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Environment

Wild About Utah: Wandering Home

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Josh Boling
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There’s a map in my head lined with the topography of memory and time. The landscape has a rhythm, the cadence of muscle memory when enough boot prints have been tracked across it. Earth’s geometries are as familiar as my own. 

George Mallory, when asked in 1923 why he would attempt to climb Mt. Everest, replied, “Because it’s there.” Those now immortal words have been uttered by nearly every adventurer seeking some sort of tenable logic for their quests big or small. Mallory’s words rattle in my brain when I endeavor to do much of anything outside; but those words are only half the answer. Yes, we climb mountains, paddle rivers, and explore canyons because they are there, but also because we are here. That, I think, is the most tenable logic of all.

 

“…[T]he living world is the natural domain of the most restless and paradoxical part of the human spirit,” wrote E. O. Wilson. “Our sense of wonder,” he continues, “grows exponentially: the greater the knowledge, the deeper the mystery and the more we seek knowledge to create new mystery.”

Everett Ruess was still a child in 1931 when he began wandering the red rock canyons of southern Utah with a burro and his art supplies. He scaled cliff bands and steep canyon walls with alarming abandon, and I thought him reckless when I first read his letters and journals. I still wouldn’t follow his lead; but I wonder now if I had judged him too harshly at first. Mysteries are known and knowledge is gained through perspective; and some perspectives are acquired with requisite risks.

 

They say there’s a gene that separates the restless wanderers from those more content. Perhaps that’s true; or perhaps it just identifies the tendency with which we gain perspective. I’ve often wondered if I have that gene; but I don’t think it matters in the end. We all wander—into the backcountry, the hinterlands, the backyard. I think it’s the mysteries we seek that are different, and, therefore, the knowledge gained—of ourselves and the places we call home.

 

So, I wander my home range: the valley floor with its winding, braided, willow-choked streams; the hills adjacent to my neighborhood; the glaciated peaks of lime- and dolostone that stand sentinel in the alpenglow. A decade ago, it would have been for the rush of adrenaline and the surge of blood in my veins, for the same perspectives sought by Everett Ruess. Now I do it for the deeper mystery of unknown corners of places I once thought I knew—for the knowledge that lies within.

 

There’s a map in my head, lined with the topography of memory and time, shaded by the knowledge gained and the mysteries still yet to be revealed.