Monday, 11 June 2012

A bear, a caterpillar and a fossilized clam walk into a bar...

Fossilized clam shells at 2085 meters. A caterpillar crawling across the snow well above treeline. A bear print filling with rain water on a trail.

Fossilized clam shells on the way up Burns Ridge.
I could go on. I've been noticing a lot of the smaller things on hikes. Getting up on top of a mountain or ridge, taking in mountains stretching around me in all directions, and feeling the expanse of the world still drive me to push one foot in front of the other for hours on end, but more and more I'm able to focus on the little things in the mountains that in the past I didn't even notice. And with that micro-focus I find my sense of wonder in the alpine world expanding. It's almost like I'm a little kid again, discovering the mountains for the first time.

Not surprisingly, it's my kids that I have to thank for this. Before I began leading kids hikes in the last couple of years, I'd largely forgotten about the wonders under my feet. On the way up a mountain or down a trail, I would be focused on my footing to make sure it was secure, but I wasn't very concerned with the details of what I was stepping on, over and around. It had all become just scree, talus, boulders, roots, branches, fallen trees, puddles, streams, dirt and mud to be negotiated.

A bear track on the approach trail to Burns Ridge.
My kids gave me the opportunity to rediscover this world underfoot. Seeing them find the one piece of scree with a fossil among the millions of limestone shards on a slope, and the excitement of the find in their eyes, rekindled that excitement in me. Examining a fairy shrimp in a jar that they'd dipped into an alpine lake and pulled out with life I had no idea existed reconnected me with the life that teemed around me. Answering questions about who had laid five or six blades of grass on a rock to dry (the elusive pika, that's who) reminded me to ask myself questions big and small.

I'm no longer concerned only about the big animals, like bears, that I don't want to encounter. I'm interested in the little things that can do me no harm but can teach me so much.

(Click here for more photos of the Burns Ridge scramble.)

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