The mountainside was absolutely still. Not even the wind seemed to be giving the landscape any movement. From where I sat behind the spotting scope, I could feel wind playing with the edges of my shirt, and hear it whispering through the cheatgrass and sagebrush all around me.
1,000 yards away from me, the north-facing slope I’d been glassing all afternoon stayed motionless.
It was elk season, and I only had a few days left on the hunt. I’d only seen one elk that I could shoot with my spike tag, but the shot wasn’t clean. As I watched the elk not move out to feed, I kept wondering if I should have tried for that shot anyways.
The lull in elk action lured me into self-reflection. Sitting alone on a rocky ridge, surrounded by peaks older than memory, prompts this sort of thinking. Often, we claim to love the outdoors because it’s the only place where you can shut off your mind and just exist. I reckon it’s more accurate to say that finding your place in the wilderness puts into perspective your own goings-on. Standing in a river chasing trout, or sitting on a mountain face glassing elk, boils your problems down to the bare necessities that humanity focused entirely on not too long ago.
Where’s my next meal coming from? Am I safe? How will I get home?
Answering those questions helps answers to whatever else is on your mind fall into place.
While the sun started dipping behind the western peaks of the Rockies, I remembered the food in my pack. In addition to my rifle, I had some bear spray. And my truck was only two miles away at the trailhead. My basic needs were met, and now all I had to do was hope the elk came out to play.
That night, they didn’t. As I hiked back to my truck in the dark, with only the moon and stars to light the way, I didn’t feel as let down as I expected. That was probably my last day of hunting for the season, but I knew I’d hunted hard and done my best. My basic needs were met. My other worries – junior year of college, truck repairs, bad dates, work, and a general lack of financial stability – felt surmountable now.
I’d managed to gain a sense of calm from the simple act of watching. Sitting and staring at a copse of aspen, hoping for elk to step out into the fading light, proved more therapeutic than any hour I’ve spent on a shrink’s couch. The shrink’s couch might be more comfortable, but nature forces you to face yourself in a way no therapist can.
And you don’t even need insurance to get the therapy nature provides.