Thursday, February 11, 2010

Wilderness Within You

photo h/t Mark in AK
What I remember of those mornings camping under the wing was the smell of woodsmoke mixed in with the smell of aviation fuel.

Alaska, a river far up, towards the Brooks Range. A small float plane and darkness that only flirted with me, while stars as hard as flint sparked something in the sky.

I was never one for the organized camp, driving to some park where the Winnebago's were so close together as to resemble a subdivision. The smell of cigarette smoke mixing with propane, punctuated by the screech of a woman from three campers down, who's idea of roughing it was no room service. Kids, running wild, ghetto blasters on their shoulder as they whizzed around the camp site on skateboards being pulled by what was either a dog, or a small rat. Overweight and pale adults lumbered around like somnolent bears, their weary movements punctuated by an expenditure of breath that appeared to be far more work than any pleasure those moments gave them. Where's the beer, babe, and could you see if we can get Judge Judy up here?

Where's the exit please.

That is not my idea of camping, there with TV antennas and portable laptops and radios, campers moving like elephants on Ambien, bulky and blocking the view. The residents therein not seeing the outdoors, but still contemplating their lives back home, the fretful worry of urban homeowner association war fare.

Give me a spot for just myself or perhaps a friend, days sliding into sunset, marked by little more than the sum of breaths taken freely. It was hard to tell one day from another. Mornings would creep in on the breath of small creatures watching from the trees, days spent in reading or hiking, nights simply laying out like one single point of a compass star, feet pointed towards my future, pointing true. I didn't move quickly when I awoke, looking at the morning sun with the mild inscrutability of those animals awaking, functioning outside of a watch, having left time laying upon the slow and imponderable shore on which my small plane is moored.

I've found few people in my life that can be content with time alone like that, most preferring the excitement of crowds, the adulation of the unknown, look at me, watch me, head towards the lights and the noise. Not I. I can't find peace in that, though it haunts the edges of it, as if it almost knows what it is like, but can't give in to it. The peace isn't just the silence, it's not the trees or the animals or the water. It's all the senses wrapped up in one as you breathe it in deep from the musty confines of a sleeping bag as you lie under the starts. That smell that has a color, almost green, not the longing green of envy or the gray green of aromatic herbs, but the green of clarity, a smell that makes you weak for childhood, when every morning came with this sense of freedom and purity.Then rising, making sure the bears didn't make a snack of your food there downwind of you in the tree, making coffee that Starbucks would turn their nose up at, as you munch a biscuit with all the flakiness of Kevlar. It's small quiet moments there as the earth awakes. It's simply life, there, your life, what you make of it, and nothing more. It's the feeling of succumbing to something that laps away at you when in the confines of an office or a lab, at the same little spots in your life. It's falling in love with something that haunted your dreams before you could articulate desire.
I camped with my best friend back in our late teens and I think of those nights, telling stories in front of the fire trying to scare one another as off in the distant the stars flared against a background of ebony velvet. We'd sip a can of Coors (we were young, and knew no better) and talked into the wee hours. Adulthood was looming, both of us soon off to college, both of us still naive to the ways of the world and of men, but both aware of the redemptive power of the woods. We'd look to see if we could see the Northern lights. This far south it was unlikely, but it never stopped us, sharing stories and dreams, not realizing how far the years would take us from this place.

Years later, there on the banks of a small River in Alaska, I missed her company, but the time was still good. I set up camp, there, fifty miles away from another human, under the nervous branches, and downwind of anything that looked like a bear sushi bar. My shower? A gallon jug of cold river water poured over my head. Breakfast was made in a fire, or above it and like any good Cajun restaurant I could blacken anything on request, and usually without meaning to. After the world stilled, I would sleep, a small measure of whisky warming my belly, the splash of a trout just a few feet away, challenging me to a duel that would be breakfast. Why did I not do this sooner?
It was my first trip alone, after he was gone, running north to heal, and finding the bank of this river, as far away from another human being as I could find. I lay there in my sleeping bag, under the stealth of a small tent, wearing a worn night gown that smelled of the past, the movement of the tree branches shadowed on my tent walls, like hands waving goodbye.

Water rushes by, the sound of it ebbing and flowing, lapping at the corners of my sleep, there among the soft sighs of my dreams. This is my time, here, now. There will be time enough to get back to the city, to get back to life, but for now I need these small spots of concentrated life under the trees, the affirmation and promise of a wilderness that still, even years later, waits for me like a lover. Sleep came easily and deep.

Then morning, fried trout and a couple of potatoes, and the roar or a Lycoming engine starting back up. I'm off to another day under the open sky.

When was the last time you turned off the television, packed away the laptop and just went outside to yourself? The world will wait, but that peace you thought was beyond you, might not. Don't hesitate. I started writing years ago, then quit after my young husband burned my journal, not for the thoughts it contained, but the fact that he could not contain me. I didn't write again for 20 years, afraid that the words had disappeared. But they were there, just waiting for those quiet moments to be released.
Haven't you ever dreamed of soaring in a float plane over white-blue mountains untouched by man, to cast a line into pristine rivers for your dinner, the hush of a thousand acres enveloping you as the fire crackles outside your tent? No adventuresome adult with any of the juices of their youth in them has moved beyond that dream. Make the choice to follow it. What you gain for that choice will be more than a few photos and a empty bank account. The true harvest of your dream will always be as intangible and indescribable as the tints of a Northern sky. It will be a landscape of magic, a segment of the crystalline sky which you have reached out and held on to, if only for a moment in time.

If you take anything away from this blog, be it recipes, fun or simply family, I hope this message will remain. It's never too late to get back to the wild, the the elements of the earth that will make you happy. Shed the city, shed those that don't believe in you, cast away the layers of hurt and breathe deep.

The wilderness within you awaits.


  1. Hey,
    I hope all is well. I was looking for a contact email on the blog but couldn't find one. Obviously you do not have to post this in the comments, but I had a question about ammunition. I am terribly lost when it comes to knowing how to decipher ammo. Anyway, we bought my dad a Blackhawk .357 Magnum and I was looking for ammo for him. I see a lot of .357 Sig ammo at good prices but have no idea if he can shoot that in his gun. I have no idea what the different names after ammo means lol. I was hoping you could maybe point me in the direction of what different types of ammo actually mean or something of the such. I know you are busy so please do not let me rush you, but when you get the chance, I would be appreciative if you would drop me a line in my email,

    Thanks so much and I hope this finds you safe, well, and warm.

  2. WOW! Makes ones mind wonder. My place is onhte beach at night under a full sky of stars with the sea breeze coming in bringing hte salt air. Makes one closer to God I think. Does for me anyway. Kinda puts things into perspective.
    Thanks again

  3. The best camps to me have always been singular, or shared with a close freind. The only crowds I like is flocks of geese, or herds of deer.

  4. Peace and quiet: Hard enough to find when alone, but harder to find (and still more valuable) when shared with someone who gets it.

    I get little here at home, what with work tending to follow me home, but I am not far from it, either. I haven't been camping in........... oh no. There is no way it has been that long.

    Wow. Once the weather breaks, I'm gone. Whatever I can carry in and carry out, it what I'm taking. The only things with batteries I'll take are my camera and a GPS, nothing more.

    Thanks for the spark, I needed that. Thank you for writing, too. I hope you've seen in your comments that there are men better than your ex.


  5. This is truth. Continue

  6. Your writing just keeps getting better! I can smell the woodsmoke, and hear the river. Thanks for setting your voice free once again for us to enjoy.

  7. When you put pen to paper (pixel to screen) as you have with this essay, Brigid, I often have a very strong mental image of you by yourself ... this time camping but other times doing other things ... and there, in half-tones, and somewhat apart, are all your readers ... waiting and watching for the lines to appear on the pages of your journal ... or the screens of their PCs.

    Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

    We would never want to disturb you ... but I imagine we'd love to be with you. Next time, look over your shoulder and there will be that army of Brigid's Faithful ... quiet in their knowledge that they are to receive poetry from one of the best prose writers on the 'Net ... and rejoicing in the gift you convey to us.


  8. There is powerful truth in your words. The Alaska Natives with whom I've spoken tell stories the way you do - though theirs are told more simply, you evoke the same depth of spirit.

    Wisdom, served "well done".

  9. Ah yes, the wild.

    Probably the happiest times in my life have been spent in the wild.

    As a child, I could go out the back door of our home and have at my disposal, several million acres of mountains, streams and forest. And buddy, did I take every chance that I had to escape into the aloneness.

    As an "adult" I have never been one to be able to live comfortably in suburbia. The mountains give me their siren call if I am away for very long.

    About two years after "she" divorced me, I spent the next ten years working for outfitters in Wyoming. Riding horses, packing mules, going camping, hunting and fishing, and getting paid for it(but not very much LOL!!). It was a really tough life, but shoot, someone had to do it.

    Today I live outside of a town of 250 souls. The wilderness is but a stone's throw away. One of the worlds finest Steelhead fishing rivers in about 50 yards from my back porch.

    I am truly a blessed man, because I get to commune with my God, in His cathedrals that he has built and provided for me.

    To this day, I do not think that there is anything better than riding through the mountains on the back of a good horse, leading a fine string of mules.

    It just doesn't get any better than this.


  10. my husband burned my journal
    I just pitied him before, not knowing what he had in you.
    Now I loathe and despise him.

    WV: decur. Fitting.

  11. Just did that.
    Twenty years, not counting hunting trips with others which were fun, but alone.
    I 4x4 as far as I could up into the Sierras, parked and set out.
    Found a spot overlooking a lake and snowcapped mountains.
    Not a soul, not evan a vapor trial.
    God and I had a talk we hadn't had in a while.

  12. Brigid,

    Aching after reading that, this mistress of an airplane taking even my evenings as the phone lines connect Russia and Japan to this NW corner of the USA. Thinking of deer camp last fall after everyone else left, with me to hold the fort between the long weekends. Moving my sleeping bag across the clearing until I could see the stars..and the Milky Way if I put my glasses back on. [with of course the hazard of awakening under a blanket of snow] I had a rush of how MUCH I am missing that part of me. Of camping for Elk up where the mountain goats come to visit camp in the smoky dawn.

    Thank you for the waymarker, the reminder of the road less traveled, upon which I should tread more often. You are an awesome Lady and a great writer.


  13. Below James Peak on the Continental Divide where the headwaters of the middle fork of the St. Vrain River rise from Alpine snows and summer rains, a 4WD path passes by the Winnebagos and dirt bikes, hollering kids and whining husbands. The path leaves the mundane wallowing in plastic and tin plated security, full bellies and noisome nights far behind.

    That, dear Brigid, I understand.

    Up above, where the path rolls over and around broken granite and woven, muddy rivulets, we park the old truck.

    Camp means digging a trench toilet, burning waste and
    caching food above the bears's nose and claws. It means keeping a big wheel gun at hand day and night.

    Silence, blessed silence is the first reward. Burning bright stars in a night that defines blackness, where brittle, flint hard water waits for no man.

    Coffee is boiled with eggshells and the fire of raw whiskey is a draught burned in the belly late in velvet black nights

    The final reward is the catch.

    Sultry silver-green Cutthroat and raucous foreigners, the bellicose Brook Trout chase hand tied flies.

    Nothing beats a breakfast of a rasher of bacon; fried tater and onion and egg and the sweet meat of a fine, fresh caught trout, all washed down with steaming coffee and a broken, burned piece of who-knows-what-kinda-bread made into toast.

    Other gifts sometimes rise. Elk on the mountainside or mule deer in a meadow, or a brace of dusky grouse chatter into the spruce or aspen breaks.

    Last time I checked, I hadn't shaved for days and Chronos had lost another round, leaving me younger than the day I arrived.

  14. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Affirmation.

  15. If I could, I'd take July and August, go up to see Rev. Paul again, and then get in a float plane, find some good fishing lakes, and really live for a while. Always did want to live off the land, up north somewhere, but different things have kept me from it. Who knows what might happen yet...

  16. I love your writing Brigid. After my daughter my biggest love is the wilderness. I cannot understand the burning of your journal. I guess some people have to "possess" the people they live with. Stay free.

  17. Brigid,
    How come is it that your scribing pulls at the inner me? Another thought provoking piece my dear just filling me with a longing to be ‘out there’ once more.

  18. Excellent post as always- To get away from the hustle and bustle is always a goal... even if only for five minutes. I still remember wilderness camping in the Sierras... sigh...

  19. Anthony: .357 Sig is a bottle necked round for use in automatic pistols. Sort of a 9mm in a 45 case.

    It wont fit in the Blackhawk.

    If you wiki '357 Sig' it may have a picture of the two rounds.

    However .38 special will work for paper and tin cans.....

  20. Brigid,

    The green colour of the smell of will never again let anyone try to contain your thoughts or control your feelings. Bless the freedom of your soul!

  21. We're middle-of-the-road campers. We like the quiet, but the kids like to ride their bikes; so we look for campgrounds that have a bit of space, but where we can still wander around and chat if the mood strikes.

    We have a camper (pop-up), but draw the line at anything requiring electricity - including battery-powered toys and games, which are left at home. Dolls, books (reading and coloring), and outdoor toys are encouraged.

    I don't turn up my nose at a propane stove and lamps, but the cooking is done both on the stove and the fire, about 50/50, and we enjoy it either way.

    And we all love the chances to see and photograph bits of the outdoors we don't ordinarily see at home.

    Nicely are all your posts.

  22. The Mrs. and I have done a lot of camping with Zeke as he grew up. One of the more memorable campouts was just Zeke and myself when he was about 3rd grade. We camped out at the Boonville fall show with motor homes all around us. We had our little two man tent, and cooked our supper and breakfast on our Coleman stove. He laughed several times about the people in their motor homes thinking that they were camping. When we turned in I read "Pilot Jack Knight" to him, a great adventure book for young people, and a true story. I bet he still remembers that campout as he goes on his world travels. He just flew from Tokyo to Melbourne last night.

  23. I am now blessed since August of 09 with the freedom to go where I wish. The wilderness I enjoyed as a child is now mine to enjoy again. The freedom is like a breath of life giving air. Just took 68 years to start life again. I have always been a loner, but my wife and children enjoyed all the short camping trips we had over the years.

    I hope a lot of people take your advice. Your writting is food for my soul. God Bless you.

    See Ya

  24. Ah, thus the phoenix...explains a great deal.

    I was a city girl all my life, hardly any stars dotting the night I was out in far too often and much too late.

    My first backpacking experience was a revelation. And you remind me that it has been far too long since I was sleeping in a tent.

    It is, indeed, time to get out again.

  25. Ach Aye,
    Perhaps a better try,


    Are Ya Dancin'


  26. Another thought provoking post! Well done...!

    Thank you for sharing this with us!

  27. Here! Here! It isn't camping if you have to pay or there is anything resembling a toilet or shower. The further away from people the better.

  28. "When was the last time you turned off the television, packed away the laptop and just went outside to yourself?"

    That, right there, is why I ride.

    There's no Blackberry in the saddle. No wi-fi, no Eee, no internet.

    Just the open road, a V-twin, and the wind in my face.

    Even if it's only for an hour or two, it's a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of life.

    Simply amazing piece, Brigid. Touching.

  29. I believe none of us were made to be alone. That said, I was made to be with few...

  30. That picture reminds me of the Mission Mountains here in MT; of times there on horseback with the huckleberrys so thick you could lean off your horse and grab one on the move. And of my wife's pony tail swaying back and forth to the gait of her horse. Oh God, how great thou art.



  31. Heard, understood and acknowledged.
    Brigid, I appreciate your response and just wanted to note that the story I had thought of sharing with you was connected to the Eccliastes bible verse you posted a while back - totally clean and uplifting, but looking at the bigger picture I can understand where some cynicism is necessary.

    I'll scratch the writing idea and step back in line as a reader of your blog - just didnt want to leave the topic being associated with any kind of the nastiness you mentioned that apparently gets lobbed in at you. It saddens me (and most readers no doubt) that you have to wade through that kind of stuff.

    Stay cool


I started this blog so the child I gave up for adoption could get to know me, and in turn, her children, as well as share stories for a family that lives too far away. So please keep it friendly and kid safe. Posts that are only a link or include an ad for an unknown business automatically to to SPAM..