Voices in the Wilderness

Wild places are among the blessings for which we should be grateful

By Phil Hough
Reader Contributor

We gather around friends and families during the holiday season — frequently counting our many blessings. While we’re at it, let’s include wild places among them.

We have families we were born into. We have families made of those close friends with whom we have surrounded ourselves. Neither set of relationships are always perfect. Or smooth. Sometimes they are rough around the edges. In some cases, call it love/hate even. But “family,” it’s been said, are those people who will always take you in when you show up on the doorstep. And for whom you would always do the same. Our connection is unconditional. 

Early-December on our doorstep is like a friend or family member on our doorstep; you always take it (or them) in, no matter what. Accepting it on its own terms is an act of unconditional love. The carefree days of hiking in summer shorts are gone. The promise of a brilliantly blue sky reflecting off pristine powder, a place where you can make “first tracks” in the snow has not yet — or only just — arrived. Sure, autumn leaves in all their red, orange and yellow glory are nice, but they overstay their welcome when they fall and need to be raked. And those 36-degree Fahrenheit days with an all-day rainy drizzle or slushy mush truly require a special love. 

Late-fall must be taken on its own terms. Maybe that’s why some of us love this season the most of all. Compassion for the less than perfect. We can, at least, thank the seasonal transition for the lessons it continues to teach us about acceptance and understanding.

Wilderness is like that, too. To experience the wild means to accept that panoramic views come at the cost of an arduous climb; that hard-packed trails will turn to mud; that beautiful dense forests become a constant dripping mess; that the mosquitoes that feed the trout also first draw blood from our thighs. 

It’s this love/hate that creates the strongest of bonds — the closest of connections. These are the times and places for which I am most thankful. To live fully is to feel everything. And the Scotchman Peaks, among the wettest places in the interior West, we have plenty of cold and wet to learn how to love and learn to live fully.

I think Bob Dylan was, perhaps, speaking in the voice of Mother Earth, and addressing each one of us, when he wrote the opening lyrics to “Make You Feel My Love”:

When the rain is blowing in your face

And the whole world is on your case

I could offer you a warm embrace

To make you feel my love

Bob was channeling the ways of wilderness, calling out to us. Give thanks to the wild, for it makes us always feel welcome in her embrace, when we most need it. Wilderness accepts us all, unconditionally — and requires that we do the same for her. 

I’m grateful we still have such places to go, lessons to learn and opportunities to live fully.

Phil Hough is executive director of Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness. Learn more about the nonprofit organization at scotchmanpeaks.org.

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