Toward the end of Day 2 in White Canyon - so far south you can almost smell Arizona and so deep in the desert that those invasive plants that plague the Colorado Plateau (tamarisk and Russian olive) still haven't found their way in - Chris walked back down the trail to tell us he saw bear tracks.
"Uh huh," I said, my voice probably wavering between disbelief and indifference.
"I said bear tracks, not deer tracks," Chris said.
I shrugged. "So?"
Chris just chuckled. "Um...." Above us, sheer sandstone cliffs cut out the sky, stark blue against a red rock streaked in slate black varnish. Cottonwood trees dripped in spring greens I have probably already missed seeing in Alaska, and I realized then how far from home we really were. Me and the bear.
I dropped my pack and hobble sticks and stumbled up a side canyon, where my friends were already following the well-laid footprints. I struggled to keep up with the group but found myself slipping further behind. Their echoing voices faded up the canyon until I was alone with the silence, tracing the steps of a ghost bear in the sand, and losing my concentration to the mystery of it all. The canyon twisted and narrowed, casting the wash in shadow, threatening yet another dead end, and still the bear moved on.
It's been an interesting experience to come together in this place - together as a group of old and new friends now spread between all corners of the continent; together as Alaskan and black bear in the Utah desert. Such strange collisions could only happen in a space so wide open it closes in all the empty spaces, a place so beautiful it bleeds light, where time moves like the waves in a river - constantly curling back toward the past.
I had a great vacation despite a nearly continuous struggle with an uncooperative body. I'm back in Salt Lake City today after driving between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., all hopped up on gallons of Diet Pepsi (which is my excuse for still being awake and also for this strange post.) I owe my sore knee to some misguided mountain biking and unintended canyoneering, but I owe the great vacation to old friends, open spaces, and a little black bear that must have been a long way from home.
To be continued ...