Just Me and My Friend God

Solitude is the Greatest Freedom

Our hike into Simplot was relatively short, a slow-moving stroll with my friend God. Planned to last four days, the distance could be travelled in half that time. However, it seemed more appropriate to begin my sabbatical by sauntering along the trail. I was accustomed to long distance treks but few led to such isolation. The four day hike led to a long winter alone.

There was a familiar anxiety at the trailhead. An empty heaviness in my stomach always preceded such undertakings and I put it off as malingering doubt. It was restless energy that felt like anxiety and the only remedy was work. There comes a time in every adventure when planning and preparation ceases, and one steps out to face the risks.

me and my friend God
Inhospitable Creek Canyons in the Idaho Backcountry

I crossed the boundary of the Frank Church Wilderness (known as ‘The Frank’ to locals) just a few miles into my journey. The tall frozen canyon absorbed me and I disappeared in the cold shadows on the trail. Mile by mile, I drifted along Camas Creek like a soul between lives. Free of the ball-and-chain of time, I walked without pace, without agenda, without worry. I got lost in the joy of walking, of listening to winter sounds no one else would hear, of embracing intimate contact with Mother Nature.

Alone in The Frank

The Frank was an untamed land of steep rugged mountains, deep canyons, and wild whitewater rivers. Upon entering the wilderness, I dropped the chains of civilization, the forged schedules and empty needs, and set my true self on the loose… just me and my friend God. I travelled with a minimum of shelter and gear. Dressed in a base layer, woollen bibs and sweater, and my capote, I had rain gear and a light down jacket in my pack. I carried a sleeping bag and plastic tarp, a cup and small pot, and a .44 Magnum lever-action carbine with a half-dozen rounds.

me and my friend God
Minimalist Camp on Camas Creek in The Frank (December 2015)

I was comfortable as I walked through the wilderness, slept on the ground, and dealt with the physical maladies associated with living outside… not cold or inconvenienced but well suited to the extremes of climate and country in The Frank.

I became part of my natural surroundings.

Miles passed slowly. I worked my way to an uphill bushwhack that led to the place I planned to camp. I knew where to look for the wild shelter. The cave was hollowed out in the bottom of the rock band like a cavity on a tooth below gum line. It was not a tiny den but a split-level cave used by men and animals for centuries. The slope leading up to the rocks was loose and steep. I scrambled with my hands and feet, grabbed stones and clumps of grass when they appeared in the snow. It always felt like discovering a secret when I reached the band of rocks at the top of the slope. I traversed to find the opening, and slipped into the embrace of Mother Nature.

me and my friend God
(I’d Show You More… but It’s Secret)

The cave rested about eighty feet up the slope completely hidden from view on the trail. The entrance was oval, like an egg laying on its side. It stood about twelve feet tall at the opening and maybe thirty feet wide. The opening tapered inward on both sides and the top down toward the back, like a little amphitheatre. Two ledges at the rear of the cave looked like bunks. Rock fall near the front formed a stony hedge that marked the entrance handsomely.

It was a secret shared by men like me;
a time-share for the wild.

There was a fire ring front and center, and a pile of wood with kindling. It was customary in the backcountry to leave wood for the next visitor’s fire. The people that knew about the cave honoured that tradition. I dropped my gear inside and looked out over the fire ring; the sage-covered slope fell away in front of me. The location of the cave was known only to a few packers and river guides.

There was nothing left of the day but shadow. I emptied my pack, and rolled out my air mattress and sleeping bag. Because I did not rely on flame for heat, I rarely made a fire. However, the cave felt like a spiritual place and it seemed to come alive in the light of flame.

I knelt down, combed through the wood stacked to the left of the ring, and found a piece right for feathering. I used my knife to carve small cuts along the edges of the stick to create splinters like thorns on a stem… delicate slices bent outward like quills on a feather. Slice by slice, the feather got fatter until looked like a lanky pine cone. I sliced between slices and made the feather cone full and ready for flame. With a lighter from my pocket, I set the feathered stick alight and dropped the small ball of fire into the pit. A couple handfuls of kindling flared in the flame and shadows started dancing on the walls.

me and my friend God
Feeding Fire in the Indian Cave, Frank Church Wilderness

A Shaman’s Prayer

I stripped dried sage leaves from thin dead limbs and crushed and rubbed them between my hands. I dropped the sage dust into the fire, exhaled to empty my lungs, then breathed in deeply as I cupped smoke to my face with my hands. The sage was subtle, not as pungent as in spring and summer, but pleasant and good… a thing refreshing and almost sweet. I said thanks to my friend God. Fresh or dried, the smell of sage on hands and hair induced a settled, indigenous calm. It worked like snuff when dried and ground into powder, subtle and sweet with a touch of earth.

The bed of coals thickened as I fed the fire. Branches stacked like a small square chimney burned in a crackling tall flame. The spirit was alive within the physical flame and Man was instinctively attracted. Tongues of fire flared asynchronously and licked at the air in the cave. Sometimes a sheath of blue outlined the flame when wood turned to coal and the fire grew somber and quiet. It rested until I fed it fuel and lots of air, and roared into life again.

Fire lighted man’s imagination and
blurred the lines between realities.

Late in the evening, there rose from the gleaming coals a living flame almost two feet tall. She stood and twitched from side-to-side… flared and grew wider at the shoulders, and fluttered like a flag in a breeze. Then, for a moment, the flame separated into disparate sheets that seemed like fabric flowing around a figure, a queen in an exquisite gown of flame. She melted down into the fire, flickered around the pit, and with bent arm pulling back long red hair, the queen stood again. Her thin form seemed wrapped in long, flowing robes of fire. And in a blink, she disappeared back into the flames.

me and my friend God
Fire Straddling the Line Between Realities

I watched until the coals pulsed, glowed red with each last breath, and slowly passed away. When moonlight replaced the fire’s glow, I slipped into my sleeping bag, closed my eyes, and listened for the wind. My heart beat slowly and my mind was quiet. The fire sprite welcomed me back to the wild. With only with a rifle and a backpack, I was completely free to live the life I imagined – just me and my best friend God.


(Excerpt from my third book, “Alone on Purpose”)


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4 comments

  1. You have the best and most faithful friend in the world who never leaves you and stays with you no matter where you are. An exciting story about how you can become a part of nature and enjoy its closeness like you did.

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