Old Footsteps 

There’s something about coming back to a place you know.    The place I’m about to describe is a certain valley deep in the heart of the North Cascades.   I just returned from there with my two sons, now grown.   It’s a place you can only access by beating brush and wading the icy swift channels of a glacial river.  It’s a place my ex-wife and I took these boys when they were very young.  

I recall shuttling packs and kids across this same river, waist deep in swift water with a toddler on my back, vacillating between feeling like I was a good dad and a terrible one.  In the end, because we all survived, I suppose I felt like I was a pretty good one.     

My sons spoke of their memories of a black bear making its way upriver, strolling past our camp while gazing at us with a look of indifference.  They remembered the fish we caught, and evening campfires crackling and popping under the stars.  We told stories late into those nights and somewhere deep in their memories, I know those stories still live. 

The benefits of cross-country travel ensured that you’d most likely never run into another soul up there.   I recall one time we did run into a family like ours, taking their young kids upriver.   They were as surprised to see us as we were of them.     

Coming back with these boys now grown was like coming home to an old friend.  She has a certain way about her.  There is a certain, musty, cottonwood sweetness in the air like no other. 

The glaciers in the heart of this vast wilderness bleed their icy streams from deep hidden canyons. 

The brown basalt cliffs rise thousands of vertical feet above the main valley floor, and the gray silhouettes of the Cascade crest loom in the distance as watchful sentinels.   

The sigh of the river is a never-ending symphony of celebratory water, and the joy in the air makes you feel so alive, you scarcely notice the pack digging into your shoulders.  You forget about old pain as you embrace new life.

Even though the relentless winter floods had cut new channels through the forests, spreading and scattering fallen old growth trees like toothpicks across the valley floor, every bend in the valley was familiar, and beckoned us ever closer to our camp.  

We stopped at the confluence of a large tributary and spent a couple of days up there drinking it all in before exiting quietly, the same way we had come.  Much in our lives had changed since that first trip, yet here we were, bonding not just as father and sons, but as men, stronger than ever, determined to live our best lives.   

There is nothing like a trip back to a wilderness that holds such sacred memories.   It's like coming home to a never-ending song...the heartbeat of life itself.  


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