I walked along a broken fence that led down to the coast, battered by the elements. A harsh cold wind whipped at my face as the clouds raced across the sky. I climbed around, exploring like a child, hopping from rock to rock, splashing in puddles, skipping stones. Sitting down, my back against a column, staring out across the tumultuous ocean in front of me, I take in the scene around me. The rocks that that surround me have been battling the elements for millions of years, slowly wearing down over time. Like us, someday, this rock will be gone, ground down to dust, its molecules mixing with the earth. The difference is that the rock has no control over its immediate future. It might be able to fight the storm far longer than any of us ever could, but what’s the point of fighting, if you're unsure as to why you're doing it.
The silence that extended out across the lake was as tangible as the water beneath us. Birds circled high overhead, darting down toward the water, landing on the distance. All around us the Universe continued its violent expansion, and yet the only sounds we could hear were our own. Josh’s rhythmic breathing cut through the air, while our paddles propelled us closer to our objective. Hardly a word was spoken between the steady, methodical strokes.
On a whim, Josh and I had left Salt Lake City at 9 o’clock the night before, driving the requisite four and half hours to get to Jackson, Wyoming. By the time we arrived and found a place to crash, it was 2 am. Exhausted, we spent an hour packing, unpacking, and repacking the kayak, in order to get all of our gear to fit. When we were finished, we decided to take an hour nap, a decision that would later prove to be frustrating.
Waking up at 4, we carried the kayak about ¼ mile to get to Jackson Lake. It was dark when we put in, and not a soul was in sight. The stars above arced out across the heavens, illuminating the lake with a billion points of light. 30 minutes into our paddle, the sun was lurking below the horizon.
To our west, we could see our goal, Mt. Moran, rising above trees that crept down to the shore. As the sun rose higher, light moved down its slope onto the lake, warming the air around us. Within minutes, we realized the day was going to be much hotter than we had anticipated.
After about two hours of paddling, we arrived at the base of Mt. Moran, pulling the kayak up onto the sand. The snow was still deep from the heavy winter, so we were able to start skinning just pass the edge of the lake.
Climbing higher and higher, we realized that we had misjudged how long it would take us. Arriving just below the final couloir we stopped to assess. Disappointed in our time management, exhausted from our lack of sleep, we briefly discussed our goal and decided to pull the plug. The weather was just too warm and the snow was quickly turning into crud.
The skiing wasn’t anything memorable; shitty concrete, pockets of creamed corn, mixed with some aggressive tomahawking down to the flats. What stood out to me though was the paddle earlier that morning; The blisters covering my hands. The water dripping down the paddle, soaking my shirt. The cool air against my face, The silence. It was definitely the silence.
Down near the pier, the sun is low on the horizon, its golden rays cut short by an approaching storm. Despite the inclement weather, the men working on the pier don’t hesitate. Father and son work together methodically prepping their boat to head out for the evening. They move about coiling ropes, shifting nets, transporting fuel, doing all that is necessary for their night on the ocean -- that great and dark expanse.
The father watches his son, correcting his mistakes as his father had done for him, hoping that his son will be able to do the same, knowing that a simple life can be a rewarding life, but like the evening sun on the horizon, the old ways are slowly setting. Light is disappearing, fading into the night as large commercial fishing vessels move in. Competition is fierce, overfishing is rampant, and savings are drying up.
Surly fishermen slowly walk along the docks, away from their boats after a cold night on the ocean. The sound of their heavy footsteps ring hollow on the old wooden planks.
The old way of life is dying. It is a shrinking culture, trying to stay relevant, grasping at the way things have always been, but failing to realize that they will never be. It’s a losing battle. As the years pass by, fishing villages become smaller. Boats sit on land, rotting. Fishing nets piled high lay stagnant, the smell of the ocean fading as the seasons wear on.
Lighthouses sit unused as stoic reminders of the past. The outsides kept clean and maintained for the photo opportunities of thousands of tourists, eager to depart the bus and stare from afar, but walking closer and peering inside, old desks can be seen gathering dust, while chipped and faded paint on the walls gives away its true age.
Meanwhile, the fishermen go on doing the only thing they know how to do. They put food on the table for their family and provide a roof over their head. Their happiness isn’t based on how much money they make, but on being able to provide the things in life that make them feel needed, loved.
As the sun rises the following morning, so do their hopes and dreams. The catch is fresh in their mind and as they return to rest in their beds, the mind takes over, wandering throughout time and space, thinking about the future and what it holds.