essay #1

Before they were soldiers


Calvin and Sean and Leaf and I start hiking into the Beartooth Wilderness in the late afternoon. The air is dry as we head up a lifeless trail past lakes that sit like Buddhas nestled in the mountains. We hike through meadows, yellow and brown with withering flowers and decaying grass. The peaks, at twelve thousand feet, terrible gods of ice and granite, command attention, respect, and fear. My muscles strain under my pack a little more each mile until I  can’t feel them. A dizziness, an ease of repetition hits you until you stop  a minute to drink and then, starting again, the sore bones and muscles that were nothing but dull pains before scream alive. After hiking for hours in silence, ignoring them becomes impossible. What little sound there is, is only the wind picking up, bringing clouds. The sky fills with haze that deepens to the intensity of black. Calvin turns to me, “We should set up camp before it rains.” I agree, though it means stopping short tonight.
            The tents go up in a drizzle, a slow leak from the clouds, exploding as we escape inside, rain pounding the granite below us in waves from the sky. Here we are far above the treeline. I open a window enough to look out and watch the lightning. No firework show could ever compete. Booms of thunder send tremors through the ground, keeping us from sleep. Across the lake, a crack, a million guns fired at once, draws me to the window and I watch the only avalanche I’ve ever seen. Boulders the size of cars slide down barren fields of scree. They look small from here. Then the storm is gone and the sky lightens and the clouds break. The last light fades into black, and we listen to the streams of water washing under the canvas tarp of the tent, runoff from the slopes above that fills the lake, which now sits as calmly as before.
            And my mind wanders to women, which is inevitable when you are sixteen and in the company of men.
– Lionel Harrington
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