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The Glittering Mountains of Canada
Chapter XV. Trail’s End

"These splendid limbs—

Life lent you them; you did not make nor choose them;
but yours the right to use them right royally for a span.
When the light dims,
When their day wanes, and all the stars are beckoning,
see you return them proudly for the reckoning,
to prove you lived a man.”

Geoffrey Wixthrop Young

And so we come to the End of the Trail. What, after all, has it amounted to—this riding in the wilderness, this mad scrambling on inaccessible crags? If you ask us, “Of what use?” perhaps we shall only smile and remain silent, answering not at all. If your curiosity be aroused, perhaps you will go and see for yourself—and find the answer we might have given. That for a little moment we have transcended ourselves; and, upon a mountain top, looking off across the vastness of a glorious earth, have felt ourselves apart from the sham and pettiness of daily life, and have come a little nearer to the Unfathomable Presence.

It seems to me as if the Striving for a Goal were the outstanding virtue of mountaineering. Life, and Youth in particular, are uncertain in their offerings of success. Most of us have ideals, of course, but the opportunity for attaining them is often remote, and the desired ends float away into the realm of impossibility. How different it is with the climber! He has a peak to scale, and with it the enjoyment of all the splendour of the mountain world—and in a day, usually in less time, he sets foot on the desired height with all the joy that comes from the completion of a self-appointed task.

One should visit the Canadian Northland with eye and mind alert to the beauty of Nature’s handicraft: the artistry in all of it; from the broad sculpturing of crag and chasm to the delicate perfection of a tiny flower.

The things we treasure—the memories of peak and sunlit icefield; of forgotten trails; of haunting melodies of the homeland, piped on a harmonica, in the glow of northern campfires—where indeed can one discover these in the musty pages of a Geography? No map of a river valley can visualize a Canadian forest, with laden horses swinging along in line; no plaster relief can ever make one understand the moods of mountains, half-hidden in cloud or towering in the many-hued glory of early morning. What Atlas can picture Singing Youth, on horseback, crossing a sparkling ford to flower-decked meadows, with distant mountain spires dim blue in the noon haze? These trails are not for everyone, but for those who go there will result such memories “as dreams are. made on,” and the reward is great enough.

Pack-trains of yesterday: “Slim,” the horse that always had to be packed twice; “Fanny,” who carried the dishpan and the ice-axes; “Gunboat,” who carried me; “Beauty,” the white, belled steed that Conrad rode and who bucked on occasion; “Hammerhead,” “Briden,” and all the rest—I wonder if they remember the boys who rode them so gaily, cinched them so tightly after a night’s feeding of green grass, and drove them with such strange language? I think it unlikely; their minds—and with all their eccentricities, I still believe those cayuses have minds—are doubtless more attuned to the present and the future than to any thoughts of the past. Their dreams, quite likely, are of lush-pastures where the grass is never bitter, and of shady paths where flies and the diamond-hitch are things unknown. We, remembering, are ourselves forgotten.

Back-trails of tomorrow—God willing, there will be some who come after us, finding in the light of new campfires, built on hearth-stones that were once ours, that Peace we know. We who have travelled the long, lone trails of the Northland, know that Peace-of-the-hills is an Angel whose blessing is only obtained by wrestling.

“What if I live no more those kingly days? their night sleeps with me still.
I dream my feet upon the starry ways; my heart rests in the hill.
I may not grudge the little left undone;
I hold the heights, I keep the dreams I won”

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