At first the trail meanders only slightly uphill. Covered with no-longer-quakin’ aspen leaves, it heads up toward pine and spruce and a layer of conifer needles and cones. Rather than actually following the path through what is Utah’s sole pretender to a northern Rocky Mountain ecosystem, this casual tramp will be little more than a walk in the woods.
There is balance out here along the still-rushing fork of the river. Back in the mid-1820s, a teenaged Jim Bridger would explore said river to its mouth. When he described the saltwater characteristics of the larger body of water it flowed into to his fur-trapping buddies back in camp, they were convinced they were upon the cusp of the Pacific Ocean.
By the end of the week, cultural followers of these same mountain men will gather in rendezvous as part of the Heber Valley Powwow at Soldier Hollow from Friday through Sunday. The symbiosis between tribes and trappers was powerful back in the day. It’s about making room on the blanket and returning the ritual closer to its roots.
There is much honor in the air at these gatherings. Dignity and nobility dance hand-in-hand in tribute to elders and the spirits of elders. Homage is paid through deference. Trust is acknowledged through the eyes. The land is consecrated once again. Eagle feathers waft smoke in purification ceremonies. Fry bread is bathed in "sacred" honey.
In the celebrations they call "powwow" and "rendezvous," there is a coming together of cultural sensibilities. The by-product of trappers and tribes first coming into contact to trade beaver pelts for whatnot was not one of assimilation, although some of that would evolve over generations, but rather of cultural communion and the choosing of paths.
Back in the mountains, the trail up the drainage has experienced subtle changes. The perception is of an event horizon of yet other sacred ground. Time is now an interval between inhale and exhale. The spirit and sense of place of powwow that once loomed a week distant now hovers a breath away.
Although nowhere near timberline, shaded areas still hold pockets of snow along this, the western edge of what they call the north-slope. Up above, the terrain is alpine and the basins massive. Neither will come into play this day, however. Snow upon the trail will increase with elevation way before the forest ends. The glacially carved basins with their hundreds of lakes will go unseen.
The gentle plateau of the soothing slope fades when the trail gets about its true business of accessing those wide-open regions where rugged scenery awes and knife-edge ridgelines hold forth. But, again, this is a trek of contemplation — the destination being interior. There is much to absorb along these headwaters — an etiquette of being, as it were.
The daydreaming is now of another rite of summer and another sense of place. Rugby is in the air! Saturday will find the Park City Rugby Football Club hosting the lads from Vail at the City Park "pitch." Traipsing the sideline thereabouts with a ceremonial beverage in hand has its own transcendental rewards.
There they are, your ruggers, laying their bodies down for their mates, rucking the ball out of the scrum and getting it fluidly out to their wing where they will certainly have an overlap as cries of "with you" echo in the collective heart. You run alongside, carefully weaving between coolers and chairs and dogs and halter-topped mannequins. Summer is as it should be.
The match will be followed by a ritual, missing in recent times, whereby kegs are tapped and cups raised in song. There is something rather extraordinary about rugby songs, as many aficionados of the sport have come to learn over time. Not for the faint of heart or anatomically challenged, they embody a quite unique genre. We be talking high art in the low chakras.
Which is to say you should leave those of your entourage who need protection from the risqué lyric at home. Although highly entertaining and hilarious and vulgar and, in some cases, even bestial, the culture of rugby would be unrecognizable without these highly elaborate musical forays into delightful depravity.
But back to the chosen path along the fork of the river and beaver ponds and moose-infested meadows and transcendent stands of lodgepole pine. Following a day spent on the rugby pitch, this environment can prove quite therapeutic. In fact, ruggers themselves spend countless hours trekking such trails in search of the graceful brute within.
If it weren’t for the countless glories and blessings and sacraments available along the way, it would be a damn site easier to just tread these paths without interruption. They can be ignored, of course. All one has to do is to put oneself into some sort of sensory deprivation mode. But even that can bring on unsolicited rapture. Drat!
Luckily, for those of us in need of "decompression" when resurfacing from deep-woods mindsets to the more elevated perspectives of resort living, jerky-stands and taverns have been located nearby. Of course, if that doesn’t work, you can always slug down a few shots of real Root Beer over at the powwow.
And if all else fails, there is always the rarefied air of the rugby sideline to get you right with God. Oh give me a home where the intuitive roam and the blissed-out and rapturous play. The balance remains along forks of rivers and paths of powwows and rendezvous. Please enter. The water is fine. There is much room on the blanket.
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