I woke in the morning to snow. On the way in we’d hiked after dusk, so I hadn’t seen the river yet, nor the mountains on either side. Throughout the day they revealed themselves, coolly, like the moon rising above the horizon. They were blue, and in some places flat on top, like forbidden towers. As much as I disliked the idea, there was, indeed, something sublime about them. They seemed untouchable, impossible; the realm of starlight and feathers.
As the fog cleared the snow began to melt, and we ventured out of our tents. This was a group backpacking trip, school-sponsored, and we spent the day marching on mudded pathways. Our boots made crisp, leaf-crunch noises over the frost. This kept us warm but there was always that wind, there, which burst over us at random openings between spruces. With great joy I surveyed the plants, plucking gooseberries, chokecherries, currants, and the last, shriveled raspberries of the year.
At lunchtime we crouched by the river to fill our water bottles. When I held mine to the light I could see all the hairs of moss, all the splinter-thin leaf veins that I’d captured along with the water. I purified it with a UV stick. My fingers numbed through the aluminum; through my gloves.
By nightfall the frost and the fog had returned. I huddled carefully within my tent. True darkness. Then, sometime in the deep of night, I heard a long weee-ahhh, a great, sharp whistling yell from across the river. The first thought that came to my mind was a bugling elk. I’d never heard an elk, nor was I sure what bugling was, but I just had that feeling about it. Later I looked it up, and I was right; it was an elk, a male urging forth the rut, establishing his own form of elk sublimity. This was a sound that reminded me there were not just elk out there, but bears, and mountain lions. There was something about it that was far more river than mountain—far more tangible, even in all this cloth-darkness, yet still foreign enough to give me chills, to make me feel a startled sort of awe. This was a sweeping place. The sharp-metal sound of the elk was not small, but it was for some reason comforting. Obviously I was not alone here, in my backpacking group, but it was good to know that I wasn’t alone out there, either, in this land of snow and mountain and elk, and I soon fell asleep to the great confluence, and all that it echoed.