It was a 50-mile drive from the banks of Kootenay Lake up, up to the Monica Meadows trail head. Carole, Tom and I had tried this hike three years before, only to have the two-track access road closed by a landslide and a pissed off land owner. As Carole and I approached the turnoff again and there was another CLOSED sign...this time announcing road closure for a bridge replacement, 3 days hence. The fates were with us, as we continued the slow-going drive up the crotch of Meadow Creek Basin, into the heart of the Purcell Wilderness. The raging creek, strewn with house-sized boulders, made me wonder just how the lazy streams of Colorado justified the label, 'river.' This mountain-scape, home to the likes of Loki and Jumbo Peaks, was another scale of wild.
The hike was a sweat-driven, steep-stepped romp. Huckleberry bushes, deep red and gold with autumn, lined the damp path. Endless snow-laden peaks and receding glaciers framed our views. It took a couple of hours for the trail to gentle. We caught our breath, followed around the mountain curve and dropped into a basin of rare Alpine Larch. It was the perfect rendezvous, immersed in the death and descent of autumn.
The Alpine Larch grows in inhospitable places at treeline in the Canadian Rockies. She's stunted and wind-hewn compared to her towering, heavily-logged family to the south. She clings to rocky cliffs, her stance so precariously natural it was hard to tell which came first, the tree or the precipice.
Carole whispered, "It's like walking into caramel." The golden needles conjured fairy dust upon my soul. Another world at treeline, as the gentle breeze kicked up and loosed a shower of soft, golden needles upon my skin.
Three ancient Larch graced the barren landscape above, lookouts from stone perches. We rested by a pool of reflective water, ate a meager lunch of nuts, cheese and pears and soaked in the sun. Turns out we'd forgotten our usual celebratory foods and treats. No flasks of port. No cigars. No cold beers waiting in the cooler in the car. The mood was exhilarating-somber as we traversed the rocky clefts and climbed from one Old One to the other. I approached, leaned into the thickened trunks and touched the fire-scarred bark. I starred up into their golden crowns; murmured a prayer of thanks.
The afternoon sun waned as Carole and I took a seat beneath the outstretched branches of the third Old One. We were on the cusp of departure when our silent reverence exploded into existential reflections, corralling our lives in the context of deep grief and fears. For our little selves. The Mother Planet. The children, the wild, on and on into bottomless pockets of question. We'd come to the tree to pay homage and to keep her company. Turned out she was was keeping ours; overseeing our despair with steadfast presence. Guiding us back to potent possibility: the germ of hope, cocooned in the ephemeral.