Look at it as an opportunity. Rewrite is done, a successful job interview the day before ending with dinner with a friend in the bright, tacky Chinese restaurant I visited only once while living in his attic that infinite year-and-a-half ago. November has been here half a month, the election now as dreamy and unreal as Halloween. Anxiety has been bad, very bad, but the pills broke through. The interview was all fear and wanting to run until I turned away from that cringing fear and showed the guy some samples: see, click this and it animates. He needs someone more technical more quickly but he is friendly and warm. An unfamiliar confidence insists I could do a job like this, could be comfortable in Microsoft’s warren of grey carpet and brushed nickel handles. It is a wonder to hold and be in, like new, clean glass. Take a day off. You can write when you get back, if you feel like it.
Bald Mountain is new, not too far, the right length. I pack like for a summer hike, though am smart enough to bring gloves, an extra hat, ensure my rain shell comes. I expect to drive out and back and see a classmate do a standup act that evening–a normal Washington day. November is not understood for what it is. I am not feeling very rooted in time these days.
Getting there is freeway to town to paved two lane to narrow chip-and-tar paved to gravel. Some holes are as big as the car. Signs shout the land belongs to logging interests and to stay the hell out. What if I get stuck out here? I imagine the hard whack of throwing a rod. If it’s Monkey he has lost the use of words: the thought is a clean break realization, like imagining what follows from grabbing the cast iron handle of a boiling pot. The car has gas. I slow down and avoid the holes. No one else is here.
A new steel bridge flashes out brighter than a new toy. Morning sun plays over it, shifting from brick red to fire engine red to sportscar gloss. Water passes underneath unimpeded, always pushing the rocks invisibly to the sea. Sunlight has the clarity of childhood for children: right now bright. I remember feeling it a long time ago but now is better: none of childhood’s implacable, undefined fear glints off the frosted grass. Standing in the middle of the bridge dares nothing. Nothing bad is coming. Too bad about the graffiti, artless as it is.
The Forest Service road comes where the book says, turning off to a narrow ridge along a great, rushing chasm. The book describes it as a creek. I am still never sure what to make of creeks that are rushing rivers, that would be Biblical torrents where I grew up.
Parking has been pushed out of mossy rocks, next to a tree the same diameter as the car. Nobody else is here. The place looks as abandoned as any trail, but more businesslike, like a junk shop with a clean sign out front.
The path is more an abandoned streambed than something meant to walk on: round river rocks falling, shifting, rolling, all algae-slick. It dips down into steep, brief washes where streams cut through. I hop on rocks. I am careful. Falling here would be a solo performance. No anxiety about projected injuries, a cold night in a survival blanket–just awareness and careful steps. Did Monkey lose his fingers? He could sit on the buttons like before, but isn’t.
Trail writeups downplay river crossings, or ignore them. No mention is made of this one, a choice of two slippery logs to ford. The narrow ones are half-rotten, and falling would lead to falling down the hillside. At least the big log would just leave one wet after dropping a few feet–onto rocks. No is always a choice, but this is not the right no. Careful steps and I’m across to walkable rocks. Water is so pure here, ready for its closeup. I think of settlers, trackers, mountain men. Was everything treacherous to them, waiting patiently for a misstep or gust of wind?
The way shifts through sunlit strands to deep green cathedrals, water coursing over sheets of sail-flat rock. The incline is significant, rocks tumbling as I try to walk among them. Book says 3250′ over four miles. In the deep trees I catch myself thinking: not runaway panic train, but about the interview, writing, overheard conversations, class. None of that is here. It should be easy to be here.
Some distance in–a mile, an hour–the trees open up to fields of bracken now brown with autumn and flattened from frost. Snow dusts the mountains far ahead, and trees are deliberate in their perches astride the mountain. Sky does not loom above but inhabits that realm that is both present and never here, bright and clear, holding one or two clouds like curious insects. It feels beyond anything human. It has nothing to do with us, and this is a comfort.
The way meanders, is blocked by disintegrated bridges and overgrown trees. Ruts run off in different directions, covered by bracken and now snow. Switchbacks up and around are hidden. I follow one around into old mining machines and firepits. What was it like to be a prospector, hardscrabbled to lanky thinness, the next human-built structure days of walking away, no company but the wind and birds? Riches are all around, every inch beneath that unwatching sky. Were they blind to them? Maybe indifferent, or bitter: beauty isn’t something you can eat.
Snow is still magical, makes me skip. When it closes roads I am overjoyed; when I see it on August mountain hikes I am impressed by its persistence. The city is warm–dreary but only wet. I seldom register the wild complaints of people living only twenty or thirty miles to the east, their snow tires and four-wheel drive, but only a thousand feet up the snow has a foothold. It will only grow stronger.
Another creek rushes beyond an awkward car-sized rock and a pair of trees, the path across marked by rocks not quite placed to walk on. I think about it, try two approaches, hold on to a sapling and lean and leap my way across. The last leap is the most trusting: hesitation will steal my own momentum. I false start once but then leap across: safe. Ten steps and I realize the trail is gone, all the same with bushes poking through. There is no thought or decision I am aware of: the deepest part of the triune brain has spoken, and is final. I will always love snow, but out by myself my thinking is more critical.
I am capable of going the rest of the way, but not prepared. I am powerfully tired already and not sure why. Maybe the realization of anxiety’s absence is enough to give room to the honest, restorative fatigue it fills with static and never allows to rejuvenate. Out here there is only space and the capacity to breathe. It is so very clear.
Two months ago on top of those other mountains the world was permeated with dislocated magic, loss and panic, a distressing confusion of time and place. Wise men, some more crazy than others, sit or rave on mountaintops for a reason. Today I estimate I’m halfway to the top, where the book describes supreme views. Today I have only the valley, but that was a solid achievement, certainly for the legs. It is quiet and I am in the quiet, snow above, water rushing all around. What is it like to stand and breathe and not feel assaulted from what I am going back to, all the spinning things that cut and crush but never see me? It’s like this. It’s as good as the strawberry Pop-Tarts I sit on a rock to eat. These are new mountains, a few tens of millions of years old. They have as much to learn as I do.
The way back down is always so much faster. Fording the creeks is no easier, but reversed, presenting new interest, as well as the knowledge that successful crossing is the job done in full. Trees loom out in the green dark with a welcome only visible on the way home.
The sky has only become more clear.
I am glad to see the car but not desperate, saved. Doors open as they always have, engine cranks alive as it always has, fan blows against the mist from my damp clothes as it always does.
On the way back, the gas gauge seems more enamored of E than sitting off for an afternoon would suggest. This is not trouble but an observation of state. E does not mean empty, but enough.
I stop to let a pickup truck roar around. A field is open to the left, the remains of logging. It looks like this:
It upset me when I first moved here, the ravenous human machine smoothing over whole tracts of the world to make too-buh-fores and matchsticks. But we need wood, sometimes for legitimate reasons. A landmark agreement between the state and private timber interests makes sure land is cared for, the water kept clean. Private forests aren’t true forests, filled mostly with trees having the greatest commercial value, but they’re better than they were. Maybe we are learning fast enough, but this is probably an instance where people don’t see what they make, and so make more of it.
I am not sure what I see now. The light fades with great speed now, accelerating for another month. Tonight will be cold with the clear, but the stars will shine out all the brighter. I am comfortable with the night. I have a home, and it is not on a mountaintop.