Storms are brewing across the desert and rolling toward my campsite from 80 miles away, the rain giving life to the parched earth. It’s monsoon season in the desert, as evidenced by the torrent of hail that greeted me in Wolf Creek Pass. And the summer storm that approached weeks ago, when I was on the summit of La Plata, only to miraculously change direction due to a last-minute shift of the winds. Somewhere else must have needed it more.
Now, though, the storms are coming right at me, and Willie Nelson is crooning Eddie Vedder’s words in the background, “nothing you would take, everything you gave.” Like he’s singing to the storms. The storms themselves take nothing from the earth, but give everything they are – sometimes giving too much. They give water, a break in the heat, life, but they can also give lightning, creating fires when the land is too dry. Causing damage, but in moderation, also cleansing from disease. Everything is necessary, but everything must also be balanced.
Sometimes it seems as if we’ve lost sight of that balance. We take so much and give so little. Or give everything, without putting heart into the things we do. We disrespect the ground growing above the bones of our ancestors, people whose sole purpose in life was simply to live – survival as a way of life, practiced to a form of art. But now, we don’t even have to try. I feel my own frustration with not having been born six hundred, four hundred, even two hundred years earlier, so I could have seen this place in its prime, seen the land before European contact, or ridden up the cattle trails, a face full of dust with a good horse beneath me. Living intentionally, living with purpose. Today, everything we could possibly need is at the tip of a finger. Just a quick trip to the store, or the opening of a plastic container, or even just a tap on a phone screen and something is delivered right to the doorstep.
We are better than that. Humanity is better than that.
Mesa Verde. This place’s name means Green Table. I feel honored to camp here, a campsite near the ancient civilizations carved into the cliffs. Spindly cedar rows, scarred and burned, stand sentry to the centuries like the Terracotta Army of the American high desert. And through those centuries, the table’s bounty has been preserved and protected, so today we are able to understand and appreciate the effort it took to live life for the sake of living. I think it’s possible to get back to a mindset of living for a reason.
We have accomplished incredible things and can continue to do so, as long as we don’t allow our tendency toward a life of ease to take over from the wildness in our nature. We need to find a balance between modern conveniences and the backcountry of our hearts. And looking out at these palaces in the stone, I realize that we have to leave something behind that means something – not a sign of how we made life easier; rather, a sign of how hard life was, but how we worked harder. We can conserve and protect and fight for the things that are wilder than we are, and therefore the things that make us human. And by doing that, we can leave behind Green Tables all our own.
Coming Round To Get You – Farewell Milwaukee
Just Breathe – Willie Nelson