in that discomfort. To me, it is almost a sirens song drawing me into the wild. That quiet, this peace, is so liberating.

Holding onto your soul in this world feels like swimming up an unending river, you can never just be, but out here no choice is given.

It strips you bare and here you stand, simply existing.

I slowly climbed away from the forest, passing over streams on rickety bridges, until I rose above the thick trees. The mountains shot into the sky, great gnarly faces with smooth granite cliffs sweeping down. The sun filtered through the clouds, setting the changing colors of bushes and trees afire.

The vivid reds and oranges crawled up the mountain, halting my steps. Even far off tops of mountains were speckled with red and orange jewels of trees. My body pumped with energy. My heart beat with the simple joy of pushing my physicality.

I steadily moved up the switch backs, stopping to stare off into the mountains that surrounded all sides of me. As the steepness grew so did the beauty. I climbed faster, hungry to see farther out. I turned around a bluff and there sat the lake: massive and dramatic.

It was so completely mine, no one was near, but something that I could never own because it owned me. I quickly made home and dinner wondering if the clouds would drop rain, but the remaining puffs of storms whisked away giving me my first blue sky of the day. The nippy air and changing colors felt like cozy scarves and hot apple cider. Summer seemed just a minute ago, but the snow wants her mountains back.

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Out here in this vast wilderness it is hard to even fathom my day starting in a city of over 70,000.  It is like I barely remember it, some forgotten state of existence. This is my home, these mountains. When I get back, my memory of this hike won’t be so short as the other. I’ll sit in class day dreaming of my sleeping bag and a starry sky. I’ll spend my dreams in the wild places of this world.

How can I not wane after something so true to who I am, like a lover waiting for her loved. The wind ripples the lake like blue silk. It still laps against the sand. The mountains tower behind it, like a ring of guards standing over their beloved queen. A powder if snow dusts their crowns.

I sit completely still staring at their delicate cracks. I stare so hard I feel like they move towards me while clouds race behind them. It’s almost as if they could consume me.

But isn’t that what we want, what a certain kind of us hopeless vagabonds chase: to be consumed by these mountains. To become the raw ethereal beauty that their purity holds. A purity impossible to human existence.

I melt into the rocks as the air turns golden with the setting sun and the glowing pink dragons dance in the sky, staring at their rippling reflection in the lake.

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