On our second top out of Baldy, we came up what we are choosing to call Harwood Ridge: A slow, slog of a climb in what felt like warming temperatures, until we neared the top of the ridge of course. The wind picked up a bit. Chris' hat blew off and I died with laughter as I watched him chase it down the side of Mt Harwood. We continued and the wind picked up some more, and then some more, and then a lot more. I was done laughing. My jacket rapidly slapped against my skin, and my hand quickly went numb. "This is fucking shitty," I thought out loud. We reached the top, beaten down and cold quickly continuing down the other side.
Out of the wind we were in a different world all together: hot! But now, post holing in the snow every three or four steps: about as non-rhythmically as possible. "I swear I used to enjoy running down hill in the snow." I thought as the numbness left my hands only to take up residence in my feet. Down Bear Canyon we went, the snow fading to dirt and rocks as my fumbling feet pounded out the numbness. One of the rocks, being slightly more stubborn than the rest, stopped my left foot dead in its tracks. Woo! What a show for Chris who patiently stopped running behind me to watch as I rolled around in a pile of pine needles and dirt. Later on down the trail I let Chris run on ahead, scoped out another good spot, one with a few more rocks this time, and bam! Down I went, leaving some of my skin on the rocks in exchange for some dirt firmly rubbed into my scraped up knee.
Now, I know what you are thinking: "Erik, what the hell is your problem?! Pick up your damned feet!" But no, thats not why I end up taking so many diggers. I have taken up this past time as a means to really feel the dirt of a place on my skin; a sort of ritualistic sacrifice of flesh to a place to really tie myself to the land. You know, like those guys do in Dead Poet's Society when they make a blood oath to each other by cutting their hands. At least thats what story I feel like telling here.
Why else go to the mountains? I mean, this is a place that if engaged in any honest way can have some serious physiological and often mental effects on yourself, and taking diggers just means I am just more committed than the rest of you.
Most of us living in North America are in places where we have covered over the majority of the dirt with concrete, allowing the plants only to grown in conveniently organized rows, so as not to obstruct our fast placed lives. Because of this, many of us turn to wild places to experience something real for once, and to bring some sort of growth to ourselves.
In reading Jack Kerouac's Dharma Bums there is a moment when Jack's character has an epiphany while he is running down the side of Matterhorn Peak in the Sierras. He exclaims (and I'm paraphrasing here) " You can't fall off of a mountain." I remember reading this and thinking, "Yes you can, you idiot!" But, I guess, for most mountains, to fall would mean that you would only end up some other place on the mountain, hitting all sorts of rocks and pieces of that mountain on the way down. You would surely experience much more of that place than you other wise would have, had you stayed upright on your feet. Maybe a better statement is: you cannot fall off of a sidewalk; because even if you do, you are still experiencing the same substance, and thus have gained nothing from encountering the cement with any other part of your body.
With all this in mind, I implore you to go out, find a hill, walk to the top, and dive down it face first. No hills around? Find a tree, climb to the top, and fall in such a manner that you hit as many branches as possible before you reach the bottom. This, I must say, would be the most efficient way to get out and experience the natural world around us, and all of your bruises, broken bones, and concussions will be a great story of you physically engaging the place you have found yourself.