The Why

Standing there some 12,000 feet above sea level, he steadies himself against the bare tree in the snow-covered wilderness, looking across mountain ranges and taking labored breaths in the thin air. His feet hurt, and his legs burn from the climb. But the view helps fuel his excitement as he stares across the alpine expanse, looking north and south, east and west, truly understanding that he is standing on the continent’s top.

All the water that falls on these summits flows from here, and he thinks every living thing on this continent needs that water. It’s a moment he will never forget.

Making his way back down the mountain, pausing on the occasional rock outcrop, he climbs over fallen trees and large boulders. Sliding, tumbling rocks, he kicks up and down a steep scree slope. Keep pace with him as he approaches the timber below. A chipmunk scolds him as he enters the gatherer’s home range. In the heat of July, he had joined a new friend to travel to the peak to gaze across untrammeled snow and the wilderness surrounding him.

From a distance, he hears, “Hey, Gabe, hurry up! Let’s get this truck loaded up so we can get back into town and do some fishing! We’ll take the three-wheelers down to the river after some lunch.”

The thought of a sandwich and a half dozen Mountain Dews is a powerful motivator after the effort required to reach that vista.

He quickly makes his way to the voice, bounding over boulders and launching off logs, rejoining his friend at the truck—Salami and cheddar with fresh produce between two slices of fresh home-baked bread. Although just a fleeting moment in time, the taste and texture of that sandwich will prove to be an unforgettable memory.

He and his friend had been cutting rounds of logs from a dead tree near the majestic old-growth forest, keeping some firewood, and planning to sell some for gas money and supplies for the trip. Turn that wood into winter heating for many, and fun for me, Gabe thinks as he stacks wood into the pickup.

He is sore and sweaty; his hands and feet are blistered and tired, and his arms are covered in minor cuts and scrapes. The ride back to the barn is slow and tedious on rocky primitive roads and established forest roads, not much better. Finally, they reach the graded, more-developed roads, and the smooth ride home tries to coax him to sleep.

But the smell of the nearby river keeps Gabe from closing his eyes. He hears the crash of the rapids billowing clean, crisp water into the winds that fill his lungs. I can smell the fish, he thinks to himself. I can smell those guys out there. Let’s get this wood unloaded, split, stacked, and ready for delivery; I know I’ll catch a fish today!

He grabs his creel, throws in a couple of ice-cold sodas, snaps it closed, grabs his tacklebox, and heads for the three-wheelers with his friend. Amped by the rush of sugar and caffeine from multiple Mountain Dews, they strap gear onto the ATVs with bungee cords. Gabe reminds himself to check fuel levels and lights. A robin whizzes by, catching them both off guard, and lands softly on a power pole next to the barn. A zap later, the unlucky bird goes from standing upright to hanging on by a foot to falling to the ground dead. The smell of burnt feathers drifts to them from across the yard. They look at each other, shrug with a tilted head, and Gabe’s friend says, “You ready to go fishing?”

Not much they can do about the poor bird, so with a shrug, Gabe says, “Oh yeah, let’s go!”

They speed out of the yard and into the farmland, eventually onto trails and pasture lands where the trail ends. It’s cross-country from there, and they fly through tall grass with rods in one hand and throttles in the other. The sweet smell of the river is in the wind and on their minds, and Gabe looks over at his friend to see him hollering joyfully with his rod raised in the air. He wonders if his friend sees the same thing he does right now.

In his mind, he imagines that poor robin flying above them, looking down on two kids speeding through the pasture, hollering and raising their rods in the air as if a victory salute of some kind. We are chasing the wind to the river, he thinks, while hoping that at some time in the past, two boys had this much fun on horseback or foot right here. He conjures images of teenagers like the two heading off through these grasses, hurtling to the river in search of adventure, perhaps back to the days of indigenous people.

But Gabe’s daydreams are ended abruptly, violently by a hidden stump. Time seems to stand still for a moment, long enough for Gabe to think, Damn you, Newton, I don’t want to hear about your laws right now.

A flash in the dark, pain in his knees and thighs, the smell of salami, Mountain Dew, cheddar cheese, and excellent fresh bread. Gabe opens his eyes and looks at where he used to be. “Hey, check that out,” he says aloud as he sees the wreckage of the three-wheeler.

His rod is busted into numerous pieces, and the contents of his creel and tackle box are scattered about in the grass. The handlebars of the three-wheeler are bent forward, disfigured by the impact with Gabe’s knees and thighs when he was launched into the air; the front tire is flat, and the front fork is badly bent.

“Oh crap, it’s busted,” Gabe says aloud as his buddy rides up on the one remaining functional three-wheeler. Assessing the damage but noting that Gabe seems relatively unhurt, he asks, “You OK?” between bouts of laughter before confirming the obvious, stating, “Yep, it’s busted. I guess we’re not fishing today. I got some rope, so let’s see if we can get this thing towed back to the barn, and I’ll call my dad.”

“OK, well then, we’re going fishing tomorrow,” Gabe says. But his friend smiles and says, “Oh yeah, dude, we’ll go fishing tomorrow. What the heck is that smell?”

“That’s the smell of the best lunch I’ve ever had,” Gabe says as they head back to the barn and talk about the places they’ll fish tomorrow.