The People You Meet

 

Last Sunday I headed out for a hike to the top of Mt. Sentinel in Missoula, taking a trail that runs about three miles or so up the backside via the Crazy Canyon Trail. It was a hot day, and, at the height of the afternoon, a sweaty trip. I was roughly three-quarters of a mile or so from the top when I saw another hiker, headed toward me down trail, stopped at and studying one of the few signs one encounters. We exchanged hellos in passing, then he called out again after a few steps. He was looking to loop around back to where he started, and he’d started out on the front of the mountain, taking the steep trail straight up to the M, and from there on up and over the crown. After asking a few questions, I learned he was from Illinois, and that the hiking directions he’d received were for him to descend down to the Kim Williams trail. Basically, he’d made a right where he should have made a left, and he was well out of his way. Further descent would only make it worse. Considering where he should have turned was directly on my route, I offered to show him the way, so we retraced his steps together.

The man’s name was Dave Rigby. I asked him what brought him to Missoula. He paused, then asked if I’d heard about the young man who disappeared in Glacier about this time last year. I said I had. He told me the man was his son, Jacob. Jacob’s body had been found at the base of a tall cliff after several days of searching.

Dave was in Missoula for the week, staying with friends, to get acclimated to the elevation. His other son would be flying in on Thursday, then together, with members of the search and rescue people who looked for Jacob, they would be hiking to the spot Jacob fell for the purposes of holding a memorial. It is a sad story.

We spoke of the outdoors. Dave gave up hiking about 40 years ago, he said, due to problems with his knees, but is an avid kayaker. He said it has been a difficult time, but he recognizes that at least his son died doing something he loved and was passionate about. We talked of sons, and being fathers. When we got to the spot where the trail splits, I directed him on his way. We shook hands. I took his picture, he took mine.

I had a book with me I planned to read a couple passages from once I reached the top; The Spell of the Yukon by Robert Service. At the summit of the mountain, I read the first poem; it seems appropriate to reprint it here.

The Spell of the Yukon

I wanted the gold, and I sought it,
I scrabbled and mucked like a slave.
Was it famine or scurvy — I fought it;
I hurled my youth into a grave.
I wanted the gold, and I got it —
Came out with a fortune last fall, —
Yet somehow life’s not what I thought it,
And somehow the gold isn’t all.

No! There’s the land. (Have you seen it?)
It’s the cussedest land that I know,
From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it
To the deep, deathlike valleys below.
Some say God was tired when He made it;
Some say it’s a fine land to shun;
Maybe; but there’s some as would trade it
For no land on earth — and I’m one.

You come to get rich (damned good reason);
You feel like an exile at first;
You hate it like hell for a season,
And then you are worse than the worst.
It grips you like some kinds of sinning;
It twists you from foe to a friend;
It seems it’s been since the beginning;
It seems it will be to the end.

I’ve stood in some mighty-mouthed hollow
That’s plumb-full of hush to the brim;
I’ve watched the big, husky sun wallow
In crimson and gold, and grow dim,
Till the moon set the pearly peaks gleaming,
And the stars tumbled out, neck and crop;
And I’ve thought that I surely was dreaming,
With the peace o’ the world piled on top.

The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness —
O God! how I’m stuck on it all.

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,
The white land locked tight as a drum,
The cold fear that follows and finds you,
The silence that bludgeons you dumb.
The snows that are older than history,
The woods where the weird shadows slant;
The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,
I’ve bade ’em good-by — but I can’t.

There’s a land where the mountains are nameless,
And the rivers all run God knows where;
There are lives that are erring and aimless,
And deaths that just hang by a hair;
There are hardships that nobody reckons;
There are valleys unpeopled and still;
There’s a land — oh, it beckons and beckons,
And I want to go back — and I will.

They’re making my money diminish;
I’m sick of the taste of champagne.
Thank God! when I’m skinned to a finish
I’ll pike to the Yukon again.
I’ll fight — and you bet it’s no sham-fight;
It’s hell! — but I’ve been there before;
And it’s better than this by a damsite —
So me for the Yukon once more.

There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.

 

Glacier is a rugged place, but so is any other place. It’s important to be careful, and mindful, whether we are out in the wild or crossing the street. But we can’t let the fear of what could happen get in the way of living. I admire Dave and his mission to honor his son. I was happy fate allowed our paths to cross.

 

Author: Chris

Chris La Tray is a writer, a walker, and a photographer. He lives and travels from Missoula, MT.

10 thoughts on “The People You Meet”

  1. As always I am amazed that our part of the country is so different. I wonder what I could be like if I hadn’t spent my life in cities.

  2. Hi Chris, I’ve been reading your blog for quite some time now and am finally leaving a comment. I can not for the life of me remember how I found your space here, but I really enjoy it. I am a former Missoulian, now living in Portland, OR. Just like everyone who has ever moved away, I miss it terribly, and I have a soft spot for writing with a Montana perspective. Great post, thanks for sharing your chance encounter, and that poem is haunting me. ~Crystal

    1. Crystal, thank you so much for the comment. It’s these unanticipated remarks from people we don’t know that makes it worthwhile, doesn’t it? Portland is one of my favorite places; there are worse areas to exile oneself to from Missoula, that’s for sure.

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