The Longing

Each day that I distance myself from the trail the further the trail distances itself from me. I have been on trails so often that I can close my eyes and imagine myself there, the smell of decay on the floor of the woods, the trees, moss, water, and plants.
I can see each step, the moss and small plant life collapsing beneath the weight of my feet.
Time doesn’t have much meaning on the trail, no timetables or schedules really exist there. I can just go until I feel like stopping and relax, or maybe stop and camp for the night. Each day on the trail is a new day and the experience changes with every moment, I open my senses to everything that the trail has to offer.

Everything I need for my survival is in my pack, and since my foraging skills are somewhat lacking, I am required to get my food from the hiking store like most other people. If I had to actually kill something be it out of hunger or self-protection and actually manage to kill the creature without injuring myself, I’d probably end up burying the poor thing in the ground and slinking off into the shadows like a criminal attempting to disappear after committing a crime.

The further along you go on the trail the more deeply you become adapted to the environment to such a point that nothing really matters anymore beyond the trail in front of you and what’s around the next turn.
I’ve realized that as the years go by and I spend more time on the trail that the destination isn’t as important to me anymore, but that it is the experience as a whole that is what makes this place magical.

I was recently out on an old hunting trail that meanders across the valley from my home and realized after a time that this trail I was on will link up with another trail called the Nugget Creek trail.
This trail has become a hunting trail during the summer months but was originally a miners trail used to gain access to the west side of the valley via Ester Dome. A creek called Goldstream Creek has carved a deep cavern through the valley limiting access to this side of the valley. As it is the Nugget Creek Trail is my favorite winter ski trail and I ski it almost daily during the long winter.

Now wandering along this trail without the snow covering the ground has allowed me to see things I have never been able to see before. As I turned a corner that leads to the Nugget Creek Trail I found an old miners pit. A miner would dig into the soil until he hit the perma-frost layer, then he would fill the hole with timber and burn it out until it melts some of the perma-frost. The miner would then dig out the melted soil and continue the process until he gets below the frozen gravel and soil. This pit was about six feet in diameter and full of water but the timber was still there, patiently waiting to be lit and do its job. I felt like this guy just all of a sudden said to hell with it and abandoned the effort all together.

Just about a hundred feet up trail and at the junction of Nugget Creek I found his camp. Two nearly decomposed dog kennel’s sit there, one with no roof and the walls collapsing in on itself, the other fairly in one piece but slowly being swallowed up by a spruce tree. The miners trash, cans, coffee pots, broken bottles, and fuel cans lay about recklessly dumped down a small slope away from camp.

I never think about whose feet have created these trails and paths before me in the last hundred years that non native Alaskans have lived in this valley. It didn’t occur to me until now that these trails I play on during the winter and summer, were trails that provided a lifeline for men and women who worked and died here trying to provide for themselves, and usually that effort resulted in failure.
So here I am looking over the remnants of their inhabitants and it leaves me a little sullen and contemplative, as if I was studying a tombstone I’ve discovered at some long-lost grave site.
History on these trails are as important to me as the nature itself is. Learning about the world around me helps me understand with a greater appreciation for the gift it truly is.

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