Friday, June 24, 2016

The Stubbornness of Some Myths

If a town like Coyote NM lacks up-scale glamor to a tourist, then this forest just made it worse:

Believe it or not, I sort of liked it. The altitude was over 8000 feet, so it was cool. It was flat enough to use more than one gear on my mountain bike. And there wasn't one Jeep Wrangler after another, as there soon will be in Colorado.

Getting all the damned trees out of the way just helps you admire the sky. It is the time of year when the sky gets more interesting every day, thanks to the swelling humidity. Although the onset of the summer monsoons is routine in some sense, nature is never totally predictable. So a peasant living close to nature always feels a certain amount of nervousness. The drama of the sky becomes interesting, once again. 

Besides, the trees' loss is the understory's gain. Think of it as as a French Revolution for the forest. But what were the humble verdancies that were bustin' out all over? Good eatin' for somebody?

It didn't take long to find out. We ran into the herd of young elk cows, again. This time they were agglomerated into one herd, between 50 and 100. We spooked them into the bowl beneath our trail. They raised holy hell with their bugling/squawking.

Then they ran uphill and crossed the trail 100 feet in front of us. My dog was as astonished as I was. She wouldn't even chase them! (Just to make sure, I snapped her back on the leash.) There were times when all those hooves in motion sounded like a cattle stampede in a Hollywood western.

The austerity and harshness of a burned forest adds to a sense of forlornness and loneliness.  This used to bother me more at the beginning of my career as a full-time RVer: my favorite sport was the least popular activity of "fellow" RVers. But I responded by getting a dog and taking it on every outing.

There has been another way to adapt. At the moment I am reading Owen Wister's "The Virginian," acknowledged to be the progenitor of the cowboy myth in America. The lone rider of the plains. Of course, America is not the "exceptional" nation that it thinks it is; South American countries have the gaucho mythology. And all Europe had the romance of the knight errant before that.

It may at first seem ego-centric or narcissistic to glamorize one's own sport as a re-invention of a myth. Actually though, I think it is the opposite of egocentricism to see yourself as just one more manifestation of a long-lasting or recurring archetype.

A mountain biker's claim to be today's "lone rider of the plains" is even better if he blogs anonymously and reinvents the "man with no name" of Wister's novel. When the forest service smacks him with more travel or camping restrictions, it pains him in a manner similar to the mythological cowboy who saw barbed wire fences going up.

There was a wisfulness in Wister's novel for a West that had disappeared in his time, 1902. But perhaps poignant nostalgia for a dead way of life is not the right attitude. Wister could not have predicted the invention of the mountain bike in the 1980s. 

More generally, the importance of a myth may depend less on its oldness or popularity than on its ability to survive obsolescence in an ever-changing world, by somehow reinventing itself in a newer world. Like the forest after a fire.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Evanescence of a Trail

It was hard to believe this forest road: it was an official road on the official map. But why weren't there any tire ruts in it? The grass and other vegetation had filled the road space in. But there was a noticeable road space: flat and smooth. 

Where were all the rocks? Credit the geology for that. 

It was strange to think that I had all this to myself, while just a few miles away in Abiquiu, the tourists were burning up in the heat to see the standard things. Perhaps a place like Coyote NM lacks the cachet they are looking for.

The topography was perfect for mountain biking, albeit backwards. When you camp at 9200 feet, you will usually have to start a ride going downhill -- not what is desirable. But in a heat wave, what else can you do? So smooth was this "road." It felt funny to have the grass tickling my bare leg.

I really hoped this road didn't crap off on me, because it would be a long push/walk back up the hill. It is the buggy season, June, if you think that the southwest ever gets buggy. But it is also the season for big yellow-and-black swallowtail (?) butterflies.

We came upon two herds of youngish elk cows. I thought elks were supposed to "bugle." Their sound was more indignant and higher-pitched. Can ungulates ululate?

Surely I wasn't still on an official road! And then, just like that, we popped out onto a main through-road. Now at least, I knew where I was. I felt relief for a couple minutes, but then felt that evil urge to try something that wasn't so straightforward, such as an unmarked dirt road that appeared to climb back to the high elevation of my campsite.

And then this new road started crapping off, as we climbed out of the ponderosa pines and into the hideously thick spruce and fir. It was a "sinking" feeling as I ascended. But then that perfect moment came, as it has, so often: the exquisite feeling of knowing that you are almost lost; of looking for signs of a continuing road, but feeling that these signs are only imaginary. The real world has left you.

For the benefit of new readers, there is a quote I like to whip out here, from "Five Stages of Greek Religion," by the classicist, Gilbert Murray.

The Uncharted surrounds us on every side and we must needs have some some relation towards it...

As far as knowledge and conscious reason will go, we should follow resolutely their austere guidance. When they cease, as cease they must, we must use as best we can those fainter powers of apprehension and surmise and sensitiveness by which, after all, most high truth has been reached as well as most high art and poetry; careful always really to seek for truth and not for our own emotional satisfaction, careful not to neglect the real needs of men and women through basing our life on dreams; and remembering above all else to walk gently in a world where the lights are dim and the very stars wander.

There is no better physical representation of these thoughts of Murray's than getting lost in a thick forest, on a waning trail.

I had to surrender and backtrack, and then take the straightforward road, up, up...

I had brought plenty of water, and my dog was doing her duty of sipping some. You can only get so hot when riding between 8000 and 9000 feet, in the morning, and mostly in the shade. But I thought of the heat wave that was baking the entire Southwest, and the news stories about hikers croaking in Arizona. 

Then we encountered what I have never encountered before:

If only I had been a newbie and gotten desperately thirsty before seeing this. Still, my dog, Coffee Girl, honored the occasion by wading into the water -- something she seldom does -- and having a good long drink.

It reminded me that soon I'll cross over into Colorado, with its over-rated mountains, traffic, and tourists. But every year it is worth it, just to experience the miracle of running water.