Between a rock and a …

My latest wandering find was last week along a creek I had to walk a bit to get to, leaving my gasoline-powered chariot just off the hard road, where ATVs, apparently driven by youthful, if not actually young, drivers, had churned the mudhole. When the place dried, the remaining ruts were too deep for the Outback’s clearance.

On the other hand, I am usually ready to stop driving well before a younger me would have derided me for giving up. The younger me also would have had a different vehicle, like the full-size Bronco, a few years after Ford stopped making them but still while in my vehicle-shopping period of “if I can see over its roof, it’s not big enough.”

Fred the Famous Female Collie and I put a lot of miles under that truck, on and off-road. We took it many places I now take the Outback, meaning I did not really need that big truck, but it sure was fun pretending I did. One of my best memories was driving down a mountain creek bed, crawling over rocks seemingly as large as the little Subaru.

That ride was reminiscent of a 1996 ride into the Colorado Rockies in a borrowed Jeep Wrangler, the transmission in low gear, the auxiliary gearbox shifted into low range, crawling over stones the bigger than my daughter’s hope chest on a “road” so narrow any miscalculation or bad bounce and I’d still be falling all these years later.

At one point, I looked up at a distinctively pointed mountain peak. About an hour later, still on the same road but many switchbacks later, I was looking down at the same peak.

For about three years, an island in the Aleutians was home – me, my start-out family, and about 8,000 of my closest friends and fellow sailors. A favored pastime was four-wheeling in the tundra. The bad news was we were young and not very concerned with destroying the scenery we loved to boast about driving on with such vehicles –not yet called SUVs– as Toyota Land Cruisers, Chevy Blazers and one Nissan Patrol.

Fortunately for the landscape, governmental limits had been set on where such activities could be enjoyed, enforced by the knowledge that if one stuck his Blazer “out there,” he was on his own getting it out. The nearest Triple-A was 1,200 miles across a lot of water and no bridges.

I have slowed some, I suppose, but I find myself leaving the Outback well before reaching the limit of its abilities. I now enjoy getting on my belly to photograph spiders trekking across mushrooms, and pondering the power of water to turn rocks to sand as it washes them from mountaintops to ocean beaches.

The  65-degree water was refreshing as it filtered through the webbing of my hiking sandals. I saw no trout but I stirred up several crawdads and water striders. I was deeply impressed by the current that, a few days before I was there to see the results, had torn a sycamore out of the ground by its roots and pushed it about 100 yards downstream. When the creek level went down, it left behind huge islands water-soaked gravel waiting for the next storm to move them along.

Overhead, birds dashed from shadow to shadow. What sounded like a Pileated Woodpecker drummed near the top of a distinctively hollow sounded trunk as though calling down further ministrations of the gods of precipitations. That piece of creek was beautiful, and well worth the quarter-mile stroll to see it, somewhere between a rock and a sandy beach.

I hope you enjoyed our wander in the forest. Please take a minute to pass it along to your friends.

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