In Vanishing Valley
By ice rivers
Thirty years ago, on a startling, clear August afternoon, I was smack dab in the middle of everywhere, the Grizzly Mountains of Montana. To be more precise, my Outward Bound group was in the midst of crossing a boulder field in the Grizzlies that had appeared as a routine valley on the topographical map we were using.
We were four days deep into the wilderness of Beartooth.
I had backpacked about a half a mile on top of these boulders always hoping that the boulder I was treading on would lead to another boulder and not an unjumpable crevice that would force me to backtrack God knows where. Also only God knew how or when those boulders avalanched into the vanished valley between mountainsides in the first place without showing up on any maps. Yet here they were and amongst them, incongruously was I. If I could have given up, I would have.
I thought I was in trouble.
I knew I was in trouble when while jumping from one boulder to the next, I came upon a snow, white mountain goat. I couldn’t believe the goat was sitting so still, as I stupefied, drew closer. The goat was obviously a lot more at home in mountains than I.
I got about three feet away from the bearded wonder. The goat continued to look straight at me while remaining absolutely motionless. Upon closer examination, I understood why the goat wasn’t moving. Two of its legs were broken, folded beneath his body. The goat had picked this boulder in this vanished valley between Grizzly mountains as his dying place.
Perhaps this dying place had picked this goat.
You know who.
I looked at the goat with his beard as white as snow in Ireland. The goat looked at me. Neither one of us knew exactly what to do. I'm sure I was the first human this goat had ever seen. In the face of his oncoming death by exposure, I, a mere mortal, didn't phase that goat one damned bit.
I considered puttting the goat out of his misery but the best I could have done was a head bash with a rock, if I could find a lethal enoguh rock amongst or atop the boulder.
While looking around for a clobbering rock, I absorbed another view of the boulder field. My eyes swept over the former valley as far back and forward as I could see. On the boundaries of the boulders, I saw mountainsides. Above the mountainsides, I saw clear blue sky. Off in the distance, I heard the echoing shouts of my scattered Outward Bounders. Each of them hoping that the next boulder they chose to leap on would lead to another boulder and not a crevice.
I had another kind of decision.
To bash a bearded moutain goat or not to bash, that was the question. I began to wonder exactly what misery I thought I was putting the goat out of? What did an interloper like me know about misery in the mountains? I also reflected upon this undeniability.
Before me was a creature who had lived its entire life bounding from rock to rock before making one last, fracturing fatal dive. Before that creature was a human whose idea of bounding and diving from rock to rock was playing in a rock band at a bunch of dives. Yet the former was mortally injured and the latter was attempting to pass judgement.
I wondered if the goat had bounded into one of the dives where I had once played Louie, Louie whether he would have been tempted to pull the wires from our amps.
Then I refocused......
I realized that the clouds, the sky, the mountains and the boulder couldn't care less whether the goat lived or died or for that matter whether I lived or died along with the goat. The sky, the mountains, the clouds and the boulders had played out this kind of drama, minus me, millions upon millions of times before without any of my help and would continue to play out this tableau long after I left, if I lived long enough to leave. If this dying place didn't choose me as well.
I looked once again at the goat who was motionless, aware, at peace, dealing with the pain, and prepared for infinity.
That's about as close as I've come to seeing You Know Who.
Some silent, sacred time elapsed.
I set my sights on the next boulder and headed for it.
I never looked back.
Everything was perfect in the wilderness.
That night, I decided I wasn't going to shave my whiskers.
I still have the beard today.And it started turning white last year.
Meanwhile, back in the land surrounding Vanishing Valley there rose up more sound and fury than usual indicating more than the usual level nothingness.
As I left the goat behind, I listened to the world and discovered the sound of nothingness under which I could pick up indications of tremendous sound and fury. The stillness, as they say was deafening.
When I came down from the mountain, I knew things that no one else knew. At the same time, I didn't know something that almost everyone, unless they had been out in a boulder field in the middle of Everywhere, knew only too well.
Nixon had resigned the presidency.
I missed all of that. I traded it for Mt. Tempest, Grasshopper Glacier, skree, gorp and a glimpse of You Know Who.
When I got the news about Tricky Dick, I rewound in my mind to where I was at the exact time that he was waving goodbye. I'm pretty sure I was between boulders, in a hard place, gazing at a goat and deciding to grow my beard to always remember the time I almost saw You Know Who.