Careful Where I Step

Henry Vaughan

The College of Idaho

Nez Perce-Clearwater NF

16 August 2018

I would rather walk on a trail and avoid trampling most everything in the wilderness but the hard tread underfoot. And I like the feeling of it while on it. The trail feels historical. Its presence is the culmination of past footsteps, hoofsteps, and tool swings. There are logbooks kept in the cabins scattered across the wilderness which hold the evidence of a legacy of decades, the stories and quips of workers in the Selway-Bitterroot whose days were spent doing much of the same as our crew. The logbooks add substance to our hikes, a meaning to the trail. We walk down it at the head of a crowd of trail crews and rangers past. I used to have a feeling of wilderness as the empty spots on the map (despite us walking in with topographic maps); but we have spent more summer nights inside the wilderness than inside of our bunkhouse. It feels strange to be able to call that blank space home for the season. Wilderness isn’t as much of a place to get lost in when you find yourself in it more days than not--which is not to say that it’s no longer possible. There’s so much land that we haven’t covered and so much of it which is bound to look different by next year. Yet when we find ourselves hiking up and down part of the same trail four hitches in a row, the feet start to take over for the mind and there’s the opportunity to take a step back and focus on our surroundings. We watched understories grow, change, develop, blossom, over the course of the summer and observing such liveliness gives more character to the landscape. We started to see the drainages we hiked up as living communities. I rarely felt comfortable stepping into it from the trail. Few enough people travel through the Selway-Bitterroot that a plant not stepped on by me will most likely see its way to winter. Magnified by slowly revegetating subalpine environments, our footsteps have ripple effects. I walked out of the wilderness this summer careful of where I step, constantly aware of my own impacts. I also walked out excited to keep walking back in. The wilderness is a community of which I am proud to consider myself a part.

An SBFC volunteer hikes up the trail

An SBFC volunteer hikes up the trail