The Earth's Hum

Maia and I went running today, along the Rapid River. We went there just looking for dirt (rather than snow or ice) to run on. We found so much more.

Meadow was made to stay home. Twice in the past few days she has tweaked her left knee while romping in the snow. She's done this twice before, including in the snow last winter. That one was serious and led to lots of x-rays and rest. This injury is much milder, and I'm hoping some forced rest will get her back on the snow/roads/trails with me and Maia very soon. She still takes evening walks with us, on leash, but I can't trust her to be careful off leash or for long distances.

And it's just as well she wasn't with us on the Rapid River trail this morning. We passed - twice, because it's an out and back route - an elk carcass just a few feet down off the trail in a steep rocky section. (Thank me now for not included photos of it here.) It appeared the elk had fallen, perhaps when ice coated the canyon; maybe wolves or cougar had chased and killed it. It had been partially eaten, not too long ago; I could clearly see the bare rib cage with tendons still holding it all together. Meadow would have tried to make a meal of the carcass as well. She goes completely deaf when I try to call her away from such delicacies. Maia - my good girl - leaves them alone.

About a mile farther up the trail, Maia stopped suddenly, listening, then looking first up slope, then down toward the river. Within seconds we saw two big elk with large racks just across the river, retreating up the very steep, rock-strewn slope to put some distance between them and us. They weren't running, and they frequently stopped to look at us, but clearly they've learned to avoid humans and dogs (particularly dogs that look like wolves). Then, above us on our side of the river, more noise - another elk, this one smaller, moving away from us. (Stupidly, I completely forgot I had my camera with me, so didn't get any photos.)

Maia just watched them, intrigued. (So did I.) I can always trust Maia, when Meadow's not around to lead her astray, to simply watch the big creatures we encounter in the forest. She doesn't even start to chase them. She appears to recognized that their sheer size creates a danger for her, as does the terrain they travel so easily through. What I love, though, is that her alertness to sound and movement invariably allows me to spot animals I would otherwise likely run right past. When I'm running, my own breathing and the sound of my footfalls not only alerts forest creatures that I'm coming, but keeps me from hearing them as they move away (or silently watch me go by). Maia becomes my ears and eyes.

My nose works pretty well, though. I could smell that elk were nearby. It's not unlike the distinctive smell of horses. (And no, I'm not referring to either their dung, or the elk carcass. It's the smell of their hides, sweat, breath - all intermingled to create their unique odor.)

All of this was very cool. We were having yet another wonderful run in the wilderness. No other people or dogs anywhere nearby. Only some sunshine would have improved the scene.

But the best was yet to come. We turned around about three miles upstream from the trail head and started making our way back.

It was a very windy morning. I would guess at least 15 MPH with gusts up to 25-30 MPH. Truly windy. The first mile of this trail climbs high above the river, cutting along a steep slope in a deep canyon before finally dropping back down to river level where a bridge crosses it at one mile. Both on the way out, and coming back, as Maia and I ran through this exposed section, the wind funneling through the canyon and across the steep and cave-pocked rock faces created a wonderful, deep humming noise. Sometimes it reminded me of the deep tone of a bass drum being thumped repeatedly for several seconds, heard from a far distance, stopping briefly, then starting again. Other times it sounded like winds across high voltage power lines, thrumming and vibrating in a deep tone. It was for me - in that environment and in the mind frame I then possessed - a sound I could imagine emanating from the center of the earth, a hum that resonated deep within me, making me feel connected, an integral part of nature.

(The first and third photos were taken in this spot. In the third, you can also see the dusting of snow on the high hillsides above this canyon,where the elk range year round. In the first photo, even Maia is smiling. You can bet I was.)

As I've said often, I'm not religious, probably not even spiritual in the common sense of that word. But I do feel most at home and at peace when I'm in the wilderness, the deep forest, in nature and especially with my dogs. We all worship at the church of trees and dirt.