By Jane Parnell
The following is an excerpt from the new book, Off Trail: Finding My Home in the Colorado Rockies by Jane Parnell of Fairplay, Colorado, which will be released in January 2018. Jane is a freelance writer and independent scholar. She has taught journalism at Utah State University and writing at Colorado Mountain College, and her articles, editorials and essays with the byline Jane Koerner have been published in High Country News, Mountain Gazette, Colorado Central Magazine and Outdoor Adventure.
Join the author on Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the Book Haven, 135 F St., Salida, for a reading in conjunction with the store’s Festival of Books.
San Juan Mountains, September 1994: The closer I get, the more elusive the trophy. My destination today is farther than I think. It usually is. Optical delusion, as we mountaineers like to say. Chalk it up to oxygen deprivation or the blazing light at this altitude or overconfidence. After five solos in as many days, unscathed, I feel invincible.
At first I mistake him for a lichen-splattered boulder, so deceptive is the pattern of his mottled fur. Head cocked, nose twitching, he seems to be enjoying the view while hunting for his next meal. Then the wind shifts slightly, driving my scent toward him. The white lining of a pointed ear rotates into view, an almond-shaped eye materializes.
Coyote, as close as I may ever get. He has a bald patch on his shoulder and a torn ear. A survivor, no doubt, of entanglements with barbed-wire fences and sheep guard dogs and all the other hazards of an often solitary, nomadic existence. The glint in his amber eye conveys a sly wisdom. Perhaps he will play me for a fool and warp my sense of direction with a ventriloquist’s yelp so I never reach the summit. Maybe that’s the point. There is no summit, just one step at a time, attending to what’s under my feet.
Coyote squats on his haunches, unperturbed and inscrutable as a Buddha statue. And then, with the speed and sureness of a warrior’s discharged arrow, he springs. I look over the edge, into steep, bottomless talus. He has vanished.
Twenty feet beyond his vacated perch is a pile of rocks arranged with human deliberation. Coyote has shown me the truest of seven false summits. In the triumph of the moment, our encounter is forgotten. How many false summits must I climb before I get the message and really start paying attention?
Excerpt from Off Trail: Finding My Home in the Colorado Rockies. Copyright 2018 by Jane Parnell. Published by the University of Oklahoma Press, January 2018.