March 26, 2013

The Lucky Ones

I was lucky enough to spend a week in the glorious boonies recently after nearly a month of nose-to-grindstone writing. First I took my wife and two boys into our family cabin for a couple days of off-the-grid skiing, animal tracking, and snow-fort making. 

We had to ski the last mile to reach the cabin, so everyone carried a backpack with their clothes, sleeping bags, books, etc. 

Some of us lugged more than others.
Afterwards, I headed further into the howling hinterlands with backcountry pals Ben and Travis. After sliding into a 180 on an icy road, we decided to load the back of Travis’s truck with some roadside ballast. 

Like any adventure worth its salt, things didn’t get truly interesting until we left the car. 

That night, Travis, who'd been sleeping on the porch of the cabin we were staying in, woke up Ben and I and said something was making noise outside. Moments later we were looking into two sets of moose eyes reflecting green in our headlamp beams. A cow and calf were tromping past. 

The next morning we found fresh tracks where a lion had walked up to the cabin’s edge in the dark of the night and sauntered only feet from where Travis was sleeping. Travis was remarkably unfazed by this.

Travis doing a bit of writing in the spot of his nighttime safari.
Travis looking at the tracks of the lion (atop moose tracks) that walked directly past his sleeping head.
More water crossings soon followed as we worked our way deeper and deeper into a land where man has no sway. 

Travis skis old-school style — waxed canvas pants, wool shirts, and a big-arse pack.
Soon we entered a strange zone where snow rarely falls, even in the coldest, snowiest winters. Wolves abound here, where deer congregate in untold numbers to take advantage of the easy living. 

There were always plenty of wolf tracks, even old ones preserved in rapidly thawing lake ice. 

Skiing on the lake was the most exciting part of the trip. First I checked the thickness by hacking a hole with a rock. Four inches was plenty thick for skiing. Then I set out across its fast, smooth surface, gliding effortlessly across a wild, mountain skating rink. 

You can see my skate-skiing tracks alongside these wolf tracks.

Disconcertingly, the ice started opening up here and there.

Not that it seemed to bother the wolves, who left the remains of their prey scattered across the lake’s frozen surface.

Ben even joined me on the ice, though he stayed closer to shore. He didn’t see the holes, which was probably for the best. The cracks in the ice, filled with water and big enough to stick your pole basket through, were unnerving enough.

On our last morning I walked quietly from the cabin to the shore of the lake. Sitting on the rocky beach, I looked out at the melting ice, the sun behind a gauze of clouds, and the mountains rising up like cathedral walls. Wind rushing through the trees and the occasional wild call of pileated woodpeckers were the only sounds. 

The mountains were vast and still, yet alive. Being there felt good. As I soaked it in, thinking how great everything was, a realization settled over me: this was the halfway point of my life. 

I thought about how the choices I'd made to live simply and adventurously had brought me to that lakeshore. I thought about my family, especially those who are now gone. Knowing my mom and grandparents had loved the area made it feel even more special, like a part of my DNA. I cupped my steaming mug of tea and smiled. It had been a good first half. 

I’ve come to realize that life or consciousness or whatever you want to call it is like a magical spark that lives inside of us for a brief, precious time. Since the birth of humanity, untold millions of us have carried that spark, our joys and sorrows and dreams flaming through the world —— only to one day be extinguished and disappear. 

There is no point in fearing or fighting this. It’s as inevitable as our next breath. What matters is right now that precious flame burns inside us. Right now we’re the lucky ones who get to be alive. 


  1. Awesome pictures! Especially the skeleton and the holes in the ice. Didn't see that reflective turn at the end coming, but I totally get the sentiment. Seems to me you're living your life to the full. Keep it going!

  2. Still one of my favorite weblogs. I wish you posted more often. Look forward to your work in print. Thanks.

  3. Love your writing AAron and your outlook on life. I find you inspirational.

  4. A wonderful retrospective, Aaron. I do wish I knew what lake that is you're skiing across. The steepness of the peaks off to looker's right is staggering.

  5. What is the reason for the rain shadow there ?

  6. I really enjoy your posts and envy your ability to live that life style. Thanks for the reminder today that I need to take advantage of the joys that life gives us.