I’d like to think that the truly “Mature Runner” is someone who needs to regenerate by going out on the trails (or roads), to get away from the clamor of civilization, away from schedules, responsibilities, and all the various weirdnesses that seem to constantly bombard us. Is this going too far? Heck, I don’t even have to go too far away! I can always find solitude and calm just by running around the high school track early in the morning. I go out basically every day, though, to get away from it all. So, it occurred to me that this is a pretty strange dance we all do, no? I mean, the see-saw back and forth between the engagement with our outward life (jobs, family, projects, etc.) and the need to get away from it all. Why not just get away from it all, period. ?? And that lead me to Everett Ruess. I’m amazed it took me this long to find out about him. A friend found out Stacy and I had roamed around the Four Corner area last fall, and were familiar with many landmarks that meant a lot to Everett. So I looked him up, and realized he speaks for us all – and here’s his story!
Everett graduated from high school in LA around1932, attended UCLA, met up with Ansel Adams, and left home to follow his dreams - still in his teens! With that youthful enthusiasm we know we all have stuffed away somewhere, he slept out under the stars every night, with his dog and 2 burros, he kept meticulous diaries of all this thoughts (and mailed them home to family), he learned to do blockprints on linoleum squares, he wrote poetry and painted water colors. When he was 20, he disappeared on one of his trips, and the mystery of his disappearance makes for a fascinating story. Even when I’m way back toward Mystic Lake x-c skiing, I have this feeling of aloneness, of remoteness, of wondering if something should happen, would anyone ever find me (the body)? The Four Corners area has 1000’s of square miles of remoteness – very few living things. And he thrived on it. His writings rival John Muir’s in my opinion. He constantly mused on the possibility of never returning to civilization, either by choice or by accidental death. And it makes me wonder how many of us have had it with what our civilization has produced! And it probably didn’t help to have watched the documentary Thrive last night. Talk about a dark view of what we’ve allowed to happen to us! The movie showed great solutions available to the world’s problems, but such a slim chance it will ever happen. I digress. Back to Everett and his thoughts. In his writings, he names “beauty” as his major quest, and “beauty” as his major achievement. The landscapes of Sequoia and Yosemite Nat’l Parks and the arid Southwest were his playground – and he was always alone. The great naturalist writer Wallace Stegner wrote just 8 years after Everett’s disappearance: “What Everett was after was beauty, and he conceived beauty in pretty romantic terms. We might be inclined to laugh at the extravagance of his beauty-worship if there was not something almost magnificent in his single-minded dedication to it….If we laugh at Everett Ruess we shall have to laugh at John Muir, because there was little difference between them except age. (“adventure.nationalgeographic.com/2009/04/Everett-ruess/david-roberts”)
And from Everett’s own pen (pencil): “I have not tired of the wilderness; rather I enjoy its beauty and the vagrant life I lead, more keenly all the time. I prefer the saddle to the streetcar and star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities….It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty….This had been a full, rich year. I have left no strange or delightful thing undone I wanted to do.”
“I’ll never stop wandering. And when the time comes to die, I’ll find the wildest, loneliest, most desolate spot there is.”
(quotes from “goodreads.com/author/quotes/445669.Everett_Ruess”)
“say that i starved, that i was lost and weary
that i was burned and blinded by the desert sun
footsore, thirsty, sick with strange diseases,
lonely and wet and cold, but that i kept my dream!”
“It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty….Even from your scant description, I know that I could not bear the routine and humdrum of the life that you are forced to lead. I don’t think I could even settle down. I have known too much of the depths of life already, and I would prefer anything to an anticlimax.”
“Bitter pain is in store for me, but I shall bear it. Beauty beyond all power to convey shall be mine….Death may await me….Not through cynicism and ennui will I be easy prey. And regardless if all that may befall, let me not be found to lack an understanding of the inscrutable humor of it all.”
As a 15 year old, Everett wrote his “Pledge To The Wind”: (http://www.angelfire.com/sk/syukhtuneverett.html)
“Onward from vast uncharted spaces, / Forward through timeless voids, / Into all of us surges and races / The measureless might of the wind….
In the steep silence of thin blue air / High on a lonely cliff-ledge, / Where the air has a clear, clean rarity, / I give to the wind…my pledge:
By the strength of my arm, by the sight of my eyes, / By the skill of my fingers, I swear, / As long as life dwells in me, never will I / Follow any way but the sweeping way of the wind.”
How can we do this “dance” between civilization and wilderness? Everett couldn’t do it.
And here we are in Bozeman, surrounded by wilderness, and after each day’s outing - return to live under roofs, cook in kitchens, buy food from glittering supermarkets, put on constantly cleaned clothes (well, for most people), and then go for our token “outing” again, to be reminded (ever so slightly) that there is an alternative, a wild place of beauty not touched by man. The sobering reminder of his “disappearance” and the inherent dangers of “going for broke” in the wilderness keeps us coming back I guess. The only alternative that comes to mind is to develop the ability get in the wilderness in our heads to temper the urges to flee. But it’s not the real thing, and Everett could settle for nothing less than the “real thing”. Again, here’s something to ponder while you’re out there on the trails (or in your heads on the roads): be wise while immersing yourself in the wilderness! I want to see you around town for a long time to come!
- David Summerfield
David Nutter Summerfield
The following blogs were first published in The Windrinker, a running newsletter published in Bozeman, MT (www.Windrinkers.org). There is a constant attempt at viewing the foibles of long distance runners in a humorous light so we don't take ourselves too seriously.