On one of my websites now almost 10 years old that I haven’t updated in five years, I quote Edward Abbey from Desert Solitaire:
This is the most beautiful place on earth. There are many such places. Every man, every woman, carries in heart and mind the image of the ideal place, the right place, the one true home, known or unknown, actual or visionary.
For Abbey, his one place on earth, his soul place, was slickrock desert of Utah, that glorious red sandstone that glows like fire in the setting sun. It is indeed a beautiful place. I’ve feel blessed that I’ve seen so many beautiful places. I’ve hiked 60 miles across Glacier National Park in Montana. I’ve walked over the Continental Divide up above Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park and along the Divide from Wolf Creek Pass in southern Colorado. My father claims I tried to kill him on a day hike in Canyonlands. I just didn’t make sure that he drank enough water, and he got spooked by the rattlesnake that he almost stepped on.
I had to pull my friend Alain out of a crevasse in a glacier in Alaska. We were hiking in the Wrangell-St Elias National Park, and Alain accidentally dropped his pack down the icy gap. We weren’t really prepared for walking on glaciers, and an ice axe or two would have really helped. We lived to tell about it back in the bars in Anchorage.
I get asked a lot by friends here in London whether I miss the States and what I miss. Yes, I do miss the States. For one, it’s home, and everyone misses home in some way or another. But there is also nothing quite like the overwhelming space here in Europe. Yes, the Alps are stunning, and the countryside is beautiful and charming. But there is nothing like the big sky of Montana. The space is a physical feeling of possibility. And while the highlands of Scotland and Wales feel wild, there is nothing so raw as the millions of square kilometers of mountains and wilderness.
In an odd contradiction of technology and an ever present reminder of my spiritual connection to the wild places of home, I carry the text of Wallace Stegner’s Wilderness Letter on my Palm T3. I love the closing lines:
We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in. For it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.
Hope. Over the years, one of the most important lessons a person can learn is how to stay sane in this absolutely insane world. For me, I go walking in the mountains. Sometimes by myself, and sometimes with a close friend. I don’t think that a human being can stay sane unless they are left some hope. Life without hope is just a desperate sleep walk, a numb shuffle through what should be a daily miracle. As Woody Guthrie said, “About all a human being is, anyway, is just a hoping machine.”
Here’s hoping that tomorrow is a better day, and eventually that the road leads home.