Breathe in, hold your breath, don’t move.
The elk are so close to the Airstream that I can take pictures from inside the travel trailer. So close, that I swear I can see their breath pushing out of their nostrils into the cool mountain air; it’s almost dinner time, and I am inside prepping a skillet dinner. This time sausages, potatoes, peas, leftover cherry tomatoes, and yellow bell pepper - perfect mountain cuisine when it’s best to stay indoors.
The elk are comfortable on the ridge; accustomed to human presences but just passing through. No hunters are allowed so the fear of death is diminished. Up the hill they come, grazing on the fauna and then continuing till they meet the rest of the herd on the ridge. I live for moments like this: when our whole evening pauses – dinner can wait. We are simultaneously enamored by the beauty of these creatures while keeping Chuey off the couch, so he doesn’t bark. It seems that we are amongst friends this time. Only four to five other RVs are at the campsite, and everyone is inside their rigs. The stillness is something we can all agree on.
In Moments Like This, There is Magic in the World Again
Whenever I’m asked where I would like to travel my inclination is inevitably somewhere mountainous and away from large groups of people. I find that I gravitate toward the mountains because there is still some mystery present. There is also a closeness. I feel enveloped by the rocks and the trees, and there’s a familiarity with the smell of pine in the air.
Elk Ridge is appropriately named, it would seem. We certainly got our money’s worth. Across the road from the RV campsites is the ranger station, with a rather adventurous turn-off for check-in. To attempt this feat, we have to pull off the main road, tuck in around the building, check-in, then pull an artful K-turn to go back onto the main drag, cross the highway to go up a small hill, and take a sharp left to the RV sites. While the sites are all pull-throughs, the first two spots are a bit tight at that angle. Leaving elicits a similar experience. Once you are in, however, it’s well worth the effort.
When the elk have disappeared out of our view, our world returns to the function of RV living. Dinner transfers from skillet to bowl, and from bowl to mouth rather unceremoniously and the world outside fades to black with only the hum of generators and the occasional truck engine to remind us that we are not alone.
A Morning Hike
Back down the hill and behind the ranger station are winding roads with small cabins for rent and a green meadow that is available for weddings and the like. Further up the mound in between the trees, yet not off the beaten path, are tent sites and dry camping for those brave enough to off-road their trailers. I enjoy imagining what this area would have been like in the 1960s and 70s, akin to memories of the Catskills of my youth in the late 80s-early 90s.
Once again, I find my thoughts drifting, wanton for nostalgia yet present as each foot presses the ground during our morning hike. “Crick – crack.” The occasional twig snapping underfoot and our shifting footsteps in the silt are about all the sounds we create. I can feel the sun beating on my skin as I absorb every fiber of my being. Our walk creates a vision of being home yet there’s still an air of adventure around the next corner.
Chuey’s legs have grown tired by this point, he’s eleven now and his tiny body is slowing down. Strapped to my torso is a carrier for a newborn in a sling design. It allows me to carry him but keep my hands free, and his little head can pop out, so he gets a better view. Continuing our stride, we come to a clearing where they’ve moved piles of cut lumber for what appears to be the beginnings of another cabin. Chuey has lost all steam by this point and has tucked his head into the baby sling for a nap as he’s rocked to sleep by the rhythm of the sway in my steps. We’ve been walking for around thirty minutes and it’s that moment we decide to pivot our heels and head back down the hill and up again toward our site.
Down in the meadow, there’s a wedding about to take place. The frenzy of gathering has started and parents herding unruly children in clothes no one wants to wear in the wilderness. There’s far too much fun to be had besides, and I think the adults would have had better luck attempting to herd kittens. Off-leash dogs and untethered groomsmen shuffle about to make the best of what will be a sweaty situation as the hour creeps up on noon.
Continuing past the festivities, beyond the ranger station and across the road we approach our Airstream. There’s a nap and a ham and cheese sandwich that await us.
Chuey - September 22, 2006 - March 11, 2020
This was one of the last trips we took with Chuey. The world became progressively busier for me, both in work, and in my education, so our traveling slowed down for a few years. Chuey’s health was declining during this period and at one point we stopped entirely to spend more quality time with him. We said goodbye to him on March 11, 2020, just a little over a week before the world came to a screeching halt. I had the honor of protecting him from eight weeks old to the ripe age of thirteen and a half when he passed in my arms in the truck's passenger seat as H drove us to the hospital. Chuey was where he belonged, and I promised him that he would never go through that transition alone.