Monday, August 2, 2010
Yesterday afternoon I wrestled with failure—ashamed, disappointed, fearful that I would regret not having pushed with determination into Yosemite Valley. I slept soundly in my sleeping bag laid hard on a thin pad, more tired from anxiety than from the day’s work.
But this morning the stress of that decision feels all whisked away in crisp thirty-degree light. From my camp at 9,200 feet, I shoulder a light pack, leaving the rest here on Lyell Fork River to await my return. A day in freedom! No schedule to keep, no miles to accomplish. Just a hike with a light pack, up and back. Relieved of necessity, I feel unburdened as from a great bondage.
Up through the lodgepole pines I climb at a good pace, pains much subsided. The forest thins as the air thins, and the sky takes on the deep blue of high elevation. I feel a joy returning as the landscape begins to match that of a teen jaunt just after high school. I walked solo from the head of Kings Canyon to Mt. Whitney and back in five days, averaging twenty miles per day. My parents had lost most of their control by then. But I worried my father, as I worry my friends now.
Blazes on trees mark the trail. This blaze on a dead tree, live when it was blazed, might have been hewn by John Muir.
twisted, slanted old tree
half full of desire, half dead
see it bristle with plans
it locks earth to sky
its exhale my inhale
does it sense a gift in return?
my CO2 and smile?
At 10,500 feet, peaks rise above a rocky garden
I come to Evelyn Lake, five uphill miles from camp and swarming with mosquitoes.
I didn’t think I’d make it all the way to Vogelsang Pass, but here it is. I look over the top and along the trail I would have taken to Yosemite Valley.
What gardener plants and tends among the stones in this two-mile-high meadow? Are his paths for my walking pleasure, his islands of repose for me or someone else? Water, rocks and plants, a quiet retreat in soft curving lines. His garden honors the seasons, gives me spring this July day and a place to sit and view
What magician defies this gravity and makes me feel so light?
On the way down, I lunch under a lodgepole pine. The wind stops and it feels as if the rocks are holding their breath. Nobody knows I am here, so far from where I had planned to be. I could disappear like a slapped mosquito. If I have missed these signs of aging brought so clearly to light on this hike, what else have I missed?
I meet a pair of young hikers in the bloom of health and happiness. When hiking with a partner, it is a far better thing to be graciously considerate of a weak link than to have to admit being one. If I were hiking with me of twenty years ago, I would be lagging.
I reach camp with twelve miles to my credit, twice yesterday’s toll. The woods are filling with shadows in this canyon where night falls early. A bright sun still glimmers on the eastern peaks, and faintly among the trees along the river. Soon the last flower will be engulfed. I like it when evening approaches, when, as the light fades and as the day lingers and the last calls of the last birds sound from the trees—the beauty and dignity of the place.
Having no one to talk to on this last night in the lone woods, I spill to the high crags like a somnolent bird or a bird in fear of the hawk. Apart from friends I wish ourselves together, like birds crying across the water, searching the sorrows for meaning, like the sun attacking June gloom and trying to pry into it.
There is something uncanny in the revelations of today. I have here in these woods, before my final retirement, a small interval. Down streams the sun, now almost ready to abandon the high peak to the east.
In the night, that hush in which something gathers or crouches.