“The mountains are calling and I must go.” John Muir
For those with the outdoors infused in their DNA, there is a not so secret joy derived from planning a wilderness trip. The joy tends to be proportional both to the distance and duration of the journey. Should the trip be to a storied location like the Rocky Mountains or Alaska, the pleasure from planning increases exponentially.
Perhaps it lies in the masculine affinity towards maps and fly rods; unfamiliar mountain streams and yet untraveled highways. There is an ancient drive to peer over the next ridge; to discover and explore; understand and conquer.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine the preparations that were undertaken when Lewis and Clark were commissioned by President Jefferson to map the lands gained through the Louisiana Purchase. What is difficult to comprehend from our modern comforts are the difficulties they expected and planned for in a land few white men had ever seen, and fewer had survived.
I am a beneficiary of their discoveries and hardships. I now can plan routes to my adventure destinations via satellite images and GPS coordinates. Well-drawn maps now exist that with minimal training a sixth grader can understand and follow. With a few clicks of a mouse I can find weather reports, fishing reports, and lodging recommendations. I can do in an evening what it must have taken Lewis and Clark months to do as they planned their journey.
The ease of access to information does not dull the anticipation. Rather, I find my anticipation enhanced, in the way herbs enhance the flavor of a meal.
Even now my desk is heaped over with the sinews of war. Road maps, topographical maps, magazines and books on fly tying threaten to overtake my futile efforts at organization. One would think that I was planning an invasion rather than a vacation.
I am a list maker, and true to form I have an ever-expanding series of checklists. There is one for each type of adventure trip I undertake. I have a mortal fear of forgetting some critical thing; perhaps born from the time I arrived at a hunting destination only to realize I had forgotten the key to the trigger lock for my shotgun.
My current list looks like a quartermaster’s nightmare. I need to spend some time combing through it, eliminating the redundant and double checking the critical. My list you see, is an attempt at control and consistency; comfort and sensibility.
Yet part of the draw of adventure is that I cannot plan for every contingency. I will be prudent in my planning so as not to be foolish in neglect, yet one of the goals for my trip is to encounter wildness. The facade of control that we comfort ourselves with under city street lights will be swept aside as I gaze at the starry firmament; mountains pushed up by the hands of the Almighty, and streams dug with his finger.
Deep down, control is something that I do not really want. For if my strength is all I have to depend on my plight is indeed pitiful. In the wild I am reminded that I do not have to go about in my own strength and wisdom, for it is finite and insufficient. But there is another who is infinite and sufficient, and I will meet with Him in the mountains.
Do you have an arm like God’s, and can your voice thunder like his?
Can you bind the beautiful Pleiades? Can you loose the cords of Orion?
Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons or lead out the Bear with its cubs?
Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with a flood of water?
Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind?
Who has the wisdom to count the clouds? Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens when the dust becomes hard and the clods of earth stick together?
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness and satisfy the hunger of the lions when they crouch in their dens or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven when its young cry out to God and wander about for lack of food?
Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom and spread his wings toward the south?
Does the eagle soar at your command and build his nest on high?
He dwells on a cliff and stays there at night; a rocky crag is his stronghold.