Thursday, April 30, 2009

“As to when I shall visit civilization, it will not be soon, I think”

While waiting for some numbers to crunch this afternoon I came across this New York Times article. It's about a young guy named Everett Ruess who disappeared into the Utah desert in 1934, never to be seen again. Everett Ruess and I have some connection, as his story was told to me some time ago in one of my favorite books, Desert Solitaire, written by my good friend Ed Abbey. Ed (and Everett for that matter) and I never met in person, in fact he died when I was about five, but its just as well as I think he might have been a bit of a downer.

Anyways, Everett Ruess walked off into the desert with two mules and what I assume was a healthy dose of adventure flowing through his vains. I have, as probably most young men have, contemplated what such a journey would be like. I suppose in modern times, such an adventure is harder to attempt do to the lack of "real" wilderness in the lower 48 states, and of course my fear of grizzly bears and cold extremities rules out heading into the far north. That, and I am obliged to someday pay off my student loan debt from my undergraduate days. Ah crushing debt, how I loathe thee. As my friend Ben's father once said, "paying tuition is like buying a brand new car and rolling it off a cliff."

To my great sadness, it turns out that Everett Ruess was most likely killed by Ute indians near Escalante, UT. Why? No one knows, maybe he made a pass at the wrong gal or was a little too smug after a cribbage victory with his newfound Ute friends. I had always envisioned him living in some hidden canyon, watching the cloud formations roll on by (as Ed would say, "If he doesn't, who will?"). Maybe tending to a garden of corn and beans. A few years back, my friend Pete Olsen and I headed out on a backpacking journey into The Maze in Canyonlands National Park, where we both discovered the stunning solitude of the Utah canyon country. We didn't see a soul for days as we wondered in and out of the sandstone walls. In fact, one of the few signs of others we came across were eery man-sized pictographs ten feet up on a shear wall. How anyone could have painted them so high up is beyond me. Maybe erosion had ground the canyon down over time, leaving the paintings in peace to watch over things.

On the plus side, I can think of few better places to spend your last days than exploring the area around Escalante. Some of my very best times have been spent there, scrambling up sandstone bluffs, hiking through desert streams, searching for desert flowers in the innumerable nooks and crannies that dot the landscape. I am sure Everett saw many awe inspiring sights on his last journey.

Rest in peace old friend, you live on in my dreams.