What Lies Here Will Remain
On August 31st, 2020 I started a five day adventure in the Weminuche Wilderness. What lies below is a part in my journey:
Ute Mythology: Porcupine Hunts Buffalo
In olden days when mostly animals roamed this earth, a Porcupine set out to track some buffalo. He asked the buffalo chips, “How long have you been here on this trail?” He kept on asking, until finally one answered, “Only lately have I been here.”
From there Porcupine followed the same path. The farther he went, the fresher the tracks. He continued until he came to a river; there he saw a buffalo herd that had crossed the ford onto the other side.
“What shall I do now?” thought Porcupine as he sat down. He called out, “Carry me across!” One of the buffalo replied, “Do you mean me?” Porcupine called again, “No, I want a different buffalo.” Thus he rejected each member of the herd, one after another, as each asked. “Do you mean me?”
Finally the last and best one in the herd said, “I will carry you across the river.” The buffalo crossed the river and said to porcupine, “Climb on my back.” Porcupine said, “No, I’m afraid I will fall off into the water.” Buffalo said, “Then climb up and ride between my horns.” “No,” replied Porcupine. “I’m sure I’ll slide off into the river.”
Buffalo suggested many other ways to carry him, but Porcupine protested. “Perhaps you’d rather ride inside of me?” offered the buffalo. “Yes,” said Porcupine, and let himself be swallowed by the buffalo.
“Where are we now?” asked Porcupine. “In the middle of the river,” said the buffalo, After a little while, Porcupine asked again. “We have nearly crossed,” said the buffalo. “Now we have emerged from the water; come out of me!” Porcupine said, “No, not yet, go a little farther.”
Soon the buffalo stopped and said, “We have gone far enough, so come out.” Then Porcupine hit the buffalo’s heart with his heavy tail. The buffalo started to run, but fell down and died right there. Porcupine had killed him. Others in the herd tried to hook Porcupine, but he sat under the buffalo’s ribs, where he could not be hooked. Soon the herd tired and ran on their way…
Day 4, 5:15 AM — Journal Entry
I’ve slept the heaviest so far. Tonight is a few degrees warmer, maybe closer to 40, with much less wind. I woke up at 12:45/2:30/4. Each time dwelling in old wounds and recent relationships. Today needs some healing time to prepare leaving the woods — back into all of life’s standard distractions.
I woke up again at 5 to sounds outside my tent. I first assumed it was wind rustling the rain fly, but the rustling turned into gnawing. I slammed my hand down on the sleeping pad and said, “What is going on out there?!” The commotion stopped, for a few seconds, then continued without much concern. I struggled to unzip my 15 year old sleeping bag and staggered outside to investigate.
Under the full moon, along the fallen pine that flanked my tent, I observed an adult porcupine saunter away from my pack. It’s slow movement and attitude as to suggest saying: “Fuck off,” or, “You’re welcome,” or, maybe both? I examined it’s work to find the chest support strap chewed cleanly off. That’s a fun trick!
I took the pack and liberated chest strap under the rain fly. Probably where it should have been from the beginning. On the drive to Colorado I knew I was supposed to take all interactions with nature and animals as potential sacred moments — As I drift back to sleep I am having difficulty finding the symbolism with this bullshit.
Porcupine: 1, Aaron: 0
A brief history on The Southern Ute Indian Tribe:
The Ute people are the oldest residents of Colorado, inhabiting the mountains and vast areas of the state... According to tribal history handed down from generation to generation, our people lived here since the beginning of time.
Prior to acquiring the horse, the Utes lived off the land establishing a unique relationship with the ecosystem. They would travel and camp in familiar sites and use well established routes such as the Ute Trail that can still be seen in the forests.
The Ute civilization spoke the same language, shared values, observed the same social and political practices, in addition to inhabiting and holding a set territory…The Weenuchiu occupied the valley of the San Juan River and its north tributaries in Colorado and Northwestern New Mexico.
As the Utes traveled the vast area of the Great Basin, large bands would breakup into smaller family units that were much more mobile. Camps could be broken down faster making travel from one location to another a more efficient process. Because food gathering was an immense task, the people learned that by alternating hunting and food gathering sites the environment would have time to replenish. The tribe only took what they required, never over harvesting game or wild plants. These principles were closely adhered to in order for the people to survive.
The Utes used basic tools and weapons which were made of stone and wood. They became very skilled at basket weaving, making coiled containers sealed with pitch for water storage. The Ute women became known for their beautiful quill work, which decorated their buckskin dresses, leggings, moccasins, and cradleboards.
The Ute people lived in harmony with their environment. They traveled throughout Ute territory on familiar trails that crisscrossed the mountain ranges of Colorado. They came to know not only the terrain but the plants and animals that inhabited the lands. The Utes developed a unique relationship with the environment learning to give and take from Mother Earth.
When the Ute people were forcibly placed on reservations they could no longer travel on their familiar trails, to gather or hunt for food. As more and more elders pass they take traditional knowledge about plants and their uses with them. In the past the Ute vocabulary included many words and their uses for plants. Unfortunately, these ancient words have been lost.
Day 4, 7:12 AM — Voice Memo
Well, when it rains, it pours? On top of the chest strap I’ve sprung a leak in my Camelbak. That, and my JetBoil appears to be failing! Porcupines in the night and old gear no longer serving me. Maybe the mountain didn’t approve of me borrowing that piece of quartz from Twin Lakes yesterday?
Day 4, 8:43 AM — Voice Memo
As I break down camp and roll up my sleeping pad I’m reminded of my previous life on the road. I slept on many questionable hotel and living room floors with this thing 10 years ago. Honestly, I’m surprised it’s made it this far. Those were years I started to feel connected with my authentic self.
I am thankful I brought a couple of carabiners with me. I’m able to salvage some semblance of chest support to not kill my neck and shoulders during the descent.
Porcupine: 1.0, Aaron: 0.5
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
I have drifted off my path many times — close to the trail-head on the journey towards adulthood.
In October 2009 I took a leap and quit the security of a 9–5 at UT-Austin. I’m trying to piece together the life experiences that found me in a soulless, micromanaged job making conference room reservations, sorting mail, and working reception. Well, how did I get here? Six years after returning to Texas from college, I was off course. The pain of dad dying and old wounds defaulted into me seeking connection by helping others in relationships. To an unbalanced, unhealthy degree, I’ll add. I thought it was a way to heal, but it really was just a way for me to hide. Life hit a crux that year and my persona was ripe to shed. Do porcupine quills grow back?
2020 is not the first time I received a call to find myself in the woods. Eight months prior to leaving my job in 2009 I was dissolved after a tumultuous breakup. To recover I started researching The Long Trail in Vermont. I planned a two-week hike, but eventually backed out. I paused the call and leveled up the career ladder at UT. One month in I was miserable and knew I had to find a way out. Through good friends I was able to take time off that summer to trial being a live sound engineer and tour manager. It was liberating! I came out the other side knowing this was my path. In 2010, working full-time on the road, I finally felt like I had reached my late adolescence.
But, old wounds don’t simply heal by presenting your acceptable, authentic self to the world. Sometimes you learn that the hard way: when you ask the strongest buffalo to carry you inside, crawl out, and find you’re utterly lost from yourself. You end up swimming back to the other side, sitting down, and starting all over again.
Authenticity comes hard these days! There are so many distractions thrown at us to bend from our natural self. Contemporary Western culture constantly tries to steer us off course. Soul-centered cultures like the Weenuchiu Utes knew the importance of being connected with nature. They knew everyone must take this journey alone.
Trauma and psychological wounds play a part, too. They certainly have for me. They have lead me on side trails to seek emotional healing through others in relationships. Not to say you cannot find healing with a partner — there is absolute beauty in that connection when it’s shared. We are all just animals looking for a home. But, when you hide inside and let someone take you across the divide you eventually find yourself returning to the trail-head. I have been back and forth across this river.
This is now my time to go alone.
Before I begin my descent for an evening on the banks of the Anamis I take one last look at the mountains in the basin. I silently tell them ‘thank you’ and throw this new, porcupined pack on my back.
Porcupine and Aaron are now one.
— Aaron Charles Treptow