Hike #4: Simplicity
Hike #4 came about on the occasion of needing to go down to Big Bend National Park to pick up my new government ID card. We get new ones every five years, and BIBE has the proper fingerprint machine and software to activate them. Which led me to consider that I have worked at Fort Davis NHS now for just about five years.
I could go on to complain—or more precisely, lament—my capacities wasted on pushing data for a living. But it is honest labor, good benefits, nice people, and it makes Marfa possible. I am grateful, if often stymied. And on a week day it provided me an opportunity to take an afternoon’s leave and do my next hike.
I chose The Window in the Chisos Basin. I first did this hike on my holiday visit eight years ago. Probably New Years Eve day. The trail is another down to come up, about 4.4 miles round trip with an elevation loss and gain of about 750 feet—this is if you start from the campground, which I did, shaving off a bit of mileage and elevation from starting at the visitor center.
The trail is wooded with pretty, jutting rocks. Birds flit in the underbrush and a jay scolded me from somewhere above. Normally the trail is heavily trafficked, and I took advantage of weekday visitation with no holiday in sight, sunny and cool, and so much blue sky.
I had some time to kill, looking forward to the hike, as I waited at the base of the hill on the road leading to the Basin. Road work is causing daily road closures, and I was prepared to wait. I fiddled with my backpack—only new in the sense that I had my last one for maybe fifteen years and this one is only three years old. My fingers toyed with the bright blue loops hanging off the bottom, a good place to hang one’s ice axe. I’d never paid attention to them before, and they seemed superfluous. I took a knife out and cut them off. Also, as my new boots are settling in, I did not carry spare shoes in my pack this week. I thought of simplicity and how that trend in all things home and life was applicable to my hiking practice.
Simplicity and minimalism are having a moment, but the concept is as old as time. In the last century, Antoine de St. Exupery wrote about the pioneering days of aviation when he flew mail over Africa and South America. In Wind, Sand, and Stars he describes the character of men, the planet, the craft of flying, and the tool of the airplane. Of the tool, he describes a perfection achieved by refining to purity. “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away, when a body has been stripped down to its nakedness.”
For those of us who love the desert, this is the truism of our landscape. Maybe our internal landscape, too. The past year as we have been at home, and I painted my apartment, I once again had the opportunity to inspect every last object I own. My home would not be accused of being minimalist, but it is remarkably intentional. And as I headed down the trail to the Window, I reassessed the things I carry.
Do I need a more extensive first aid kit? Should I carry a bird book in my pack? I want better binoculars. Do I want to carry the guide book? Some things have changed since my hiking days of yore: I now prefer my old Nalgene bottles to a camelback suckie tube. Who needs to be efficient? Not I. Let me be the queen of the lollygaggers.
I’ve been wanting a new, bigger travel suitcase. But really, I need to just be happy taking less.
In the end, I didn’t quite make it to the window. The end of the trail is a series of up and down stone and cement steps leading the hiker down a series of rock falls to the big, impassible, and glorious rock fall of the Window, so named for the view it provides of the far off flatlands. I grew weary and wary of the rock steps and pulled off the trail in view from above of the Window. I climbed up on a sunny slab of rock and played lizard until the sun went behind the opposite cliff.
And as I ate my apple and nut butter, I thought about St. Ex. Minimalism isn’t nothing. “When there is no longer anything to take away” doesn’t mean “when there is no longer anything left.” Knowing what to keep is as important as the process of subtraction. It just forces us to evaluate our attachments. I can tell you, I’m a bit attached to the Chisos Basin, such a wonderland of stone and sky.
Then the big, steep climb up, through woodland and meadow, up stone steps and many, many dirt and log steps, cheering my heart that so valiantly complies, my breath that gives life to my adventures, my body growing more perfect every day.