Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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A wind. Clouds moving against a white/grey sky. A single crow flies over, black form against the shrouded sky. My pen, too long in heat, has leaked so that my hands are covered in ink. I should be a manuscript, but what would my story be?

That is the question. Always.

There is enough veiled sun that my hand makes a shadow on my notebook.

Near the rocks where I sit I find abundant elk scat. On a rise above me, screened by oaks not yet in leaf, a campsite has been left with garbage and broken bottles scattered in the fire ring, a tent peg forgotten on the ground.

Along the trail we passed a few small areas of burn; a larger burn as we neared the crest. On mountains across canyons to the south, the mosaic of burn/nonburn in the forested areas is clear. Snow lingers in north-facing gullies. The ridge to the south ends in open meadows, like the crest where I sit. There is snow there, too, in a gully curving down the side of the ridge.

I lean against lichen covered rock, another perfect lichen-covered rock for a writing table next to me. I once took a course at the Yellowstone Institute where I learned how to tell how long lichen had been growing by its size – so many centuries per centimeter, I suppose -- but I no longer remember. The rock in front of me is entirely covered, as if a lichen blanket had been draped over it. It would be nice if I could remember things.

We’ve hiked up the Argentina Trail, following a stream, or the sound of a stream, much of the way. Not far below the crest there is the broad, steep, smooth rock of a waterfall, although it is entirely dry. In New Mexico’s drought, I wonder how many years since there’s been water over it?

A sweet, lovely scent, blows strongly to me on the wind. A familiar scent I cannot identify.

I love the wind on the tops of mountains, the announcement you are in a world apart from that tame place at the bottom; the place from which you start; the place before you start. Wind blows in weather, blows it out, covers the scent of things – animals and plants – one direction, uncovers it another. There are, I think, many names for wind. There must be cultures for whom the names of wind are commonplace, like the names of relatives, held precious because they are known. Like all the names for snow belonging to the Inuit.

David has gone to hike up a rise along the crest. It looks to me a hike of about a mile up, mile back. I chose not to go. At first I thought it was laziness, but now – with ink all over my hands – I’m aware it was to be alone. With these rocks, this wind. Perhaps alone to write, although I think it was more just to have a time alone in this wild place.

Although I’ve been here in the past, we’ve come up here now because I couldn’t remember the feeling of it well enough for an article I’m writing about Wilderness. It was years ago, and we were on a different trail (I’ve no idea which) for my birthday hike in late April. I remember open meadows much of the way, not just on top. And iris. Wild iris were blooming everywhere, their blue/purple vibrant against the delicacy of spring grass.

There are wild iris on my land in Montana. I remember springs when the meadows were blue with them, as if sky had come to earth in forms I had never imagined.

It is still too early in the season for iris. For most flowers, although along the trail not far beyond the trailhead, we passed a small bunch of tiny white flowers whose name I do not know. There are so many flowers whose names I do not know, even though the outfitter with whom I worked in Yellowstone, a Ph.D in botany, taught me names. I do remember some, although they are rarely the white or yellow ones.

I should focus on the Wilderness article I’ve come here to finish. Somehow, I find myself more interested in the wind.

Is it because the wind is present? The Wilderness is also present.

How do I think of this Wilderness? Gorgeous forests – the parts that didn’t burn in last summer’s monumental fires – and these extraordinary meadows. I do remember meadows from that earlier hike and I revel in this one – this perfect elk meadow – the grasses, the vast extent of it stretching away every direction, the views out forever, the memory of the stream not far below.

The sky has greyed over enough that my hand no longer makes a shadow on the paper. The wind is quickening. The ink on my hand has dried. David is probably pleased up there on his peak at the soft light he’s being given.

Two crows fly over. Then three, circling. A fourth joins them, the thermals apparently perfect for their play. The air is colder, the wind piercing. Soon I’ll have to put on another layer. Soon I’ll head down below the dry waterfall, into the shelter of forest.


Photo credits: David Muench


Copyright © 2013 Ruth Rudner