‘The Last Best Place’

Yesterday, Emily and I slowly and carefully made our way home from our bi-weekly trip to southern Vermont. While Emily navigated the rain and slush, our red Husky, Cinnamon, dozed in the back seat with her food bowl resting against her forehead. In between troubleshooting calls from work, I casually flipped through the pages of the latest issues of Rovers Magazine and Backpacker. Maybe I’m ADD, maybe it’s because magazines are filled with photos, illustrations, and infographics with advertising forcing its way onto nearly every page, or maybe it’s just a product of information overload in every facet of our lives, but I never seem to read the articles until I’ve spent numerous sessions skimming the whole magazine and have gained all I possibly can from doing so. I had apparently finished surveying the terrain as I soon found myself completely engulfed in a Backpacker article.

While somewhat prominently listed in the table of contents, this particular narrative should have had a teaser on the cover at the very least. Even now, at 4am, I’m forced to write this with the hope that my mind can then set the imagery and remeniscing on the skill of the story teller aside for a few hours. This fantastic tale in which three friends followed an un-labeled, hand-drawn map into the Sierras in the summer of ‘79 in search of a small cabin with “MAGIC LIVES HERE” written in the smoke curling from its chimney was submitted to Backpacker in 1983. It is utterly unbelievable and yet, considering the author disappeared on a hiking trip in 1987 leaving no way to verify the story, completely understandable that this was never published until now.

I couldn’t quite comprehend how the following short wire from August 20th, could possibly pull a reader-submitted story out of some filing cabinet where it had sat for over twenty years, but, in hindsight, one can easily imagine how memories of that outlandish story of teenagers finding tranquility and John Muir’s journal in the Sierras might’ve1 flooded back in.

August 20, 2010, MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. (AP) – United States Forest Service officials are refusing to comment on reports that a hiker recently discovered a journal buried near a stone cabin deep in Inyo National Forest, in southern Sierra Nevada, or on speculation that the journal and cabin both belonged to famed outdoorsman John Muir, who died in 1914.

“There are lots of things buried in the mountains,” said a Forest Service official who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, “and there are probably huts and cabins that only a handful of people have ever seen. That doesn’t mean they’re important, or anything to get excited about.”

I’d highly suggest you grab a copy of the November 2010 Backpacker, turn to page 85—or just browse the magazine a few times first, as long as you don’t forget—and read “The Last Best Place”. You won’t be disappointed.

November 2010 Backpacker magazine cover

1SPOILER ALERT: I said “might’ve” because I could find no record of the above wire nor the author-gone-missing, making the backstory of its origins highly suspect. In fact, it is a piece by one Steve Friedman who has contributed to Backpacker in the past (including another fictional account under a different pseudonym). This is a wonderful, hopeful piece of fiction which has put further flame to that inner desire to escape to the wilderness which exists in many of us. It harkens back to reading My Side of the Mountain as a child.