Michael Mills Kiley's Introduction to his grandfather's book - Adventures of a Nature Guide
Enos Mills is the founder of Rocky Mountain National Park which is located in the State of Colorado in the United States of America. Rocky Mountain National Park comprises 400 square miles of Wilderness with the high mountains of the area exceeding elevations of 14,000 feet. Enos's grandson, Michael is a Ph.D. in Hospital Administration and at the time of the creation of this Web page is the administrator of the Swedish Hospital in Denver, Colorado
The guide, like the teacher and the coach, soon asks: what works? Enos Mills knew. His experience from the age of fourteen in the Colorado Rockies, his extensive reading and reflection on what he read, his observations of the pioneer settlers of the mountain states, and finally, his solitary contemplation of people and nature, pointed him back. Back, as the philosophic imperative is expressed, from the one to the many-to write, to lecture, to lobby for conservation, but above all, to teach in the extraordinary fashion of the nature guide.
Mills teaches of three subject: the wilderness, the guide, and the guest. He found that, "wilderness is the safety zone of the world," and transposed modern civilization and wilderness-with the supposedly savage wilderness offering safety from the rigors of the allegedly civilized world. Commonplace in 1990, Mills' transposition of wilderness and civilization was a novel idea at the close of the pioneer era eight decades ago.
The guide is the transposes, the person capable of "helping people to become happily acquainted with the life and wonder of wild nature." And who is the guest? A person, the product of urban life, with false fears and preconceptions of wilderness, yet one who consistently shows a love of what Mills calls "trail school" and who is open to the teachings of the guide.
Nature guiding takes place on location. Here, the concrete and alive demand the deeply abstract and imagination is "our most useful faculty." We draw our own inner map, then follow it. Mills did it and told about in "Snowblinded on the Summit." Snow glasses lost in a snowslide, blindness forced him to travel, not blindly, but by second sight. After a harrowing three-day descent from the Continental Divide, Mills arrived at a cabin not far from the destination where his eyes would have led him. True guiding takes place when the guide's imagination enables the guest to draw on his own inner map.
A guide need travel little. Another irony. What does the guide do, if not lead travelers? Yet, as in, "Waiting in the Wilderness", we must stand still to see. The nature guide lifts the veil off one corner of the canvas. We must stand still and wait, stand still and watch. And not just for minutes or hours or days. We must return, over seasons and years, as Mills did to the same woodpecker nest or beaver lodge.
There is no question that Mills was transformed by his experience when he arrived at Long's Peak at the age of fourteen. It was the vision quest of a young man in search of a guiding focus for his life, and it was appropriate. For even though transformation collides with our desire to be in control, if the guest is to change, the guide must already have changed. He must be able to help the guest see the woodpecker protect trees by probing the trunk to remove harmful insects and then insert himself into the setting. This is not analytic, not experimental, but experiential. Look through the eyes of the baby woodpecker, says Mills, and find the unity of all being. Listen to the song of the solitaire and find the harmony of the universe there. Watch, as Mills does, the sacred proceedings of the bear and her cub and kindle respect.
And on Sunday, go to the church bowl? In the wilds, what are place and time? Yes: to hear or intone under stars or sun a sacred text is to be twice blessed. But only the real thing. Lodgepoles will not bend to a crooked man, and men aspire to be as straight. Prattle disputes in the whispering wind; prayer is its song. One can feel universal kinship at timberline. On the tundra, merge with teeming life. Recount the biography of a familiar tree. Lull the wariness, over many days and months, of one Bighorn Sheep. See the forest past in the flames of the present trail campfire. Does the nature guide not brush the spiritual, is the setting not sacred, is guiding not archetypal? Such is the teaching of Enos Mills.
To observe, sharpen the senses. The wilderness is the honing stone, its gentian as well as its granite. But what draws us to the task? Strong curiosity. It took Mills, no in spite of the gale but because of it, to the top of Storm Pass. There the windmeter said 170 miles. Then curiosity took him to the top of a wildly swaying tree, to experience its full force. And yet further to the Keyboard of the Winds of Long's Peak, and thence to the summit! "Wind Rapids on the Heights" tells the glory of entering a mountain storm. Here is the real issue: is the call heard? Mills believed the call was within each person. What we call 'curiosity' - is it not such a call?
Nature guiding is "helping people to become happily acquainted with the life and wonder of wild nature." From nature to the guide, from the guide to the guest. Experience first, then information; last of all, systems. First-hand facts are most valuable. For the guide, knowing the way is not a necessity but, "Mental development and character are the essentials of a successful guide." Guides inspire. Guiding is traveling gracefully, not arriving. Above all, guiding is practical brotherhood. To be genuine, it must flow from the plenitude of the heights back to humanity. It brings, like the song of the solitaire, peace and harmony; like the play of the coyote, joy; like reticence before the mother and her cubs, respect; and like seeing through the baby woodpecker's eyes, unity.
Michael Mills Kiley - July, 1990