Watershed Blog

Fragments of Escape – A piece by Tara Kramer

by Tara Kramer

I stole away quickly after work and headed straight for the Yellowstone with Nick, our boats, our trusty Watershed Drybags, and a half-eaten bar of chocolate. He’d packed a few bars, our rain jackets, water, and a bike to shuttle, and we picked the put in as we drove: the shortest prettiest bit.

Packing an Animas backpack with clothes and necessities on the bank of the riverNot wanting to rush, preferring instead to stare down the soft haze of the peaks cushioning the valley. We’d paddle and then pause to float through the musky evening air, the heavy smell of hay, and the rarity of a warm night in a northern state. I thought unknowingly of Iowa. The hay, the thick earthy air, an innocent abandon on a summer evening. These memories from years long past were weaving into the glow of an evening escape.

I’ve started to find quiet in these corners of my time. I pile them together now, as I once stacked months for longer, larger getaways. I’d had such freedoms then, but now, the early morning hours and end of week overnights shine strangely. I find continuity in the solitude of steep canyons, smoke settling over the water, sand in my shoes. Wrapped in rushing and obligation, the stillness is precious.

Almost two years ago my rhythm turned sharply from those wanderings. I’d spent nearly a decade working in the polar ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica, traveling between contracts along rivers in southern Patagonia and New Zealand, and then returning home to the open sagebrush valleys of Montana. When I finally faced mounting health concerns, I unearthed a catastrophe. My transitive years halted with a sobering need for doctors, roots, a schedule. Quickly, I took a full-time desk job.

My adventures and escapes and slowness have been transformed in this shift. They’ve taken on smaller forms. They’ve been squeezed into these fragmented days and weeks. They’ve become long moments stolen between doctors’ appointments, meetings, and the usual maintenance of daily life. Yet, I’ve found trust in the short stints that pull me back to the water. To nearby creeks and reservoirs, to high alpine lakes, to untethered rivers raging through the heart of the country. I haven’t lost myself. I still crave quiet. I still race towards water.

This year winter lingered long. When the fields turned, and the water settled from milky brown to steel and then to its clear summer green, I layered spare moments. I paddled into flooded inlets, swatted caddis swarming my hair, and biked my own shuttles on Saturdays when loved ones were away or obligated or injured. Nick and I picked a lake tucked between tourism and ranches, portaged a mosquito filled slough, and found the quietest backcountry so nearly front country.

Frying Trout on the grill with an Animas backpack in the background

Watershed Drybags Animas Backpack

We fried trout in the June chill, drank wine, and cast mouse flies in the glare of dusk, in sandals and puffies, in a forgotten little mountain range.

Amidst my routine so closed and quartered, I carve away quiet. On the water, at dusk, with the ones I love. Stillness always calls me back.

Images from the trip

Paddling on blue waters with a mountain in the background

Paradise Valley

Putting out the camp fire on the banks of the river surrounded by rocks and trees

Settling Smoke 

Paddling in a raft up to steep canyons

Steep Canyons

Paddling on the water with a sand cliff in the background

Yellowstone Cliffs