Everything is clear at altitude

Sep 19, 2013 Betty Starks Case

That goes for scenery, air and another's needs

"Are you sure we should be up in the high hills alone after Labor Day?" I ask my mate. "Most adventurers are back at work or in school."

But the man needs to breathe mountain air.

We pack a quick lunch, climb into the white pickup truck with the jazzy blue stripes (those stripes lend a degree of recklessness), and go.

Above Dubois, the dancing aspen leaves begin turning yellow. Frost will be required to paint in the breathtaking peach, gold and red tones of fall. So hang onto your patience a bit longer for that.

Higher up, we cruise around the hills and lakes, quietly attempting to absorb enough of that high country atmosphere to carry us through the winter.

Apparently all wildlife has departed with the Labor Day crowd.

And while Brooks Lake is a beautiful body of water as always, the destructive pine beetle attacks of recent years have, sadly, turned surrounding trees from a living green to dull gray most of the way around the shores and up to Jade Lake and the Pinnacles.

That condition appears to bode well for wood-gatherers, however. The Forest Service has cut many of the dead pines. Piles of wood lie everywhere along mountain roads.

We tune our memories to earlier days. Today, we need something to laugh at or to hold in awe of this haunting place we've frequented for years.

How could we forget the Brooks Lake trip with my mate standing in a rocking boat trying to capture on film the glorious rainbow arching the tops of green trees near the pinnacles?

Or the threatening rumble and roar that made us wonder if this might be the beginning of the end. Were the cliffs tumbling from their lofty heights? Grizzlies descending en masse?

Eventually, my practical mate tracked the noise to a high peak southeast of the breccia cliffs. There we watched a huge landslide plowing its path down the mountain. Many years later, the slide is clearly seen from Brooks Lake area. Only a few trees grace its trail.

We remembered my parents, who loved that area as we and many others do; my mother, patience itself in a chair at lake's edge, quietly pulling in fish while my dad, the adventurer, tried one spot after another, rarely giving the fish a chance to get really curious about the bait on his hook.

By 2013, our favorite and most productive fishing hole is a bit difficult to access, especially considering the warning that grizzlies may seriously be searching for food to fatten up for winter.

Who wants to keep a bear's belly warm this winter?

And yet - how lucky can one be? Sometimes fate just takes over.

This day we park on a knoll to watch a couple of men from another state fishing at our special hole.

Both are pulling in one beautiful trout after another.

"Good job!" I call from the knoll.

The fishermen wave.

Soon one of the men climbs back up the hill to put his string of fish in the cooler.

"Got my limit," he laments. "Can't fish anymore."

"You'd like to fish more?" I ask, trying to appear coy and hesitant. "Might you catch a couple for me?"

"Sure!" the man says, hurrying down to the lake and returning shortly to hand us a pair of sleek trout for supper.

"Now I can fish again!" he calls happily, hurrying back to grab his pole as it bows to the pull of another fish.

I guess the best word for that event is reciprocity, however selfishly I managed to bring it about.

The last time we fished that hole, I was struggling to get to my feet and head up the hill with my catch and gear when a hiker came down and handed me his walking stick.

Later, I tried to return the stick to my new friend. He refused.

"You keep it," he said. "You need it more than I do."

Now I recall the day I handed my "Wyoming Live" and "Maggie" books to a young woman up there, confined to her trailer with a serious physical ailment.

"Oh, I do love to read!" she said, clasping my books to her ailing heart.

And I wonder, might the books be a "walking stick" or "fish dinner" to a disabled young woman?

Maybe that's what is so healing about the mysterious high country atmosphere.

It's easy to see another's need up there.

And almost always, it's easy to respond.