Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner



David Muench's National Parks





 


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               (Photo Credit: David Muench)
 

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hike on New Year’s day. Beginning the year in wild country, on the theory that as the year starts, so it goes, is a necessity. Like morning’s first cup of coffee. But it brings up questions. If I believe in the theory – that the beginning of the year directs all that follows – I really should be sitting at my desk on January 1, writing something.

I’d rather go for a hike.

I suppose I could do both. Because the New Year’s hike is rarely long, I could write on returning home. But that makes writing a sort of anti-climax, which writing shouldn’t be. (One can find so many reasons not to write . . . ) I wonder whether thinking about writing as I hike counts for something. Or does it degrade the hike, remove me from the wild moment? I know – while the entire human world is in trouble, and the earth is hurting – worrying about whether or not I should think about writing as I hike seems a bit frivolous. And yet, if we don’t carry on with acts of love, which both hiking and writing are, what chance is there that anything can ever be made right? In moving through the purity of winter, of beginning, things actually are right. If each person on earth had such a moment, what could happen?

In Montana, my New Year’s hike took me a few of miles into Bear Trap Canyon. While I haven’t been in there since those first few miles burned a couple of years ago, it was (and will be again) the perfect trail. Usually less snow-covered than higher trails, although often cold and windy, the trail through the canyon – the first BLM Wilderness in America – winds along the Madison River for about nine miles, ending near the dam that creates Ennis Lake. Distance or challenge are not the point of this walk. The place is. The snow is. The beginning of all things is. One year I was invited to brunch by a friend who is an extraordinary cook. I tried to refuse so I would not be swayed from my hike, but my friend insisted she would send me off immediately after we ate. Whatever one’s passions, marvelous food is extremely persuasive.

 
(Photo Credit: David Muench)

My New Mexico replacement for Bear Trap Canyon is a trail in the Sandia Mountain foothills above Placitas where, even if there are ice patches on the ground, there are no cliffs to slide off, as there are on Sandia itself. For lunch stops, there are good rocks with gorgeous views of a wild mountain, the snow defining the rock forms of peaks and cliffs; defining the dark forms of evergreens. The mountain looks cold and dense from these viewpoints, impenetrable, other-worldly. You cannot see its trails from the New Year’s walk. You cannot remember its spring radiance of cactus blooms; the brilliance of sunset sliding down its façade.


 
(Photo Credit: David Muench)

When we hike here at any other time than New Year’s, we refer to it as “the New Year’s hike.” It’s the trail on which I’ve been teaching Luke to hike off-leash; to not wander far from me; to come to my whistle; to wait for me if I’m much behind him. He’s actually doing quite well. Even the single time he ran off after a rabbit, he returned to my whistle. But every other dog I’ve ever hiked with always ran ahead, then back to me, and ahead and back, and so on and on. Luke doesn’t do that. Luke sits down in the trail and waits. What kind of a dog does that?

Snow began the day after Christmas. On the mountain, it continued off and on for much of the week. New Year’s day was born under a snow sky, and few people were out hiking. The sole couple we saw soon after starting did not stay on our route, taking, instead, a return trail about half a mile from the beginning. From their turnoff, our trail was untracked but for the spoor of a single rabbit. I sank into snow well above my ankles. Luke broke trail. His feet didn’t sink in as far as mine.

Ruth Rudner
                       (Photo Credit: David Muench)

It doesn’t happen very often in New Mexico that there is this much snow in the foothills. Or that it lasts more than a day. Or that it is entirely yours. Or that a snow sky allows you to pretend you are in a northern place. The walk made me happy. It made me feel at home. It was the right way to begin a new year.

When we returned to the trail two days later, the sun was brilliant and warm, although the air remained sharp as winter. But snow has a hard time outlasting the New Mexico sun. Serious winter is an ephemeral thing here. Change happens fast. Perhaps change everywhere happens fast.

Copyright © 2016 Ruth Rudner