I came across a reference to William O Douglas’s book “Of Men and Mountains” in the “Hi Alpine” blog. The reference related to how William Douglas was at peace on his sick-bed thanks to the memories he had of his extensive exploration of the mountains around his hometown of Yakima, WA. I’m not much of a reader and don’t think I have ever read a book published outside of my lifetime, but this book published in 1950, turned out to be far more relevant to me today than I would have ever imagined.
I thought the book was going to be autobiographical with significant focus on William O Douglas as a Supreme Court Justice, but no, it was really just about his adventures in the wilderness. I immediately found myself fascinated by the challenges of a young man losing his father at an early age growing up in Yakima, WA, in the early 1900’s. I was able to gleam from the few professional references that William Douglas was a true man of integrity and must have been a tremendous Justice, but again the book was about his beloved Pacific Northwest Wilderness.
There were a few references to his wilderness adventures in New England and I loved his recollection of his trip to New York to attend Columbia Law School. He only had a few dollars so he hitched rides on trains across the country. Otherwise his story centered around Yakima in the Cascades and Wallowas. I have backpacked enough in this area to know of his references, but to share in them from a few generations prior was unique. What gear did an early backpacker use: a Nelson, Norwegian or Horseshoe packs. What did they eat: beans, bread, berries and fish. How did they stay dry: sometimes a tent but mostly they relied on the natural coverage of trees or caves. How did they stay warm: many times they didn’t but wool was their main resource. Horses for riding and packing were a part of their experiences. Interactions with Indians, trappers and herders were intriguing. But what I loved most were the recollections of his early backpacking experiences where his youthful enthusian would call into question the wisdom of some of his adventures. I get that, I think back to some of the stupid things I have done in the wilderness and I am thankful to be alive. In fact, I have always shared the kinship of my early adventures with my friend John back in NW Colorado in the 1980’s. We used to joke that we were the last of the true Mountain Men.
Not long after I started reading the book I shared my interest in it with John. I knew he would relate to it as I have, especially the fishing secrets throughout the book. Yes, for us this book is an easy reading escape back to our own wilderness adventures. And when a first edition copy of the book was delivered to my home, it could have only come from my wilderness brother, John. True friendship is as valuable as anything we have and William Douglas shared many of his friendships in this book. I hope you all have friendships built upon wilderness adventures.