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Off the Shoulder of Orion

(this story appears in Old Roads and Shadows, an eBook )

Off the Shoulder of Orion

A personal lament

“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.”
These lines, from a scene in the classic sci-fi film, ‘Blade Runner’, were spoken slowly and eloquently by the replicant Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) just before he died. Revisiting moments of his life that humans could not hope to imagine, he lamented his death, and the incredible memories and experiences that would die with him. These words have taken on a new poignancy with me lately, as I find myself struggling with two bad knees and the resulting loss of mobility. I haven’t been dealing with thoughts of death as such, but rather with the feelings of sadness and regret that arise over the many things I will never see or experience again.
Of course, there are all the day-to-day activities that everyone takes for granted; just getting from my parked car to my desk at work is a tiring and painful exercise. Other sundry pursuits are so problematic as to be almost impossible for me right now, like going to a concert, a sporting event, or dealing with an airport or train station.
Yet, the real pain comes with losing the ability to see and experience the wild places around me; the realization that my enjoyment of the trails that explore the feral world beyond the periphery of civilization is over. Since 1972, my main avocation and recreation has centered on hiking and backpacking in the woods and mountains that surround us. Thusly, it is hard to describe the inner despair I feel when I acknowledge to myself that I will never again throw my daypack and hiking boots into the trunk of my car and head out for an adventure in the wilderness.
Early on, there were the places I came to know and love in the East. There were the trails I loved in Connecticut: the Metacomet, Shenipsit, and Mattabesset. The adventures I enjoyed over the years in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the Green Mountains of Vermont, and in the Adirondacks of New York. I also treasure the memories of the wonderful experiences I had on the Appalachian trail in Georgia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
There are, of course, all the special places that I visited multiple times, places that seemed to place a spiritual benchmark within my soul. Places like the Crawford Path, the Davis Path, the Presidential Range, Mt Katahdin, the Knife Edge, Sages Ravine, Race Brook Falls, Monadnock, Pack Monadnock, Bear Mountain, Mt Everett, Mt Tom, Greylock, Stratton, Mansfield, the Bonds and the Twinway, Lafayette, Blood, Trey, Le Conte, Charlie’s Bunion, the Chimneys, Kent Falls, Higby, Case Mt, Sleeping Giant, Talcott Mt, Soapstone, Gay City, Old Furnace, Hogpen Gap, Kearsarge, Bolton Notch, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard, Coosa Bald, Great Point, York Beach, Pamola, Hamlin, Slaughter Gap, Neils Gap, Carter Notch, Zealand, the Pemigewasset, Moosilauke, Mahoosuc Notch, Old Speck, Success Pond, Unicoi Gap, Garfield, Mountain Pond, Cadillac Mt, the Kancamaugus, the Saco, Jefferson Notch, Sphinx Col, Thunderstorm Junction, the Great Gulf, Pinkham Notch, Tuckermans Ravine, King Ravine, the Airline, and so many other places with haunting and magical names.
New magical places left their imprint on my soul when I moved to the West. There were the mountains of the Sierra Nevada, Cuyamaca, Laguna, Coast Range, Rocky Mountains, San Gabriel, Wasatch, and San Bernardino Mountain Ranges. I came to know and experience the special aura of the deserts: the Mojave, Death Valley, and the Anza Borrego.

I also discovered, of course, many more magical places: Vogelsang, Lyell Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Vogelsang Pass, Sonora Pass, Cheeseboro Canyon, Little Yosemite Valley, North Dome, Mt Cloudsrest, Lembert Dome, Dog Lake, North Challone Peak, Mt Diablo, Murchio Gap, Eagle Peak, Black Peak, Prospectors Gap, Tuolumne Meadows, Elizabeth Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake, Cathedral Lake, the Pinnacles High Peaks, Bow Willow, Surprise Canyon, Southwest Grove, Hellhole Canyon, Mt San Gorgonio, Mt San Antonio, Titus Canyon, Badwater, the Racetrack, Wildrose, North Wilderness Trail, Saddlebag Lake, Mono Pass, May Lake, Mt Hoffman, Mt San Jacinto, Cerro Alto, White Wolf, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, Nevada Falls, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Many Glacier, Bowman Lake, Kintla Lake, Ostrander Lake, Torote Bowl, Logan Pass, the Dunes, Stovepipe Wells, Mt Waterman, the ancient Bristlecone Pines, Mt Pinos, Sulphur Springs, China Flat, Vernal Falls, Nobel Canyon, Cuyamaca Peak, Laguna Peak, Cathedral Pass, Round Valley, Wellman Cienega, Oakzanita Peak, Chilanualna Falls, Wawona Grove, Harvey Moore, Stonewall, Granite Springs, Palomar, Dyer Springs, Dollar Lake, Ubehebe Crater, Dry Lake, Yosemite Point, Merced Grove, Hetch Hetchy, Sugarloaf, and all the other wild and wonderful places that I had the pleasure to experience over and over again here in the West.
Today, as I limp around Southern California with my cane and I gaze up at the summits that rise above the Los Angeles Basin to the north and east, I remember the joy I felt in the mountains at so many different periods of my life. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit all the wild places I have known, and I celebrate the friends and memories that were a part of those wilderness experiences.
Like Roy's tears in rain, my memories will one day disappear. I have come to realize that, in my own way, I was privileged enough to have, indeed, seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion and to have watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.
What my statement means to each individual reading this story is unimportant; what is important is that you realize the emotion and experience of these words belongs to us all.


November 2008
Los Angeles