Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Footprints

When the winter slow season would get here I would go out and explore. I called them grid searches. I would pick an area, Jackson Hole and pick a beginning spot and walk it width wise. Then I'd move over about 100 feet and walk it back in the other direction. Then again and eventually blanket and saturate the entire area. I didn't miss much. All the neatest things I've found have been in grid searches. The phone line, big horn resting places, pottery, dwellings, and the coolest petroglyphs imaginable. Looking grid search up online it doesn't seem that grid search means to me what it does to the rest of the world. Still, I can't think of a better name. In February of 2012 I was grid searching Jackson Hole and I'd been reading every book I could on tracking so I was deep into the process of learning tracking. I don't think I missed much of what might be worth seeing in Jackson Hole.

Off and on for the last few years there has been a group of geologists studying in the Jackson Hole area trying to determine when the river broke through and quit going around Jackson Butte which for a very long time was it's path. Back in May one of those geologist was staying here at the lodge. Sherm was showing me a map they had done up all the things they had found and dates they had been able to attribute to much of the stuff they found and when the river abandoned the rincon around Jackson Butte. As I was going over the map there wasn't anything I was surprised by having thoroughly searched the area myself. Then on one corner of the map there was an arrow pointing to some Indian artifacts. No. There's no way I would have missed that. Not right there. How could I not know about those? Did something happen that day that I was doing that area to cause me to abandon the search early. Was there inclement weather or a reason I had to suddenly get back to the lodge?

Like the flood gates had been opened. The memories and thought process of that day roared into my brain. I had made peace with my decision and I don't think I wanted to tell anyone how I missed the artifacts. I did abandon the search that day and I didn't go back and finish that section. I told Sherm.

It was Feb 10th, 2012. For probably a month I hadn't seen anybody. I was learning tracking and I was getting pretty good at it. I had spent the last couple nights going through chapters of various tracking books about what to do if you lost the track. I had a list and if you do all these things and still can't pick up a track then it's a one way track. A one way track for a person you're searching for without finding means the track will have a bad ending.

I was confused when I found the track. Having seen and only tracked critters for the last month I didn't even recognize it. A human didn't even enter my thoughts. I was deep into tracking only what I'd been seeing. Then it hit me. Somebody had been here and recently. That's impossible. I've been out here every day and I haven't seen any vehicle tracks or have I seen any people or found any tracks or heard anybody but there they were. They were much smaller than my size 11 footprint. It was likely a woman. What? How'd she get here? Where did she come from? Why was she here?

I followed her tracks and they ended at an overlook above the river. I did everything all the books told me too. I backtracked, I did concentric circles. I moved over 20 feet to similar soil and I tried to walk backwards in my own track without giving it away and I couldn't do it and I couldn't find a return track. Just a few days earlier somebody came to this spot with a purpose. If I didn't find a track back this was the end. I looked down into the river below and than sat down trying to understand what I was seeing. It hurt. I didn't know what would bring a person to this point, what they were going through. But on that day, at that time, I felt like I knew her. It was her choice. She had thought about it a long time and taken great pains to come to this spot without leaving a track. It was over. I couldn't bring her back and this was the way she wanted it. As one desert soul to another, I respected her wishes.

When I got back to the lodge I posted my blog entry. I made it as inconspicuous as possible. I said it was just another day. I wanted her to have peace. For the next few months I waited for something on the news or in the papers to say somebody was missing or they'd last been seen or anything. It never happened. Nobody reported her missing. Nobody cared.

The next time out I started a new search in a new place. In time Feb 10th 2012 faded. It became just like Feb 9th and Feb 11th. One of 360 plus days every year. Lots of other things happened and the one way footprints of the person I never met left me. Then in May telling the story and being six years older and wiser I wasn't so sure I made the right decision. I looked at Sherm and I could tell he was glad it hadn't been his decision.

Then a month or so ago and a few weeks after having told the story to Sherm I started having dreams of Jackson Hole. Of a dust devil, not tornado size, just a lone dust devil traveling through Jackson Hole. It is said, by those who have lived in the desert a long time, those that have perished in the desert, in the canyons, been buried out here or had their ashes spread about, are in those dust devils. They still wander the desert, still search for things they haven't seen, known, or felt. They'll always be here. It's who they are. They are part of the desert now, the stories the canyons echo.

A few nights ago, in a dream, I was in Jackson Hole and the dust devil was coming to me. Then it was 6am and I automatically woke up to go hiking. I delayed the hike and laid back down. Somebody wanted to talk to me. I went back to the dream. A woman came out of the dust devil. I didn't know her. She didn't speak, yet still she told me, she wants me to go back to Jackson Hole.

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