015 “Westward I Go Free”

During this trek so far, I have shepherded a dark secret, in the form of some hidden reading matter. Unknown to Pablo, who has to lift their weight in the packs four times a day, and likewise unknown to the burros who must plod along under the extra load —unknown to anyone but myself — I have concealed seven books in my bedroll. Not alone is this probably the first time that anyone other than the herders has traveled this trail in its entirety with the sheep, assuredly it is the first time that The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft has ever accomplished this journey. That volume got included because of its thinness, and since it contained a number of personal recollections which I wanted to study.
All seven of the volumes had size and weight as determining factors in their choice. My Complete Emerson couldn’t make it. While the thinker of Concord would have lightened many a step for me, he was too heavy — in pounds and ounces — to qualify. William James made the grade, in a compact edition. His Varieties of Religious Experience needed reviewing, for this wilderness experience is one variety in itself. I wanted to see if his conclusions led along the same hills and slopes as mine.
The Portable Thoreau HAD to be included. Excerpts from his Journal, some of his essays, and of course his Walden had not only been my companions since school days, they were commentaries on this whole wilderness adventure which was unfolding each night and day. His early surroundings had a definite link with this land. To me, the Heber-Reno Sheep Trail is Walden, done in drypoint. Thoreau would have grown gooseflesh in this country.

He needed this trail. It might have meant more to him even than Walden Pond. He was true to Concord because it was what he had, and his whole preachment — his rule of life — was not to bay for the moon. But in Concord scarcely once could he remove himself from sight of a fence. Nearly every acre of land on which he took his walks, although he tried to forget it, was owned or mortgaged, and registered at the county seat, to Baker or Flint of McTavish. To a man of his senses, these facts themselves were fences.

Thoreau needed this trail, and so do those like him today. Although in his time Arizona was still a Mexican domain, and he had never heard the term, still he knew — as a prophet knows —that such a place existed. He needed it. He said so in one of his writings:

“When I go out of the house for a walk, uncertain as yet whither I will bend my steps, and submit myself to my instinct to decide for me, I find, strange and whimsical as it may seem, that I finally and inevitably settle southwest . . . The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhausted and richer on that side . . . Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free .. . We go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure. Every sunset which I witness inspires me with the desire to go to a West as distant and as fair as that into which the sun goes down.”

Just as Walt Whitman, in his poems, wrote about western scenes which he had visited only in fertile imagination, so Thoreau — in scattered flashes of his journals and jottings — created pen and ink pictures of this trail, or expressed yearnings which could have been satisfied here better even than at Walden. During our midday stops, I often marked passages from The Portable Thoreau which seemed to reflect aspects of this trail experience.

To begin with, he understood the value of wilderness, as we see from statements of his such as these:

“In wildness is the preservation of the world. “

“We need the tonic of wildness . . . At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable . . . and unfathomed by us because unfathomable . . . We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.”

“I seek acquaintance with Nature, — to know her moods and manners. Primitive nature is the most interesting to me . . . I wish to know an entire heaven and an entire earth.”

“Our horizon is never quite at our elbows.”

“I love a broad margin to my life. “

“I long for wildness, a nature which I cannot put my foot through . . . where the hours are early morning ones . . . and the day is forever unproved.”

Also, Thoreau would have valued this trail experience because of the exposure it gave to these early morning hours. His writings are filled with expressions revealing his love of the dawning day:

“To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”
“There are from time to time mornings . . . when especially the world seems to begin anew . . . The world has visibly been recreated in the night. Mornings of creation, I call them. . . . It is the poet’s hour. Mornings when men are new-born.”

“We must associate more with the early hours. “

“Measure your health by your sympathy with morning and spring. If there is no response in you to the awakening of nature . . . know that the morning and spring of your life are past. Thus may you feel your pulse.”

“We must learn to keep ourselves awake. Not by mechanical aids but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.”

“Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”

The creative mystery of this trail’s surroundings would likewise have impressed themselves deeply on Thoreau, as his writings reveal:

“I am affected as if in a peculiar sense I stood in the laboratory of the Artist who made the world and me. He was still at work, with excess of energy strewing his fresh designs about.”
“Every day a new picture is painted and framed, held up for half an hour, in such lights as the Great Artist chooses, and then withdrawn, and the curtain falls . . . And now the first star is lit, and I go home.”
“I wish to hear the silence of the night, for the silence is something positive and to be heard. I cannot walk with my earscovered . . . I must hear the whispering of a myriad voices .. . The silence rings; it is musical and thrills me. A night in which the silence was audible. I heard the unspeakable.”
“The perception of beauty is a moral test.”
“What a world we live in!”