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I went on a backpacking trip couple weekends back. Beautiful part of California’s Emigrant Wilderness. The still snow-capped peaks of northern Yosemite rising in the distance, high altitude wildflowers blooming just at the fringe of treeline, verdant meadows radiating a green so bright it made your eyes hurt. Uncrowded alpine lakes brimming with snowmelt, lined with empty campsites, each one beckoning like something from a wanderlust-fueled Instagram account.

Leaving the place always feels a bit like exile. Who can look forward to returning to urban life when the pull of those mountains is so strong? I never do, so on the last morning of a backcountry trip a kind of mournful sentimentality kicks in—every single time.

I’ll wait until the last possible moment to pack up the tent. Have a second, unhurried cup of coffee at breakfast and linger around a morning fire for just a few beats more. Give a silent thanks to the campsite, and off I reluctantly trudge, back to the trailhead, the truck, and the drive back to the demands of civilization.

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At the final water source I encounter before the parking area, whether babbling brook or serene alpine lake, I dutifully engage in a little ritual: I fill up every water bladder or bottle I’ve got, so that I can take some of that magic home with me.

Once home, I’ll unpack my gear and leave the bottles full of backcountry-sourced water on the kitchen counter. Anytime I’m thirsty over the next day or so, I’ll pull from one of those puppies instead of the tap. Our houseplants get their next few days’ drinks from that water too. I’ll make coffee with it. Cook pasta in it. Sentimental, sure, maybe a little strange too, but I feel a little more connected with wherever I just was in the wilderness. Takes some of the sting out of being surrounded by concrete and streetlights.

I’ll also usually grab a little pine bough from the ground to toss up on the dashboard of the truck, to leave until next time I’m in the backcountry. Smells good, I think it looks cool, and for the next couple of weeks, everytime I see it I get a little smile on my face. It’s the same reason I often leave my dirty backpack in the dining room after unpacking. Something about having it around makes me feel like another trip is just around the corner.

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Photo by Jon Fowler