The dove’s lonesome coo played in the distance as we walked on the sand-filled road across the back side of the Baca Land an Cattle Company access in the San Luis Valley of south-central Colorado. Pinion’s and junipers stood at attention like centinentals. Our packs were the lightest we’ve ever carried into the wilderness.
His pack was heavier.
We both limped—me from miles of trails and years of running on pavement. He limped because of two knee replacements and even more miles on faded trails in the wild.
We talked little at first light—as if on an early big game hunt or, perhaps, entering the most ancient of cathedrals.
I love walking in the wild with my father. There are faster men; there are even men who know more about the wilderness than my father, but no one, and I mean no one, knows more about the wilderness of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the wildness of the soul of Joe Chambers than my father. Thus I would rather walk in those hills with him than sit in a coffee house with Billy Graham any day of the week.
We both struggled with the overgrown trail of deadfall Cottonwood, Aspen, and wild rose bush of Deadman Creek trail. From time to time we found a log that had been cut decades ago which indicated that we were on what once was considered a trail. The going was slow, arduous and painful. I could hear the creek dancing down the canyon on my right, but the thatch was too thick save only a few fleeting glimpses of the tumbling water.
We camped and ate our Spanish rice, shooed mosquitoes away from our faces and he told me he fell three or four times that day.
Climbing out of the cross-hatched creek bottom was our top priority. Scaling the canyon wall on all fours in the loose scree, prickly pears and yucca plants we found a thin but better trail and our pace picked up.
The next day he slowed down even more. We came to the idea at the same time that he should stay at the beaver ponds three fourths of the way to the lakes and that I make the final pitch up and into the basin alone. I wanted to be there with him. He took me the first time over forty years earlier and we both were thinking this may be our last trip to the sacred lakes.
I pushed on to the lakes assured that we made the right decision. It was a brutal climb through more thick brush, deadfall, and dark timber with a labyrinth of game trails obscuring the ancient trail.
I arrived at the upper lake at 7:00 PM as tired as I have ever been in the wilderness; too tired to eat my supper, I sipped a cup of berry drink, snapped a selfie with alpine glow splashed on the cirque holding the alpine lake behind me and crawled into my sleeping bag.
I fished all the next day. The cutthroat trout were as plentiful and beautiful as at any time in the 40 years of our pilgrimages.
I breathed deep the 11,071 foot air.
At noon of my second day I reloaded my pack and descended to the camp where I left him. He had caught fish in the creek and enjoyed a meal of trout fried in bacon grease. We broke his camp and hiked miles and hours down the canyon to a previous camp site. We enjoyed our meals, talked and laughed.
We talked about God. We talked about regrets in life. We talked about our hopes for the future. The ease by which conversation flowed between two old men who have walked in the wild with a holy God for so many decades was smooth as a banister in grandma’s house.
Finally, just as it was getting too dark for old eyes to see, the reading of Psalms came bubbling to the top of our conversation.
“Let me read to you the Psalm God gave me to read every day this week,” I said.
I read in entirety and aloud Psalm 29…
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory of his name; worship the Lord in holy splendor.
“Let me read to you my Psalm,” he said and turned to find his Bible.
He read in entirety and aloud Psalm 141…
I call upon you, O Lord; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you. Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.
We talked about what we might imagine God telling us from our respective Psalms. We talked of the mystery and the whispers of God. We talked about the wrinkled contours of our lives and how these ancient words find their ways into our souls.
Two old mountain men sitting on a gray log, reading Psalms aloud to each other as the dark closed in on us. The darkness of the day, and the twilight of our lives—
…in the holy wild.