I’ve always wondered what a real backcountry emergency would be like, and now I know. Summer Remote Studio had its first overnight backcountry trip in the Tetons this week. We followed a common route for us, up Philips Pass Trail. We ate lunch and proceeded to follow the trail through the Jedediah Wilderness and down another drainage into Idaho. Within minutes we were no longer on earth but hiking through snow. The snow grew deeper and we spent the next couple of hours searching for the trail that came and went like a true hide-and-seek game. The snow was knee to thigh deep. Downed trees made movement slow. But everyone remained in good spirits. We found our way old-school with compass, topo quad map and landmarks. We made it into the Mesquite drainage to spend the night.
I was exhausted. My pack was heavy. Not too many summer daylight hours before I was asleep in my tent. At 1 am I was woke by one of the students who told me his tent mate was not feeling well. It was at this point I wondered in the Wilderness First Aid training would pay off. I went through his symptoms. His current overall condition. He was not in Shock, but he was in severe pain. Too much to walk out. I thought about hiking out with headlamp down a trail i had never hiked….He calmed down about within the hour and we made it through the night.
The pain returned in the morning and I was faced with 1 sick student and 9 others waiting for direction. I knew we needed to get a 911 distress call out. And I knew we would need to find a higher elevation to find a signal. I thought that my sick student might be about the have a ruptured appendix. I took another student with me and left the others to break down camp. On the trail going out it was steep and there was more snow. After about two miles we reached the highest point of the trail and finally got a but of service. With the GPS coordinates we could tell them where camp was, we described symptoms, and asked for airlift evacuation .
I hiked back to camp to wait with my sick student and one more who could hike out with me after we sent the group out toward the trailhead. It didn’t take long for the helicopter to start circling and then land at the nearest meadow. A hike further down the drainage. A team of three arrived from Idaho search and rescue and they were great. They inserted an IV into the patient for pain killer, told him (and me) that he had a kidney stone and away they took him.
There were three of us to hike out together since the other students had gone ahead. It was a slow go in more snow fields and making the days mileage twice as long down the same trail. But it was great to reach the cars, and a huge relief to know that we all got out ok. But one of us had a great helicopter ride out over the Tetons into Jackson, safe and with great care.
Remote studio starts tomorrow. I take a last summertime drive along the Tetons – a Sunday drive as a matter of fact. The pace is slower through Teton National Park than along the highways, purposefully slower for the wildlife. For our safety. Slower for our souls if we choose to let the pace seep into us. Parked along a Snake River overlook I watch the sun moving westerly across the blue sky. In a few hours the Tetons will be bathed in the pink light of sunset that I have grown to love. The seconds of magic light from day to night. We all have this magic within us if we choose to recognize it. To see the world in another way than we see most days. To gift ourselves the day. To hear the tires on asphalt as a type of music with pause created by the space between cars and the overtone of wind as it moves past ears. Magic music….
I am thinking about magic and the inner vision that the students bring with them when they come to Remote Studio. Their vision, their magic, is manifest in the things they create while here. Mostly we see the magic in the work that comes from their projects for the semester. These explicit creations mark the way they see the world, become the marks of their reality. These things they are asked to share with others, with the community. But for me, it is not only the vessels and the architecture they design and build that brings a smile to my face. It is that they share the magic of their vision in casual ways, little ways, that surprise me.
The Remote Studio “facility” is nothing grand. I can’t even refer to it as quaint. But the students bring magic to the place. And sometimes they even leave marks upon it in case we are a bit lost to find the magic ourselves. There are two written notes left by two different students that make me smile every time I think about them. One is on a utility closet door that springs open when you push it. Taped to the outside of the door are the words: Narnia in here. The other is more recent and serves as our address marker on the road. Written in orange marker on a small wood stake is our street address: 625. Following the numbers is the phrase: somewhere between here and there.
We choose to live by magic. We choose to see beyond the everyday. We choose to hold on to the magic within us. We choose how to live everyday.
Yes. It’s an over used phrase. Perhaps because we are still learning to practice silence. The truth that come from silence for us seems impossible to recognize in these days of constant buzz. I even struggle in the mountains of Montana. A week ago I was in Texas preparing to leave for Montana. The miles pass fast in a car at 75 mph. We arrive to anything but silence. The humm of our anxieties, the blurr of the road. Arrival. Leaving the last place a distant memory we cannot tie to our present. But here they are. The mountains standing against our travels, our anxieties, the unmoored condition of the my days, the loss of identity as we move somewhere between here and there. And if we could learn to practice silence, if we could recognize silence from within, perhaps then we would learn the sound of silence.