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Shooting Stars

This park is very special. The people who know it well feel proprietary toward its mountains, scattered lakes, and glaciers. Perhaps it is the arrangement of the land, an unsurpassed concentration of American wilderness. Time and again I have thought, as I regarded some aspect of this country, yes, this is exactly right—almost, it would seem, as if some magic existed that could translate thought and emotion into rock and bark.

Glacier remains largely unexploited, bearing still the aspect of the Earth the Indians knew for 500 generations—a land where it is yet possible to feel a sense of discovery, sense that a single man matters. On too many mountains, man has tarnished whatever he has touched; but here the land has shed, as a fir sloughs snow, a long succession of traders, trappers, explorers, hunters, surveyors, prospectors, loggers, settlers, and tourists.

You may walk the same trail a dozen times and not tire of the view. I have given up wondering why. I know only that these are mountains a man might grow old with, and that mountain-fever never diminishes but only changes its look, as a forest does over many years.

Repeatedly I have noticed that this park creates an instant bond between strangers. A certain pause intrudes at the first mention of Glacier National Park, and a look of distance comes, as Red Eagle becomes real again, or the wind at Firebrand is remembered, or the flowers of Fifty-Mountain converge once more upon the senses.

Never are we quenched. If a goshawk rushes past, straining upward with its squirming load of ground squirrel, forever afterward our blood demands more. The sight of a wolverine running is not enough. Nor the magnificent assemblage of bald eagles feasting on November salmon. More days of this: mountain goats leaping impossible ledges, wave tracks from a beaver reaching out on dawn water. There are messages here, loud as kingfishers. The land has languages, stories to tell.

But in wilderness there is no moral, save that it must continue. For all our probings and plottings we discover no adequate interpretation of the forces we find swirling about us. A larch you must touch to know; your neck must feel the ache of too much looking up. Watch its treepoint pirouette. Then, looking back at the world level, you will find that you have lost all answers. We have learned the art of building bridges, cataloging plants, predicting what a shrew might do. Of the essential mystery, we know nothing.

For nature assigns no "roles" to its creatures; there is no "reason" for a forest fire, which burns mightily but with no intent. Life's only "purpose" is the feeding of life, and the beauty we see therein is but its lack of guarantee: for the chipmunk and the weasel, and the man who measures his life to theirs, no assurance of long days and tempered seasons, abundant seeds, ample meat. In wilderness there is mystery yet, unsimplified, not reduced, resplendent and immense.

Whatever the conclusion of this planet, however many the acts to follow in this consuming drama—mountains coming up, mountains going down, forests, lakes, and seas skimming past like wind-driven scud clouds before a storm—at least in the scant shadow of this present age there is an achievement of sorts. For now, with this creature man, such things as mountains can be loved. And men have memories to fill.

Tomorrow I will look for shooting stars—purple spring flowers that point their fire down, always down toward the center of the Earth, as if to give in their brief term beneath the sun a tribute to this most excellent mystery.

Today I can say nothing more, neck-sore now from looking at larchtops swaying with the wind of this splendid morning.

Shooting star.

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