Ruth Rudner
Ruth Rudner

David Muench's National Parks


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Moving, Mongolia, Montana
We sold our New Mexico house, moved permanently to Montana, and traveled to Mongolia all at the same time.

Colliding in landslides, rasped in the flow of glaciers, tumbled by fast moving streams, battered by wind and rain, by frost and thaw, split by the roots of plants taking hold in small cracks, rocks break into the shape of hearts.

The New Year's Day Hike
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t hike on New Year’s day. Beginning the year in wild country, on the theory that as the year starts, so it goes, is a necessity. Like morning’s first cup of coffee.

We arrived in Montana to find the garage door opener not working, the phone not working, the message machine not working, my computer not working. The phone got fixed the next day, the door opener just needed a new battery, the computer, too.

Old T-shirts
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about t-shirts. They are simply something comforting to throw on when I’m not interested in figuring out what to wear. Still, they have been carefully collected, each reflecting something . . . a place, an idea, a mood.

Snow. Finally. A real snow, the sort of snow northerners take for granted, a snow that falls for days, that blankets everything in sight, that blurs the edges of the world, that means you can ski.

Getting rid of books seems the most unfaithful of acts. I imagined every book I love (which appears to be most of them) staying on my shelves forever. I never wondered what happens after forever.

Twenty Years of Wolves in Yellowstone
January 12, 1995. Gardiner, Montana. Arriving in crates via horse trailer at Yellowstone’s north entrance, eight wolves are welcomed by schoolchildren bearing flowers...

Not Meeting Alan Ginsberg
In early autumn Anthropologie suggested it would be good to spend October in Prague. Anthropologie is a catalog, the only one I don’t automatically delete from my inbox. I look at it because I love their imagination, their fantasy, their unwillingness to keep anything the way it was yesterday.

Beginning anywhere is an approach I understand, one that probably every writer instinctively understands, but it still feels like an act of daring. Get something down, anything, don’t worry where it ultimately belongs, or if it belongs, sort it out later.

Being Present
It is an odd way to be in Montana. To be here, and to be writing about Sandia Mountain, New Mexico. To be locked into a schedule that has kept me at my computer for six weeks, thinking about Sandia. Or reading about Sandia. Or talking with various experts about Sandia.

The Garden Tour
Our garden was invited to participate in this year’s Corrales Garden Tour. Because neither of us had ever been on the tour, I had no idea what sort of gardens it featured, but I imagined them to be manicured affairs, with disciplined beds and hedges and mowed lawns.

A Hike I Didn't Like, At First
The Organ Mountains rise as a serrated ridge thrusting against the desert sky east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. Their sheer drama draws my eyes every time we pass by on our way to or from Big Bend.

Early Spring
The twelfth of February was the second day of the first iris along the walkway, the first day of Sandhill cranes circling in huge flocks high in the sky, circling, moving out, heading north.

The Endangered Species Act
This year celebrates the 40th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, although “celebration” may be an odd word at the moment when this extraordinary Act has, itself, become endangered.

My Bulletin Board
I have options when it comes to staring into space from my desk. I can look out the window at the apple tree which is variously lush with blossoms, deeply green, heavy with apples, or, as now, a bare, twisting sculpture against blue sky and brown grasses.

We were supposed to go to Shenandoah National Park in October. David had a workshop scheduled. I looked forward to hiking. Because we both expected that after a bit of muscle-flexing the U.S. government would reopen, thus reopening the gates to our national parks, we drove East.

The Clarity of Autumn
Early morning. The air is cold, sharp like crystal, almost palpable. After two days of rain pouring down in hard sheets, of rain slashed by long, jagged lightning bolts that seemed to pause mid-strike, as if wanting to make a point, of rain obscuring the mountains, this morning is brilliantly clear. It is the end of summer, the change of seasons, the brittle, sparkling, adamant arrival of autumn.

I heard a mourning dove this morning as I walked up the hill, past the woods, to my house. Its mournful sound I so loved as a little girl is a sound that makes me feel at home and I hear it as both sound and memory.

What A Wonderful World
On the day I flew to San Miguel de Allende, my yoga teacher shot himself. The two things were not connected.

The Alex Knob Trail
The path climbs up out of the rimu, through rata and kamahi, the forest an impenetrable green; dark, misty, wet without rain. Thick, ropey aerial roots of the rata trees twist into loops and arcs or cling to their host trees in close, entwining embrace.

White Mountain Wilderness
A wind. Clouds moving against a white/grey sky. A single crow flies over, black form against the shrouded sky. My pen , too long in heat, has leaked so that my hands are covered in ink. I should be a manuscript, but what would my story be?

Traveling in Mexico
Inside the room the woman clutches the curved iron bars guarding the outside of the window from the street, clutches as if her hands are iron, attached forever to the bars. There is no way to pry them loose.

When I moved to Montana from New York, I packed an orange canvas bag with a number of stuffed animals and my two dolls, one that came from Russia with my mother, the other, bought years ago in Switzerland when I was writing about skiing.

Living Rock Cactus
Last April, I fell in love with a flower.

We were in Big Bend National Park, there to hike Emory Peak for my birthday, when a ranger, talking to David about cacti David wanted to photograph, mentioned Living Rock Cactus.

This summer was a hard one in Montana. There were fires everywhere, but even when they were not nearby, the sky was heavy with grey smoke blowing in from other places. The still air, the absence of rain, the pall laid on a world become too hot, too dry replaced the deep blue Montana sky. In the heavy greyness, it was no longer a big sky. It was just ash.

Morning In Lamar
I left Roosevelt for Lamar a little after 6:00. Beyond the bridge construction site, where they were setting up for the day’s work, the road curved through Lamar Canyon, then spit me out into the wild space of Lamar Valley.

On Not Going to Africa
Our plane for Nairobi left from Dubai on May 31st. I loved the idea of flying to Africa from Dubai. David has traveled to Africa a number of times, but always from Amsterdam or Atlanta or somewhere not in the least romantic. But Dubai . . .

Emory Peak
The words from Big Bend National Park’s brochure seemed personal to me. The brochure meant that some Latin American species come this far north while several northern species migrate this far south, but I interpreted the words to suggest Big Bend as a place of transition, a crossroads, a border. The line that divides things.

Winter & Spring Become Lovers
April 3. Snow on the apple blossoms, the redbud, the cherry trees. Snow on the narcissus. Snow covering vines lining the irrigation ditch. Only the cactus blooms, warm against a rock, sheltered by the branches of the pinyon above them, are free of snow, brilliant red in the white/grey morning.

Cleaning Out the Files
Yesterday I decided to clean out files moved from New York to Montana in the 80s, then twenty years later, from Montana to New Mexico. The files contain research for articles and books; drafts of those same articles and books; stories I never sent to anyone; topographic maps for every wilderness I’ve ever hiked; every piece of information about horses, dogs, falcons, bison, grizzly bears, gorillas, lions, jaguars I’ve ever collected; every letter—apparently—I ever received.

The Writing on the Wall
Nur Mut, Johann, someone had painted on the rock wall. "Only courage, Johann."

The writing on the wall was slightly above me to my left, at the point the route required letting go of handholds to leap up over a small crack to a good ledge some inches above to the right. It was not far, not long, not even difficult, but letting go to jump upward scared the hell out of me.

A Visit to China
China is utterly fascinating, terribly rich, terribly busy, terribly big. There are too many people, too much traffic, too much pollution. On streets planted with trees in an attempt to get some oxygen into the desperate air, bicycles pulling carts loaded as heavily as an American pick-up, bicycles carrying families of three, scooters, motor bikes all travel alongside shiny, expensive cars.

What I Said To The Bears
I walked down the trail talking to bears. It seemed the only thing to do. I tried singing, but after a while I ran out of songs. Or rather, song. I can only think of one song when I sing to bears, a song from a musical called Crosstown Bus written by a dear friend.

Coming Home
Montanans, understandably, are tired of snow. It has been snowing or raining for most of the past nine months. While New Mexico dries out in severe drought, and Arizona is on fire, Montana is drowning. Creeks and rivers overflow their banks. Roads are closed. Towns are flooded.

So What
My first lesson in slam poetry, the art that –as Smith wrote in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Slam Poetry--"resurrected the spoken word literary tradition." I have never been to a poetry slam.

Lion died. The vet came to the house at 11:30 a.m. in late October. One minute my beautiful little cat was alive. Then he wasn’t.

Beyond Pie Town
The population of Pie Town is under 200. But it provides a break in the trail for hikers on the Continental Divide, most of whom find their way to the Daily Pie Café. David and I stop at the Daily Pie on our drives from Albuquerque to Arizona’s White Mountains.

The Cow, Part 2
Things happen when you stop trying to make them happen. Maybe letting go simply allows the Universe to work. Disappointed at not coming through with Bette’s bucket list request, I gave up the idea of finding a cow knowing I’d done what I could. But I phoned one more person. Just in case . . .

Looking for a Cow
I’ve spent the day looking for a cow. A dairy cow. But this is the West. In The West, we grow beef. Wild beef. The kind of beef you have to search days through wilderness to round up. We don’t fool around with dairy cows. Sure, we need ice-cream out here, but when we want to grow cows our land, we want something with meat on its bones, not caramel swirls in its cream.

The Necessity of Wolves
Wolves are a dividing line. On one side are people who believe wolves belong in the ecosystems where they evolved; on the other, people who hate them.

Looking into Mexico at Sunset
The Sierra del Carmen is streaked rose and mauve by late sun. Two hundred feet below me, dividing line between that wild range and me, the Rio Grande runs a muddy green.

On Not Flying In A Balloon
My brother, Larry, lectures on cruise ships. He has for years. Totally surrounded by water, he is truly happy.

Big Bend National Park
“We drove miles across the endless Texas desert, the only vehicle on a road striping through sand and cactus and greasewood for so long that I forgot we were going somewhere.”

Birthday Hikes
A birthday hike through wild country seems a proper celebration, the reassertion of our beginning as beings of nature. 

I used to care about politics.  For all my life in Montana, I felt committed to one candidate or another.  I sent money.  I wrote an occasional op-ed piece. 

The Sandhill Cranes in the Backyard
This morning, out of a storm grey dawn, there is a crimson opening in the sky. Sandhill cranes fly across the crimson, dark forms against flame, a grand avian celebration of the dawn.

Earlier this month, after a great deal of effort on the part of several conservation organizations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced its decision to designate habitat critical to the survival of the jaguar, and to develop a long-term recovery plan for this endangered animal.

Blog for 2010
At the start of 2010, I’ll substitute a sporadic blog for this monthly article. The blog will focus on the connection – the personal connection -- between nature and writing. Other subjects may jump in, although I really think the two categories contain virtually every subject.

Vancouver Island
The Nuu-chah-nulth Trail crosses a large bog before winding into rainforest. Bogs are subtle.  Not for them, the drama of oceans and mountains, of high cliffs or roiling streams.  Because bog soil provides little food for plantlife, whatever grows here makes up in adaptation what it lacks in spectacle.  Stunted shore pines, backing away from the boardwalk trail protecting this fragile habitat from human feet, scatter themselves across the open landscape.  Sphagnum moss spreads across the bog like carpet. 

There is a grandness about entering a country by sea.  Even if the sea is simply a strait crossed in an hour from the country you are leaving.  Even if the ship carrying you is only a huge ferry on which there is nothing elegant.  Even if you get seasick just by looking at water.

Protecting the Land
There are hitches to protecting what you love. For instance, once in Central Park, trying to protect my dog from the insane kick of a woman-one-ought-never-tangle-with, I ended up in an actual physical fight. My friend Graham interceded and nobody died. (I did try to talk to her first.) Another instance, joining with thousands of people in voicing the opinion that the air and sound pollution of snowmobiles has no place in Yellowstone’s winter has resulted in numerous court cases, and, for now, a cap on their numbers and how they’re used, but not a total ban.

Bear Wallow Wilderness
We chose the steeper of two trails for our first day’s hike. It seemed the quicker route to the gorge a couple of miles below the junction of the trails. Although both trails descend about three miles through pines and fir, the steeper one-- the Reno Lookout Trail-- looked shorter on the map. It stayed on the dry side of the canyon while the Cienega, which we intended hiking the next day, follows water much of the way. The trailheads are three miles apart on a forest road that gets use on weekends when people desperate to leave the heat of Phoenix drive to these northern mountains. Weekday traffic is sparse. It was Wednesday.

Sitting by the Gaina
An old woman leads her cow across the bridge over the Gaina. A Holstein. A milk cow. Moving from one side of the village to the other, toward pasture, or away. There is no way—on this bank where I sit-- for me to know whether she is going or coming. Perhaps direction is irrelevant. The earth is circular. Life is circular. Spring always returns. We, too, if you consider reincarnation. At the very least, we move from spirit before we are conceived to spirit when we die.