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Thoughts on Wilderness and Repentance. Part 1

by Andrew Slaton—

Ellen and I, along with our two dogs, have been experiencing change as the only real constant during the past seven years on our National Parks Odyssey and it never gets easier, really. Every set up and tear down, new obstacles confronted, financial gain or loss, relationship added with a new friend or subtracted by death of an old one– each has its challenges.

How we react, or better, how we respond is what we must come to terms with and ultimately determines how we grow. Admitting fault, not all of it, but our part, is the first step. We slowly become more human or perhaps, in some cases, less. It is not our natural tendency to take responsibility.

Image © Andrew R. Slaton

But I can say from experience that there is some joy among the thorns. I’ve learned much of this from my wife… wise beyond her years. Here are some thoughts as I look back over the last six months from the fall of 2022 to the present.

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I’m never really sure what kind of autumn colors we’ll get here in the Rockies. A lot of folks claim to have scientific knowledge or know of old wives tales that predict the intensity of colors each fall, but to me, they all seem to fall short like “end of the world” predictions. Perhaps whoever is reading this can point me in the right direction, if it exists.

This year the colors weren’t supposed to be any good. However, from where I sit currently, my eyes are soaked in the joy of yellow and orange hues that blend seamlessly into apple green. The quakies (Aspens that shimmer in the slightest breeze) blend with warm tones all around me. It is only the beginning.

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Grand Teton National Park has become our default fall location because the area contains some of the best autumnal visual compositions anywhere in the world. Granted, I haven’t been out east in the fall, or really anywhere else of note in the world except the Rockies, but these are the landscapes that speak loudest to me. So here we are.

The seasons are changing without concern if we’re ready for it or not. This change from summer to fall does it every time to me– takes me completely by surprise. “The summer just flew by,” says everyone, every year, since… forever.

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Image © Andrew R. Slaton

The floor of the trailer is colder and colder on my bare feet every successive morning when I awake before the sun. Fall is inching ever closer. It is our seventh year living on the road and the novelty of living in a trailer has fully worn off; we’ve settled in to an unconventional life of nomadism.

But the wonder and adventure of every new day, for me, is still very much alive. It takes new forms periodically, but it remains, perseveres. The grateful feelings I ‘m overwhelmed with cause tears to well up almost daily when I think about how I could not have imagined a better, more fulfilling life, with a more lovely and compatible partner.

Where does this kind of joy come from? Is it simply that I basically get to live a life in which I have the relative freedom to do what I desire? Is it because we are not living in a state of poverty anymore? I don’t think so. I have experienced times of want and plenty. I know what it’s like to work a despised job. I know how it feels to be deeply lonely. And I suspect I may experience some or all of those hardships again in this life.

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Image © Andrew R. Slaton

Today I’m in the Absaroka Mountains of Wyoming, within America’s first National Forest, the Shoshone. It is a place of contrast; idyllic mountain scenes intermingled with confusing, maze-like terrain, peaceful meadows, terrifying, unpredictable wildlife (wolves and grizzlies), with solitude and wilderness one moment, and droves of paddle boarding, backpacking, hunting humans the next.

I have “discovered” many favorite areas over my 25-plus years of exploring the west and, in more focused fashion, the Rockies. And characteristically, they are all eventually “discovered” by many more. Every time I return to visit, there’s less and less peace and solitude.

I’m well aware that I didn’t “discover” any of these places and that they don’t belong exclusively to me. Many more came before me, and plenty of folks likely had the same feelings I am wrestling with today.

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Image © Andrew R. Slaton

A few weeks ago, two good friends from our former life in Texas came visited our summer base camp here in the Rockies to do a little backpacking. I took them on a short 20-mile loop into one of my favorite areas of our home range. The last time I visited this picturesque wilderness lake, nestled in a high cirque, Ellen and I skinny dipped. There wasn’t a soul around except us and the pups.

This time every available tiny spot to camp in this fragile, alpine ecosystem was occupied. My long-building anger bubbled to the surface mostly directed at society and the recent “back-to-nature” social media-driven trend. I had to repent of this ill-will toward my fellow humans. But it didn’t make it feel any less real. There is change coming to these parts.

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“In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are only consequences.” This is the first year I feel like an old man. I spent the first quarter of 2022 in Florida. Granted, I kayaked, caught snakes, and fished alongside alligators. But now that I’m back in my mountains, for some reason, this trip made me nervous. Perhaps it’s that I’m not in the shape I’d prefer just yet. Or maybe it’s that this area tends to be home to roaming grizzlies. Or it could be that I just got over Covid a few weeks ago, and I still don’t really feel myself?

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Image © Andrew R. Slaton

A slight spirit of melancholy touched me as I rose from slumber to awareness. It was just before 5am. My alarm would sound soon, but I wasn’t ready to face the day. So I punched it off, and rolled back into sleep.

Awakening several hours later with a completely different countenance, I was ready to face the mosquitos and sunshine, both already at my tent. The girls were ready for breakfast. After a very leisurely morning at camp, I decided to fish Wind River Lake and try for Yellowstone cutthroats. I spent two hours out there without even a bite. I blamed it on the super moon, and felt it was time to head for nearby Brooks Lake and try my luck there.

I stopped a few times on the way to snap a few decent images, but my ultimate destination was a short stretch of creek in an idyllic meadow just below the lake that I’d been wanting to fish for a few days now. I stopped the truck, and the girls and I climbed down the steep embankment to the slow, shallow waters.

Image © Andrew R. Slaton

The next three hours were gleefully spent catching rainbows in the stream and marveling at the view. I caught two decent ones, somewhere in the 14-16 inch range. The girls watched and helped will the fish onto my hooks. We had the creek all to ourselves, just me, my two dogs, and a lot of hungry fish.

When we arrived back at camp, it was nearly 7pm and dark clouds had begun to build out over the scenery before me. The kind of drama I love. I grabbed my camera, and headed a little down the hill from camp. The girls helped me capture some nice images for 20 minutes or so, until thunder struck and the wind began to build. We ran back up the hill to secure the camp. The storm was coming…

After finishing, we jumped into the truck, protected from the storm that had now reached camp; the 40 foot trees above us swayed like giant pool noodles against the swirling black sky. It was unsettling. I always forget to check for “widow-makers” when I choose my campsites.

But as is common in the mountains, the storm passed quickly without much more than some heavy droplets and some shaken nerves. The approach of a storm is (almost) always way more dramatic and terrifying than the actual storm. Or at least it lasts much longer. But it does always pass.

Image © Andrew R. Slaton

Over many years I have been struck by the beauty of nature and have always felt a powerful ally at my side that has kept a watchful eye over me when needed. So I think it fitting that I end this first part of my story by sharing my thoughts about that with you.

© Andrew R Slaton


Last updated: March 17, 2023


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