It’s not summer any more, but my goal has been met. I feel all right; Thursday I feel so good I can’t remember when I last felt such a light, gravity-less ease. Later there’s a break in the rain, sun-hints if not sunbreaks. Think about what a privilege you have, to go out and do whatever you want right now, the friend said. She’s right. I get my pack.
I have a half-dozen protein bars, Pop-Tarts, and my good camera. I am a little sleep-deprived from staying out on Halloween and thus forget my red rain shell and the camera’s memory card. It isn’t cold at all but that murky, sub-body-temperature air on the verge of fog. I have the phone which can call no one at the end of the rain-cratered road, the gate across the roaring river.
Roaring water deafens, buffeting the still trees. Old campfires lay black and soaked in stone rings, the voices and staring at the flames gone not even to shadows. Roaring water makes a peace.
The sun peeks out, never free of clouds but hunting through the gaps. I walk backwards, realize that’s stupid in a strange place, stand still and watch it through the trees. I have become sensitive to the sun. I really need it now.
Panicky, fretty heebiejeebies come. I don’t know from where or why, skittering, invisible rat claws of it. I practice the yoga breathing, ocean breathing, talk myself down. Who are you? I thought you were gone. There is nowhere I have to be, nowhere I have to go. I am enjoying that privilege my friend talked about, the same from Hawaii but so much better able to enjoy now. Cut it out. Find somebody else.
Waterfalls line the trail, big and small. Streams wander out of the forest, scour out a few dozen yards of old roadbed where I walk, then plunge down the evergreen hill again. Storms and earthquakes too light to feel are always moving them, blocking them with blown trees. Water isn’t interested in being blocked. It rushes on and doesn’t apologize for the noise.
I keep walking. I don’t remember what my mind races on, but it races, eager to trip over itself. Nothing to do but breathe and walk. I have been walking since high school, back with Matt in the fields. I was nervous then too, all the time.
I listened to the first stand-up album by Derek Sheen, who I know at least a little. I’ve seen his set several times and the CD is still funny, in the car on a half-sunny day. My father’s Bill Cosby albums lifted me silently through middle school, routines I wrote down then lost to time. It’s always been in the back of my mind, dimly, to stand in front of a brick wall and use profanity and cleverness to highlight mundane revelations. I just never did it.
Racing mind goes to that now, not just standup bits but fragments from sketches, or bits folded into improv. A bitter politico complains about dogooder scientists keeping on with their bothersome global warming ‘facts’: “I was so happy when Carl Sagan died. I hope that bastard is burning in Jew hell.” Og Mandino gets irate at a crowd that refuses to accept it can change. Wally walks into an AA meeting and admits he’s never had an alcohol problem, but as a comic pretends this to get laughs. Wally is bothered that his jokes are therefore lies. Should he develop an addiction to be more authentic? A freak non-sexual trauma shared with a friend becomes an obsession with cleanliness on my part while the friend fixates on food. And so on.
It gets better. I’m not all that present, but the ideas come and the brittle buzzing evaporates. It’s great. I should do a website like I’ve always been meaning to. I shouldn’t fear getting back to writing, not having a job. I drop the phone but it still works. I make many notes.
Then a rise and growing roar. The largest waterfall comes just before a march up, the trail turning to disintegrating cedar fluff. Mist is everywhere, and the sound, that sound.
I sit on a stump and watch it, eat Pop-Tarts and a protein bar. Unlike Hawaii I don’t ring with panic, or whatever Monkey says. I’m tired but have my own car to go back to, my clean house. I know this part of the world and have been here a long time. I don’t think that’s a problem, not today, but I remember a conversation about home and not having felt it for a very long time.
Out on the rocks I can feel the water is cold, but hisses up to warm foam. It pours and billows. Superstorm Sandy did to a whole coast what this fall does to the rocks, but the rocks are strong. I sit here a while and realize how tired I am. The way goes up and I get to the first switchback. It’s all acid and heat to lunge up, and after four.
The way back is down into shadow. Walking faster, feet hurting a little in the boots, but not bad. Shades of Hawaii with the darkness, but the trees keep everything close. There is nobody here but there is something. I am alone but only because I’m out here. I have somewhere to go. I am heading out. But there is far more walking than I would have guessed, and the rain comes.
I am not afraid. Halloween has come and gone, and the week has been good. Trees loom out of the darkness and my light fleshes them out, and when I get back to the gate I am as happy to see my car as I have been on all the other hikes, on all the other first days of a new job, at all the gas stations rising up just when I needed them.
The Forest Service map shows just over fourteen miles I walked. I never made it to Otter Falls and that was enough.