Life is tough. Reading Mark Twain travel essays on the American West, in the American West.
It is notable how much different the mountains are now than a century and a half ago when Twain was venturing through the western slopes of the Rockies. It no longer takes weeks to cross the mountains, and there are houses and stores and roads more than two miles above sea level. Signs point travelers in the right directions, and no matter how sparsely populated a county might be, the presence of a road presumes presence of some rough-and-tumble outpost of civilization.
We call this progress, and it is expected. Yet in exploring my natural surroundings, I am more struck by how much the mountains and high alpine valleys of Colorado still resemble Twain’s wild west of the mid 1800s. I have happened upon several spots here at the top of the world in which I am convinced I could embark on a pursuit of hermitage and never again come into contact with another human, but the idea of such a pursuit is terrifying. Wilderness? Mountains? Alone? Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!
If closeness to or dependence on nature is so intimidating even with modern conveniences like signs and roads, I can only imagine how daunting trying to find one’s way would have been without them. Then again, perhaps our modern conveniences have only served to cripple us. Even living in close proximity to such profound wilderness, it is far too easy to stay within the comfortable confines of mock civilization and close social contact, enjoying the majestic aesthetics of the mountains but not actually experiencing them. Trapped by our own safety nets, it takes great physical and mental effort to step off the road or the path or out of the box of schedules and plans and expectations to foray into this great unknown.