Teton and Washakie Wilderness
Scale in terms of non-physical being
In terms of our physical world-what we see, smell, taste and feel, we can quantify scale. How far we walked, how difficult the passes were, what the weather was like With the trip laid out on topo maps and our fingers tracing the route across contour lines, we create the journey in an abstraction long before we depart. These musings are still coordinates on a physical map of place, however.
Scale is difficult to speak of in terms of non-physical being. We can speak of a specific wilderness area, the Washakie, and a specific mountain range, the Absaroka, yet still we have not touched the non-physical aspect of scale. Sometimes I imagine the entire Teton Range lost in the scale of the remote Absaroka landscape, like Washakie Needles, a spectacular feature in an ocean of country. The land renders it difficult to reach, and few lay eyes on its wonders. I actually visualize this in certain large basins, isolated from my kind. This transcends the physical world only marginally however.
Once on a mountain pass in the remote Absaroka, I walked into a large elk herd that was being stalked by a lone wolf. The wolf howled in frustration as my appearance disrupted its hunt. Over a mile to my south, towards an area said to have army cutworm moths, were two large grizzly bears, walking slowly away from me. They were across the plateau from each other, at least a half a mile apart. Meanwhile, a golden eagle soared overhead, riding the thermals in search of red squirrels just below treeline.
The interconnectedness I felt in just a fleeting moment on that pass is what I mean by scale in terms of non-physical being. Several life forms with different survival agendas coalescing in what Wallace Stegner described as "a landscape of inhuman scale."
This is what Norman Maclean was trying to describe metaphorically in "A River Runs Through it." Life is a series of perfect and imperfect moments. In perfect moments, we can find grace, interconnectedness and wonder if we look hard enough. "Under the rocks are the words. I am haunted by waters." My mind turns to the bears on the plateau. Grizzly bears have provided me with many perfect moments in my life. I wondered whether the bears thought of such a large elk herd and the wolf's attempt at predation. Did they know I was coming and would disrupt the hunt? Did they know in advance that there would be no elk carcass? Or were they totally focused on the moth site and not interested? With so many moths awaiting them, did a fight with a wolf seem unnecessary?
All of these questions and more filter through my mind in the winters in Boise, Idaho spent pondering the marvels of the Absaroka landscape and my place in it. Scale in the realm of the non-physical takes years to sink in. It's like the snowmelt of spring soaking the ground in the lower altitudes.
Once scale had entered my non-physical being, and became an instinct instead of an idea, it entered my mental map of place in the Yellowstone ecosystem. These things I believe when I'm glassing beyond a thousand-animal elk herd trying to see an area where I saw a flash of silver moments before.