John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 10-1-12 |

John Mattingly: Socratic Rancher 10-1-12

“I was so glad it was just a bear scratching at my tent flap.”

When I overheard a woman say this to a friend at a gathering the other day, I had to ask if she would please elaborate.

It turned out the backstory began last spring when the woman, Beth, discovered that the twists and turns of her life would leave her free for the entire upcoming summer. She decided to do something different with this unexpected open space in her usually busy calendar.

Beth decided to do the Colorado Trail. By herself.

She become familiar and fond of the rhythms of backpacking and wasn’t sure how she felt about returning to the corporate world.

Coming from the corporate world, she prepared for the adventure with the same dedication to detail that she always applied to her work. She went online and read stories of people who had done the trail, learning good places to camp, water sources and great scenery that was a short detour from the main trail.

Then Beth bought the best gear. Of course, nothing but the best. And she tried it out during three experimental outings close to home, each one venturing out longer and further. By the time she hit the trail, she felt like a seasoned backpacker.

All went well. One of the high points of her adventure turned out to be reaching the summit of San Luis Peak on a cloudless and relatively warm day, and studying the unusual rock formations, known as hoodoos that stood just below the final approach to the Peak.

Near the end of the Trail, Beth made camp early, suddenly sorry that the trek was nearing an end. She become familiar and fond of the rhythms of backpacking and wasn’t sure how she felt about returning to the corporate world. The next morning she would reach Durango where she had arranged to stay a few days to recover and prepare for the transition from one wild world to another.

She watched the sun set and the moon rise. Soon after she put out her stove, she heard a group of men make camp nearby. Roughly. From their voices she could tell they were young guys having a good time. Maybe a bit too good of a time. She heard them build a fire, discuss beer, and begin to drink and party. Unlike the great majority of people she’d met on the Trail, this group of young guys got rowdy.

Beth didn’t want to go stomping into the camp and correct their conduct, so she slipped into her sleeping bag, clutching her hiking stick. Actually, her hiking stick was more like a staff, or even a scepter, a stout rod of oak with an inlaid cross of crystals at the top, and smooth grooves that fit her hand perfectly. She’d made the stick herself as part of the ritual of preparations.

Late into the night, she woke to the sound of scratching, then pushing at the front flap of her tent. She listened, waited, her heart beating, fearing it was one or more of the young men from the bacchanaal below. When the next scratch started to move her tent flap, she struck the intruder with the blunt end of her scepter, only to hear a whelp that unmistakably identified the visitor as a bear.

That’s when she said to herself, “I’m so glad it was just a bear!” ❖

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