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Backpacking with the SaintsWilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice$
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Belden C. Lane

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780199927814

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780199927814.001.0001

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Dying: Mudlick Mountain Trail and The Cloud of Unknowing

Dying: Mudlick Mountain Trail and The Cloud of Unknowing

11 (p.139) Dying: Mudlick Mountain Trail and The Cloud of Unknowing
Backpacking with the Saints

Belden C. Lane

Oxford University Press

Everett ruess disappeared in the redrock canyons of southeast Utah in November 1934. The twenty-year-old artist, poet, and vagabond had left the town of Escalante a few days earlier, setting out with his two burros along the Hole-in-the-Rock Road toward the Colorado River. He was no stranger to wilderness, despite his youth. He had wandered the West for years. But he was never seen again. Searchers found his two burros by his campsite in a remote gulch, his footprints leading nowhere in particular, and a word recently scratched on a sandstone wall: “Nemo . . . 1934.” No one. How could the desert have swallowed him alive without leaving a trace? Was he killed by rustlers? Had he run away with Navajo Indians? What could erase him so quickly and completely from the desert landscape? The previous year he had written his brother about the irresistible joy of wild country, saying, “I’ll never stop wandering. And when the time comes to die, I’ll find the wildest, loneliest, most desolate spot there is.” Apparently that’s what happened. There was no hint of suicide, no sign of violence. The mystery has never been solved. The story’s grip on the imagination is more than that of a cautionary tale, warning of the dangers of backcountry travel. You stand a better chance, anyway, of being killed on city streets than on the far reaches of the Colorado Plateau. Wilderness wandering is no more inherently life-threatening than driving home on the freeway every night. What makes wild terrain seem so menacing (and yet captivating) is the deceptively comforting character of our technological society. It gives us the illusion of being in control of our environment. Wilderness, by contrast, lies beyond the reach of our managerial skills. It challenges the ego. Its threat of death is more psychological and spiritual than physical. Unfrequented canyons broach the possibility of our dying to what we’ve known in the past, losing rational control, encountering a wonderment beyond understanding. Everett Ruess perceived this potential of “dying before one dies” as something to be welcomed.

Keywords:   Carthusians, Death, Hindu spirituality, Love, Native Americans, Pascal, Rabia, birds, distractions

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