It was the summer of 1977 in the beautiful state of Montana. I was 12 years old and, even though I lived about sixty five miles from where this event took place,I had never been there. A co-worker of my mother decided that it was time for me to see the wilderness on top of the Absaroka Mountains. Hell Roaring Plateau and Canyon are a little ways north of the top of the Beartooth Hiway which winds up and out of Red Lodge. 4 generations ago, my family settled the foothills of the Beartooth Mts- a frontal component of the over-looming Absaroka Mt. Range- boasting the largest alpine plateau in the lower 48. Of course I always wondered what was up there and now I was going to get a chance to see. Brian came to pick me up at an hour for which I had never risen. Even though it was 4am, I was still glad I got to go for a cruise in Brian’s ’76, Step-Side 454! After an hour and a half drive from Billings and an embarrassing, top of the world, toilet-free defecation, we began our precipitous descent into the 9 lake alpine valley where, for three days, we were going to fish and camp. It takes a hour or so to mountain goat your way down to the valley and on the way, clinging to lichen, I could see from the top of the planet, down to the rippled homeland below. Also, within that time, the weather had changed into almost every basic permutation at 5 minute intervals. By the time we found suitable ground and set the tent, we had experienced snow followed promptly by 90 degree pure sun and back to extremely gloomy hail and fog followed by naked radiance,etc. I had never been to a place that so embodied it’s name. I was beginning to have my doubts about the joys of camping in the wilderness. Misery and existential vulnerability were creeping up on me faster than my imagination could populate the gnarled sub alpine trees with wolverines, bears and cougars. Luckily, Brian decided it was best that we have some mid morning cocoa and I sat in the tent wondering how I would survive this ordeal. Brian carried on unpacking the two big packs we brought in when I heard him day the F word. I hadn’t heard him curse before, but it made things better somehow. “Your not gonna believe this” he says, “I forgot to pack the fishing poles.” Oh wow, maybe I’m saved from this experience, I think to myself. Not two seconds later, Brian says, “How ’bout you stay up here and guard the camp while I jet back to town and get the poles” Confused and for some reason not wanting to appear afraid to stay in the wilderness by myself, I muttered something akin to “sure, you bet.” Since time was of the essence, it wasn’t, it seemed, just a few minutes later and I actually was alone in the wilderness. When I could no longer hear Brian’s scrambling,footfall echos, nature’s very breath was loudly closing in upon the small green tent that hid me from the teeth of creation. For at least an hour, I trembled in abject fear knowing that at any moment I would either be struck by lightening or vivisected by a Dire Wolf. There was no doubt in my mind that I would die today until suddenly the sun came out and stayed out. It made the tent hot enough suddenly that I had to find the courage to get out and stand before the ravages of nature- just like, as a little kid, I had had to stand up to the monster in furnace room so that I could go to bathroom at night. I unzipped the door and crawled out on wet Corsican mint. It was like I had been born into a blessed, perfect world where Eider horns bellowed, where trout buttered and smoked themselves. Everything I knew as a 5th generation Montanan came back online. I was twelve, indestructable and the only Human in one of the most beautiful and pristine places on earth. Having long forgotten about the encroaching feral dangers of 5 minutes before, it was time to explore. Now, the wonderland into which I was just born is a valley with 9 small lakes that lies beneath a snowfield aproned 12,000 foot peak. 10,000 years ago, the SE end of Hell Roaring was scooped out by a Manhattan sized glacier, thereby seeming to spill from on high to the foothills. I started there, I made my way back up the valley towards the peak. A tiny creek bounded down though lilies, lichen and mint connecting the lakes. All were surveyed for future fishing access. Each had it’s own feel. The 2nd from the top of the valley seemed to have the best fishing prospects. I had to climb through a boulder debris field to reach the elevated, uppermost lake. As I came out of the ancient, tiny trees and encountered the spill zone horizon, I was once again riven with a shock of deep fear. In front of me was a huge pool of pure black water. Along the north edge, tumbled beneath a 1,000 foot granite cliff, boulders the size of buildings impaled the lake’s merciless glass surface. I backed away from the edge, figuring that if I didn’t touch the lake I should be ok. I explored the giant boulders on the North side. Between the spillway and the Mountain, the south edge of the pool was a beach of human sized boulders. After peering into the light starved depths between the buildings, finding it impassable, getting very creeped out, I decided to make my way around the south side to the snowfield at the bottom of the peak. The snow beach gently planed and melted down into what I had decided was Hell’s entrance. Besides the primordial, ringing cliffs and the bald peak above, I was now standing at the valley bottom’s high spot. I swore that I could see the curve of the earth as elevation suddenly drops out onto the great plains. The view of the length of the valley was mine; the day had become Montana-perfect, not a cloud in the sky. Feeling safe from the world’s scariest lake, warming on the snow, pretending I was Thor, I let my mind and eyes roam the valley which is technically a box canyon. Gazing godlike upon the glacially scooped far valley end, marveling again at how perfectly it rolls off into nothing, I noticed something coming up over the great lip. It was a small cloud. I’ve never seen a cloud move that close to the ground. For some reason though I didn’t really take direct notice of it until it made it’s way a little further up the valley. From where I was standing, the cloud seemed to be coming up the valley stopping at each lake for a minute and then proceeding to the next. As I watched the cloud survey the lakes, I wasn’t overcome with another wave of fear but a kind of stunned fascination. Clouds don’t do this kind of thing, do they? I thought that maybe it was just an odd alpine phenomenon, until it came up over the spillway to Hell Lake. It had meandered all the way up the valley for about ten minutes and then it appeared over the tiny trees, directly across the lake from me. Now I see that it is definitely the weirdest cloud I’ve ever seen. It’s perfectly disc shaped. It’s about 30 feet in diameter, maybe 10 feet thick. While it looks like a cloud, I can’t see any feature, misty or otherwise. The cloud, about ten feet off the ground, moves to the edge of the lake,stops and hovers. I’m still just kind of dumbfounded. Then, it begins moving very slowly forward, over the water and a “finger” of cloud stuff reaches down from it’s center to the water surface. Now, I remember, I started getting scared. The cloud is coming right at me with it’s finger dragging across the water. Frozen, I stand there until the cloud is right above me and it’s finger grazes my left side. With a gentle, static “pop” the finger retracts into the cloud. I spin around to my left and see the cloud instantly ascend 2,500 feet over the peak behind me. This is the point where things got fuzzy and I appeared to have moved to my right, a quarter of the way around the lake,over to the Human sized boulders-without knowing it. I had the distinct feeling that time had occurred without me noticing it. I “came to” with my whole body stuffed upside down into the boulders. I say “came to” because I felt like I had been sleeping and having a powerful and frightening dream, the kind where you wake up and have to remind yourself that your ok. I didn’t know where I was. I remember smelling rock all around me and thinking that I’d be ok if I just stayed put. Then, and this is really weird, I could feel a loving presence and hear a woman’s voice telling me it was ok to come out. When I backed my way out of the small boulders the feeling of well-being greatly intensified and I found myself on my knees at the water’s edge, across the lake from the cliff. I could feel a radiance of perfect love showering down from the top of the cliff, above the giant boulders. I could hear a voice in my head telling me to look, look up. There, on top of the cliff, straight out of a Maxfield Parish painting was a 500 foot tall Goddess wrapped in impossibly colored ribbons of light- sunning herself. Time lapse again and I’m back at the bottom of the valley looking out onto the plains. This point of the story marks for me what I can only describe as a massive knowledge shift. As I sat there, I was flooded with cascading fractal equations which somehow set permanent in me an absolute knowledge of the indivisible unity of all. I then remember hearing Brians’s echoing climb down into the valley and I made my way back to camp. I didn’t tell this story to anyone until I was in college.