Today with my Buddy, Wild Nature
Gary and I are on the road between Rexburg, Idaho and Portland, Oregon. Powdery fingers of snow insist on whispering across I 84 and, because of forecast warnings, we’re in close touch with Oregon family and friends to monitor this mid-November storm. This matters particularly today because we’re supposed to be on Hawthorne Avenue at Powell’s Books this evening. That alongside informed rumors of snow and ice that threaten to take hold of the highway where it crosses the Blue Mountains and follows the Columbia River Gorge.
This kind of situation always stands as another reminder of the constant companionship all of us have with wild nature – with the way it expresses itself whether we notice or not, and sometimes, like today, in ways that demand that we adjust.
Gary and I have been travelling eight days now, stopping throughout the intermountain west for him to read from the newly released book, The Carry Home – Lessons from the American Wilderness. In each place, we’ve been on the land – driving, walking and adjusting to weather so we can take in the spectral variations in mountains, plains, forests, waterways. And often we’ve had the good fortune of spending time with people who live there.
A week ago, we made our way from Boulder to Golden in Colorado. There we found the home of our friends John and Page – friends who know the land well around Mt Vernon, a conservation area just outside of Golden.
Like I said, today is one that reminds me of our constant companionship with wild nature. Even when I’m in the center of a city, nothing of that city can exist without the presence of land, its water, its plants, its animals. This perhaps seems self-evident – reminiscent of childhood ditties about “the sun and the rain and the apple seed,” but most usually, that companionship is not something I’m right up next to until extreme or unexpected conditions demand my attention. Still, no matter my attention, there nature is – ready with a near constant invitation to engage actively – not just reactively.
Our visit with John and Page on Mt Vernon gave me several delightful re-introductions to this invitation. The one I’m thinking of right now is an exquisite horse barn they share with about nine other equine enthusiasts.
The community of Mt Vernon, one that’s been around since at least the late 1800’s is known for its neighborliness – the readiness of its 99 households to join together in support of all sorts of initiatives for stewarding the land as well as the community. Some years back, one such collaboration led to securing grant funds toward wild fire prevention. The funding has made possible the initiation and maintenance of a years-long strategy for thinning the ponderosa and Douglas-fir forests to vastly reduce the likelihood of fire.
When Page became aware of this initiative, she wondered how the timber that was thinned away might be used well rather than scrapped. From that wonder, she launched her own initiative, calling together other community members to help design and build a complex of structures to become a cooperative home to about 15 saddle horses.
Page was giddy to show us the horse and hay barns and we were interested to see. She was off early to do her morning of chores, “one morning of every five,” so John drove us to meet up with her later for a tour. Wow. You know how you humor people’s enthusiasms about the things they hold dear – like horses and their barns. Well, what a barn!
First of all it was designed and constructed by members of the community. In order for that to happen, Page and a smaller committee of community members cleared the way for entering into collaboration with the contractors being paid to complete the fire mitigation clearing. The committee also found and hired a local miller to prepare the wood for the barn.
Together, the committee and their partners arranged for collection of 16-foot-long timbers. Those milled for the outward facing walls of the horse and hay barns were left rough, with the bark in place, while the interior sides were finished.
The space spoke like the most exquisite of poems. It stood wide and open, sheltered and quite beautiful as an example of what active engagement with wild nature’s constant companionship can look like.
Now, Gary and I are eight hours down the road. We’re parked on the snow and ice behind two miles of earlier traffic stopped on I 84 West, about 13 miles east of Pendleton. A soft snow falls. The gentle rumble of idling semis fills the air, interrupted only by the louder growls of trucks underway on the east-bound side of the highway. A wreck has us blocked – has the highway closed.
You just can’t know what a day will bring. But with this day, with this writing I keep remembering that constant invitation I mentioned before. Today it’s all improvisation based on reaction to nature’s demand. Tomorrow it may be composting or a late planting of bulbs. And tonight we’re still hopeful (since traffic just started moving over the snow again) for a continuation of the stories Gary’s been telling publicly about the healing ways of wilderness.
It’s for certain not free of stress for us humans, but the fact of our engagement with the wild and natural is inescapable. It does what it does – this companion – this great equalizer. And truly it doesn’t even feel odd to me that, even in the circumstances of a highway laden with early winter weather, I’m only feeling grateful for the wilderness – for its constancy, its openness, its shelter, and its beauty.