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August 27, 2004

Dirty dog

[Excerpts from the Big Green Book of Chris' Travel Scribbling, August 26/27. This entry contains sub-adult language.]

Zeke is 13 and a half years old and I can't help but think tonight that we've done him a huge injustice. He loves the mountains so much. How much time has he spent here in his whole life? A month? maybe two. He's been tired and slightly depressed the last few days, but as soon as we got into the red firs that all changed. He stood up in the truck seat where he'd been laying uncomfortably. His ears perked. His legs steadied. Arriving at the campsite, he immediately wanted to head off into the woods - but not before encircling the entire site with a continuous, sinuous border of urine.

Boys' weekend out and all.

I'm glad I packed some herb tea in the camping food some time in the last few years. Like a gift from a previous version of me. How thoughtful! Putting away this treat, on the off chance that some future me would enjoy it.

The trees are as I left them. Perhaps a few more bark beetles. Even at 7000 feet and change, there is enough air that wind is the loudest thing I can hear.

We walked around the lake to a phone. I thirsted for my sweet wife's voice.

Equipment failure - my rechargeable lantern died somewhere between Pinole and here. Not a huge problem. The moon is near full. Zeke and I walked back from the phone without benefit of flashlight: about a mile and a half through the woods. Zeke remembered the way back to our campsite without prompting. Not bad for a geezer.

Was it only seven years ago I first drove Route 4 through the Delta? It was overdeveloped then; now it approaches atrocity. There are still produce stands along the road in Brentwood. One had had its signage slip a bit so that you could read parts of both — "Yes, we're Sorry, we're closed." But past the Byron highway and the Old River bridge, and the cornfields began. I was paced for a few hundred yards by a male harrier.

Frogs are croaking. Zeke sleeps in the tent. There was a huge fire outside Copperopolis - black against the serpentine, valley oaks scorched to their crowns. That's where the bones of the Sierra start to poke through - tombstone boulders and Tertiary lava. Noted at roadside: "Mike's Pizza of Angels," which seemed poetic until I remembered I was driving through Angels Camp.

There are stars. The Pleiades have not yet risen. A dozen mountain quail made me tap the brakes in Arnold. I think I've eaten in every restaurant in Arnold.
Zeke fears fire, so I have none. A small sacrifice for my beloved dog's peace of mind. Besides, I turn off the complimentary Winchester Mystery House flashlight by which I write, and the night rushes in to fill the space the light had occupied.

Gibbous moon reflecting in the ripples of Lake Alpine. Path barred in bands of shadow and pale light. Red fir and spruce, Jeffrey and Ponderosa. I will find a hemlock tomorrow: Muir's favorite tree, with its demure leader.

The moon lights the ridge to the north. Beyond: the canyon of the Mokelumne. John and I hiked into and out of that canyon 10 years ago, starting at Carson Pass and ending here. The year before, I'd hiked from Meeks Bay on Tahoe to Carson Pass. I used to spend a lot more time up here. Haunted. I have been followed by ghosts this week. Pete Valentic. Bill Stack. The tide comes in and washes away all sign.

The moon was like this that night long ago when Zeke and I camped alone at Red Rock in the Mojave. We pulled into the campsite after dark - such dark as there was beneath such a moon - and snacked and drank. There are low hills of old sediment to the north of the campground there. They are bald and rounded. we climbed the one nearest the truck, looked down from 30 feet or so - it seemed - above our site. The moon washed all color from the landscape, nothing but shadow and luminous form. I sat down to watch the show. So did Zeke, and he leaned gently against me. I will remember that moment until I die.

A snag across the road creaks like a viola. Time to drink in the night. Wind from Nevada rushes up over Ebbetts Pass, squeezes tears from my eyes.

4:20 am: Sky full of stars. Pleiades above my tent, Orion arising. Zeke wanted out: we both went. One meteor from the east.


Birds: some sort of picoid ladderbacky thing. And a few that could be chickadees, but they're not doing that upside-down-on-the-branches thing. Grackles and Steller'ses making attempted forays at the dog food bowl.
Oh, and half a dozen osprey over the "Lake."

A Ford F-350 is trying to back what I estimate is a 97-foot trailer into the adjacent campsite. Back, forward, back, forward, I've counted a dozen iterations so far. How relaxing. And to think I feel decadent just having a pickup and a two-burner stove.

The sad thing is that the people are younger than I am. It's one thing for retirees to need a bit of mattress when they travel. But in your thirties? What the fuck do they have in there - flat screen and TiVo? Just you wait, guys, until oil production peaks and gasoline hits 15 bucks a gallon. No, wait - they'll just live in the thing. Shit.

Happy thoughts, Chris, happy thoughts. Zeke and I walked back to the lodge this morning, got some fig newtons, played in the water, watched the ospreys watching us. Bought a dish sponge, as I had forgotten to pack one. Of course, had I known who was moving in next door, I could have just borrowed their FUCKING DISHWASHER.

[Here the entry ends. Needing to get away, I coaxed my filthy dog out for another hike. We walked three miles into the wilderness and out. Short and somewhat strenuous. Along the way, we ran into a friend, Janan, whom I hadn't seen in about ten years. She was hiking with her family and some friends. Her son fed Zeke turkey jerky. We got back to the campsite to find the Long, Long Trailer was running its generator. Trailer man insisted he would run it the maximum that campground policy allowed - until 8 pm. Zeke looked at me, and I looked at him. We came home. Not disappointed though: a hell of a hike. And the Pleiades were marvelous, as always.]

Posted by Chris Clarke at August 27, 2004 06:46 PM TrackBack URL for this entry:

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Chris: What a wonderful post. But, yes, I'd have come home too. We had an almost identical trailer pull in next to us on our last night in the Sierra, the night of the bears. It takes all my anti-misanthropic training to keep myself from going postal.

'Course we could have just camped somewhere on BLM land or something...

Posted by: Pica at August 28, 2004 08:18 AM
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Really fine journal entry - felt so real I could almost smell it.

Posted by: Dave at August 28, 2004 05:21 PM
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you must have had a beautiful night in the moonlight and stars. silence and wind - and i can imagine how it smelled. i'm sorry about your rude neighbors - why people go to the wilds with all of their civilization on their backs, i will never understand. i liked meteor from the east. i saw the pleiades too, on saturday night, but it was hard. the moon was full and they are so faint this time of year - a smudge you can see better from the edge of your vision, than looking straight on.

Posted by: Anne at August 30, 2004 10:04 AM
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Beautiful post, Chris. Sorry about your neighbors - it drives me nuts too (obviously), and never more so than when it's young people, already consuming to beat the band at an age when I was happy for a mattress on the floor and an India-print bedspread. Maybe they just don't know what fun is. No, I forgot, fun is SHOPPING for all that expensive STUFF!

Still, I feel sorry for all the folks who will never, ever know what it feels like to really love those stars.

Posted by: beth at August 30, 2004 12:10 PM
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