I am sitting amidst the high sources of one of the wildest, most beautiful streams I’ve ever seen; in one of the wild hearts of the world. The earth has more than one wild heart, and each is a center of renewal, resilience and beauty. Some are larger than others, but size has not much to do with the potency of such places. Here in this headwater sanctuary, bones and blood of the planet lay exposed, stone and water, essential as fire — no, more so. Out of this place and places like it, all things come.
Water begins here; gelid, clear, consummately clean; melted out of ice that might be 1,000 years old. Or older.
Soil begins here; the reduction of billions of leaves of layered stone, first to behemoth, castoff, cubic chunks of time; then to boulders, to cornerstones, to flagstones, to cobbles, shards, gravel, sand, soil, and finally dust as fine as flour.
Here are bees and birds undisturbed by insecticides or well-intentioned feeders; free-range rodents, unhindered by humans, hunted by unhunted coyotes and cats; goats, golden eagles, hummingbirds and Stellar jays that don’t know what we are, all carrying forward in their flesh wildness of the most profound type.
Grasses, berries, forbs and flowers bloom here in the harshest conditions, setting genetic examples for how to deal with stress.
Mule deer. Elk. Wolves. Bears. Picas. Clark’s nutcrackers. Moose. Us. All breathe oxygen unsullied by hydrocarbons. And over all lays silence enough to still the world’s most frantic souls. And under the silence, if you listen, you may hear the heartbeat of a planet.
We humans are not the pulse of the earth, just an element of the flesh. Without what begins here, we would be dust and vague notions God never got around to inventing for lack of parts. Like everything else here, we are built with the tools of time and gravity, extraordinary circumstance and dumb luck. We are no more — or less — wondrous than rodents, bobcats, coyotes, elk or hummingbirds.
We may think the earth belongs to us, but we are a possession of the planet, not in possession of it. And we can’t escape. We are here for life, and for many more lifetimes, until — if ever —we become able to lift ourselves toward the glimmering stars we beheld last evening unhindered by artificial light.
Some wonder what the value is in keeping places like this just for what they are. If they come to rest in this place alone and feel the slow and elegant rhythm of time within wilderness, or sit and talk with friends, as I did last night beneath the glittering band of the Milky Way, they might better understand. If they sweat and suffer the travail of a heavy pack and a rocky trail — or survive a bout with alder and devil’s club hell — to arrive in this bit of heaven, they might better understand. If they witness one of their own children work through such a place and come to understand that they are braver, tougher, more capable than they imagined themselves to be, they might better understand.
I’ve had those privileges, those moments, those opportunities. They are indelible parts of my memory and sparkling hopes for my future. Until I can’t, I will return to the hearts of the planet I have visited, and seek out new ones to visit. There, I will find myself refreshed, renewed and re-created. Out of the ancient, I will extract something brand new, a refreshed perspective of life that can’t be created by any forces except time, space and a wild, wild place.