Lost And Found

By Gwen Hoffnagle

            I got lost last week. It often happens in September – maybe two or three times in September. With the sharp sky colors and the air made especially for breathing deeply, I tend to make more time for getting lost in September.

            Used to be I’d get found on these jaunts. Backpacking with a friend or lover, or car camping with another friend or another lover, it was “find me” time. We’d spill our guts to each other, starting in the car, where lack of distraction makes for deep conversations. We’d each take a turn. On the trail we’d start over and each take another turn with the trees and rocks for inspiration, and so on, until all subjects had been covered and everything that needed to come up came up, finding our thoughts by speaking out loud.

            Guts emptied, we’d stop at the top of a gorge or at a watering hole or at the top of the pass and dream in the silence. These places are where I would truly get found – these Rocky Mountain settings that look lifted from a coffee table book, but that no one else has ever witnessed. Add the smells, the scrape of the rock you’re sitting on as you lean back and taste a deep breath, the slow moan of the wind, and you have been found.

            Some get found sailing on the ocean, some tilling their family farm, some watching a city canyon’s kaleidoscope of lights from a high-rise window. The Rockies have done it for me since the first time I saw them, their slopes of pines streaked with the gold and ginger of aspen groves; it was September.

            Was it “getting found” then because of the companionship? Was it “getting found,” I wonder, because there was the promise of some very fine love-making in the private, pastel world of my lover’s tent or the peace afforded by the love of a life-long friend? Now I end up miles from the car with no daypack, no water. What am I thinking? Am I lost yet? Now when I discover I have hiked on and on, past the trail, past known territory, close to being lost, I often turn to that missing friend and think my thoughts in her direction, or let my body pine for the missing lover.

            Would I have taken a picture of that blue-whale-colored thunderhead behind the sunsplashed hillside in the days that I toted a camera everywhere? Would I have stopped to point out the horny-toad that my sweetie hadn’t noticed, and used the leaning down together to pick it out of its camouflage as an excuse for an embrace? If I’m wondering this, I guess I’m not lost enough yet.

            The ones I got found with are gone from me, or their bodies won’t let them go where they used to. I don’t leave home all packed for camping with three or four hiking routes in the back of my mind. When I take off in the car to hike with the dogs or just to get up higher to see where the snow line is today, I’m not prepared to get lost – it just seems to happen. I park and follow my nose until…I’m there…lost…carried helplessly with no desire to be found. Only to watch the clouds play with the sun, or see if I can spot a brookie in the shallows, or close my eyes to hear the sounds you don’t hear with them open, and drink in the rocky smells around me.

            I realize I never really needed the maps, the cameras, the granola bars, the extra layer of clothes – maybe not even the friend or the lover – to feel this way. And sometimes I go almost full circle from being completely lost in the mountains I now know so well to being completely found in them, the way it was those decades ago. But I don’t make it around to the beginning of the circle. I have to go back the way I came, back through lost, and then back out to the rest of the world.

            I guess I get to the same place. I just get there more by accident than by design. But when I leave the crazy world behind, I’m usually wishing someone I love could get lost with me – could feel and see and smell and taste and hear what it’s like to get lost in these great mountains – could understand where I love to be. Lost or found…is a difference of company and years.