Tomorrow morning, 8 a.m., a bunch of hikers, painters, film makers and at least one back-country EMT will gather in my front yard for a little face time before embarking on a five-day, four-night journey into stone heaven, the heart of the Scotchmans. My job? I get to say, “We go now,” in my best native guide voice, and they will all respond by, umm, going. Into the truck. Up the road. And, then, in a blessedly anticipated moment, up the trail.
Boy, oh boy! We will be having fun then.
Some of these people are old friends, some are new friends and some are friends of friends, but I nearly guarantee you that they will all be Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness when we walk back out on Tuesday. I think it might be impossible for a person to spend half a week in the Scotchmans without falling in love with them. Even inveterate whiners and wimps might be converted after a couple of days surrounded by rocks who don’t really care if they are hungry, or sunburned, or bug-bitten — or lost.
There is something about entering the cathedral of wilderness, where all things seem to point to the sky, that allows a person to claim themselves in a manner more clearly than other acts of self-actualization. Being immersed in a place that gives you no direction, places no strictures on act or emotion, and lies before you unconstrained and invites you to live that way also lets us define ourselves. In wilderness, one has to decide “what is good for me?” in terms unlike more civilized places allow. Whether traveling alone or in a group, a bad decision made with impunity on the street or in the grocery store can easily become damned uncomfortable, or even fatal. A social gaffe that might not even rate a raised eyebrow at cocktail hour might send you to Coventry in the wild.
So, in the face of a wild place inviting us to be wild also, we must become more responsible and certainly more competent, for there is overwhelming evidence around us in the back country that we have to be responsible and competent or it will eat us alive — in the most dispassionate way imaginable. The wilderness doesn’t care, and that is why we care about it. In reality we love this place because it doesn’t love us, but simply lets us be and suffer the consequences of our own behavior without societal buffering.
We go now, into the wild. And the wild will go into us. We will have fun. We will learn. We will love. And all the wilderness has to do for us is just be.
— Sandy Compton