"The Companion"


     Arriving at the trailhead with restless legs after the long drive, I hop out of my car and throw on my backpack. As usual, it’s about fifty pounds. But as I wear it today it feels much heavier; I’m already weighed down with burden. My spirit has been yearning for time in the wild. I can’t wait to get into the mountains.

     Recently struck with the greatest tragedy of my life, I have come here in hopes that I can begin to heal. My first backpacking trip of the summer and the first time I have been away since, my only goal over the next six days is to hike off some of the pain and cleanse my soul as I swim in high mountain lakes, drink from the glacial streams, and breathe in the sharp alpine air, so that I may be filled with light once again.

     A companion has also joined me for this trip, which will be his first time in this range. After telling him about it for years, we were finally able to make time to come here together. As soon as we are on the trail, he is already astonished by the serenity as we hike through the dense pine forest. I slow down my pace so that he can take it all in. I am very familiar with this place, but his childlike fascination and wonderment remind me how special it is and how lucky we are to be here.

     After several hours, he is still admiring all of the colorful wildflowers we pass on the trail. He laughs at the small squirrels as they scurry around collecting pine cones. He looks up into the trees, listening closely to the different songs from the birds. He focuses on the orange, yellow, and white butterflies as they flutter by. Furry marmots chirp at us from the tops of boulders; loud clicking bugs fly past. He shows his appreciation for the natural melody with prolonged silence, until he can’t help but thank me for bringing him here. I tell him to just wait, it will only get better.

     Now, more than a dozen miles in, we are above the tree line and enormous towers of granite come into view. We have reached the mountains. The trail winds around crystal clear, blue lakes surrounded by sparkling boulders and lichen covered cliffs. The sky is now filled with dark clouds, turning the air ice-cold. Indian paintbrush and wavy grasses dance in a gentle breeze. We can hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. He is in utter amazement.

     We make it to our destination on top of a high granite knoll overlooking the basin. We have an endless view of peaks, lakes, and waterfalls in every direction. We get our tent set up just in time as the rain arrives and take cover inside. The lightning is now on top of us, causing the earth to shake with each strike. Hunched over, we unpack our things, talking and joking around while we wait for the storm to pass.

     About an hour later, the drops of rain falling on the tent become lighter and lighter until we hear them no more. A few birds begin to sing once again. We poke our heads out, the sky is already clearing up. A band of intense white light, of indescribable clarity, is illuminating the granite spires off in the distance. We grab our rods and head down to the nearby stream to try and catch some fish, just like we’ve been doing together since I was a teen. This is what he’s been looking forward to most.

     I catch a few decent sized brookies and one small golden that I throw back in before he even gets a bite. Just as his patience is wearing thin, he hooks a huge cutbow and hauls it onto the shore. This one is a keeper for sure. We cook them in tin foil over a small fire and enjoy every bite as we feast on fresh, wild, greasy fish.

     We quietly sit and watch the sunset as the sky changes from gold, to orange, to fiery red, swatting away the occasional mosquito. Once it’s dark, the sky glows with billions of stars above. We sit closer together and as we gaze upward, he raises his arm to point out and name the different constellations he recognizes. Finally, tired from hiking and being outside all day, we crawl inside our warm sleeping bags. Happily exhausted, we drift off to sleep too quickly to say goodnight to each other.

     When I awake in the morning it’s still hard to open my eyes. I softly say his name to see if he’s up yet, but I am only answered by the silence. My stomach sinks. My chest tightens. I can feel the emptiness of the tent now. The horrible loneliness weighs on me, so heavily that I am forced to lie back down. If only you were really here. You would have loved this place, dad.

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