The US yoga industry has exploded in recent years: hot yoga, power yoga, radiant flow, restorative, aerial, zen bootcamp (huh?). As the yoga possibilities have expanded, so too have the clothing opportunities. From its perhaps simplistic origins to a $27 billion industry in 5000 short years. No, wait. That should be 4990 years of yoga and 10 years of booming industry.
Being outdoors all day, in one place, in the cold requires warm clothing, a massive quantity of fuel to stay warm (hot chocolate with heavy cream and butter, please), and enough movement to create heat without sweating.
Over the years, the fashionable yoga set has moved away from the simple, but ever elegant, loin cloth. Today’s yoga togs (such a good word too often unused) are something to behold. Strappy tops that require a Ph.D. and schematics to put on properly rule the current scene. Leggings of all lengths and body-hugging forms are standard. Fabulous colors, incredible patterns, material cutouts, and built-in multi-layers compete across the studio for attention.
The common comment that my fashion sense elicits is that I always look put together. To me, this implies that each of my body parts is in its proper place and covered with the appropriate and corresponding clothing items. That seems the least (and apparently the most) I can do in the realm of fashion. So be it.
Ski pants, insulated boots, gaiters, a down coat, binoculars (with harness), and a hard hat seem well beyond the height of yoga fashion. I took this photo for the seeming incongruity of the activity and my clothing. I only have a Master’s degree; I couldn’t get into the strappy things.
Three riders moved slowly across the landscape, deliberately but unhurriedly they paralleled my path in the opposite direction. I watched the horses with some envy as I continued on foot.
It was July in the Pueblo Mountains. It was hot. I had been walking since dawn; it was midday now. I was out of water, out of food, and out of patience with the shadeless glare of sun-soaked sagebrush.
From a long way off I could see the horse. Even from a distance, I could tell it was a big horse. The rider was just a red dot. Eventually, the red dot became a person, a boy. He rode a few loops, lazy figure eights. He backed up the horse, made it stand and side step. Then he just sat and watched me approach.
“Where’s your horse?” the boy asked with unaffected curiosity and genuine concern.
“I don’t have one.”
“How far did you walk?”
“I don’t know. Several miles. I started at sunrise.”
“That’s a long time without a horse.”
“Yes.” We stood a minute, he on his horse, me looking at the ground. Then, diverting him from my obvious failing, “That’s a big horse.”
“I know. 17 hands. My dad told me I had to grow enough to get on him by myself before I could ride him. I’m only 7. I can’t grow that fast.”
“But you’re riding him.”
“Yup. I told my dad he better build me a ladder.”
“I saw three riders earlier. Was your dad one of them?”
“Yup. And my mom and sister. They said I wasn’t big enough to muster so I had to sit here and wait for them to push the cows to me. Then I can circle and ride them down the hill. We’re moving them to water.”
“You’re not big enough to muster but you’re big enough to sit this giant horse out here by yourself for however many hours it takes for them to come back?”
“I know. That’s what I said. But I lost that argument. If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have anything to do.”
“You need a book.”
I had miles yet to cover and parted company. He sat his horse and watched me walk on.
Later in the afternoon, I watched from a slope above as the cows came, moving ahead of the three riders. The boy rode to meet them, swinging far to one side of the cows and then falling in with the other riders. He waved as he passed below me. And I took this photo of him, his mom and sister, the dust, and the cows, a scene of the west.
Last summer camping on the Imnaha River, I had a dream. It was August, but on the river in the bottom of a forested canyon and at elevation in the Wallowa Mountains, it was cold. I slept in the bed of the pickup, curled into my down sleeping bag, with multiple layers of clothing, and a hat. I don’t remember much about the dream except that it terrified me and I awoke as I was about to be decapitated.
Startled awake with the sound of water rushing downstream to join the Snake River, the trees crowding in above me, and the stars brilliantly clear in the gaps between the branches far above, I wondered what had occurred on this site. I lay awake a long time thinking about the dream and whatever energy I had tapped into.
As happens, the year waned. The dream, all but forgotten, left my conscious memory.
Last week, I was camping on the Imnaha. I had a dream. It was June, but in the river bottom, in an open ponderosa pine park and in the spring rain at elevation in the Wallowa Mountains, it was cold. I was a few miles above the previous campsite; I slept in the camper in the bed of the pickup. Big Cat was with me. I don’t remember much about the dream except that it terrified me and I awoke when every hair on the back of my neck and head were standing on end, both in the dream and not.
Jolted awake by the dream, I heard the river and the rain on theroof of the camper, I had the sense that I was in the wrong place. Lying awake, I remembered last year’s dream.
The Imnaha was home to the Niimíipu, the Nez Perce. These were the last grazing lands of Chief Joseph’s band. They lived in these canyons, in the mountains, and on the grassy slopes. They grazed their horses and lived their lives here, on a shrinking allotment of land “given” to them by the US government in this far-flung corner of Oregon and then slowly taken away again as white settlers discovered its value. There were promises and skirmishes and then Chief Joseph fled with other Nez Perce who would not agree to forced relocation to a reservation.
Most of us have heard some piece of this story. Pursued by numerous factions of the U.S. military, they crossed the Snake River, the mountains of Idaho, and The Big Hole in Montana. They wove their way through Yellowstone, the Sunshine Valley, the Absaroka Mountains, and north again to the Bear Paw Mountains of central Montana. Finally, after 1,170 miles and multiple battles, they surrendered. They were 40 miles from the Canadian border. They were relocated to Kansas, and Chief Joseph was never allowed to return to the Imnaha.
I don’t claim to have any connections to the past, no clairvoyance; I don’t channel spirits. But, I believe that the land remembers a lot of things we choose to forget. There was peace and there was some type of balance. Then, there was not. Everything has energy; we all come from entropy, take shape, and then return to entropy. Blood that soaks into the soil, flesh and bone scattered by scavengers and decay doesn’t cease to exist; it takes a new form.
Maybe the dreams were just dreams, my subconscious pushing me into places I don’t want to go or reminding me of things I have not fully processed. Despite the terror that woke me, I don’t think the violence was directed at me. I think it was a reminder.
The river, the forest, and people, both Native American and, at this point, of European descent too, have flowed through this place for generations. Today we often camp in remote places and feel some sense that we have discovered them for the first time, no matter the fire ring, the litter, or the road. We read the roadside signs about what was, who was, and when it was. We snap a photo. We move on.
We forget, that there were others in this place long before any of us discovered it. Not just people passing through on a summer trip but those that lived and died here, sometimes violently, sometimes unjustly.
The next night before going to sleep, I smudged the camper, the truck, and myself, burning sage as an offering to the people who came before us and in their memory. Water, trees, people will continue to flow through this land. May it be a more peaceful journey for us all.