Thursday, March 31, 2022

Chapter 14: Failing to Get to Town


Chapter 14: Failing to Get to Town

The rain stopped, and it was glorious.

But by then we were so addicted to playing gin that we played all morning despite the glorious sun and the beckoning world.

It's still too muddy.” One of us said. “We'll just play until someone reaches 10,000.”

Ten thousand is a lot of gin points, but we'd been playing at a steady clip, so it's not as bad as it might sound.

And after wringing everything out and packing up we were probably on our way by one in the afternoon, so it wasn't completely irresponsible. We covered a reasonable distance that day and were even able to get a fire going that night. And with that fire, and the clean, thin, sunny air we were dried out by the next morning.

From there it was simple hiking.

We came out of what were officially mountains into something more like ranch land. It was not the most inspiring hiking of the Agua Fria Trail. Dusty dirt roads, skirting herds of cattle, and even seeing neighborhoods of houses across a dry grassy field or two, maybe containing a goat, or a couple of barking dogs. There were even four or five miles going along country roads, which I hated. The trip ran in this way well past the two week mark and sometimes felt horrifyingly long. The horrifying part being in how it was such a tiny portion of what was still supposed to come. But I didn't feel up to voicing my doubts again about it all with Oliver, so I figured I could stick out however long he was staying with me, and then I could decide for myself. Indeed, I consoled myself with thoughts of stopping my trip a little way after he departed. How could he blame me from there?

After 17 days in we both started to think and talk obsessively about resupply. We were hanging in there with Oliver's clever foraging and cooking, and, in addition to that, with me eating salami (but starting to ration), and leaving Oliver to most of the (fast disappearing) gorp. We figured there were four more long days of hiking to the first Post Office, where a package that should be there for me waited. But it was also in a real town, albeit a small one, and I had money. So we talked a lot about pizza. We were obsessed with pizza actually. We divided our food into four puny parts each and became motivated to cover the miles at a wildly increased pace. We carefully considered our (always vegetarian) toppings in long, feverish discussions.

But our last, roughly 75, miles weren't easy though, as we were headed for one final section of real wilderness, the Gold Diablo Recreation Area, a rowdy area of canyons and towering rock and stone that looked like it had flowed from hell and frozen perfectly in place, thrilled, as it was, to join the world of the living. It was beautiful but difficult, replete with relentless climbing and descending and more climbing and endless winding about, all finding a complicated way through a land better enjoyed and admired than crossed. It didn't help that we lost the trail more than once here, but fortunately our general overall direction was clear.

I saw things in Gold Diablo that I have never seen elsewhere; groves of little stone towers almost like a field of people, quiet Spring streams pouring through holes in the rocks, and Indian Ruins with wall paintings full of designs I've never seen in books. We even saw a pictograph of what looked like a rabbit that enchanted Oliver so much he said “Cor Gov'nor. It's me.”

But I have to admit it an unfair, possibly unwholesome amount of it was lost on Oliver and I both. We hiked from dawn to dusk, eating just enough to get by, playing more cards at night, and sleeping like the dead. We were single-minded, focused with a mania-like intensity on pizza in a town that probably didn't even have pizza. The thought drove us like a madness.

Which is maybe why we hiked six miles past the turn off to the town.

We only realized it when we hit a marked trail sign, consulted our map, and understood our folly. Our hearts dropped and we were spiritually broken. Oh, and mentally broken. And physically broken.

We immediately made camp. We ate every scrap of the rest of our food. And then we lay down to die.

First we played some gin though.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

A special break for all you... car enthusiasts!


While you've been busy reading here some kind of, I don't know, novel in installments, I've been, well, writing one. BUT, I've also been gathering the usual flood of photos, in assorted series of photographs that, honestly, have been half working out at best. But as we like to come up for air every once in awhile here, this seems a good place to show some of our pictures before I'm buried under them.

Which we are going to do... now!

Or almost now.

These ones are from a series of cars, cars in the swamp area behind my library. I would like to tell you some delightful story of why I chose to scatter old cars all about in the swamp behind the library, but the truth is I saw a nice book of old cars on the shelves in non fiction, took pictures of them, then went to the swamp to put the cars in the swamp, which I guess is almost a story, and is almost littering too, but isn't either, for good or ill.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Chapter 13: Falling Water

Chapter 13: Falling Water

All that moaning about being wet because of having to dip across sylvan ponds marooned in wild cathedrals of stone, gleaming in the afternoon sunlight, looked a bit silly now. We were on the third day of rain among the dark trees. The woods were soaked. We were soaked. Even the flowers were so soaked they decided to close up shop in protest. As if we would have seen them. Our ill-fitting ponchos and the miserable dripping rain gave us but tiny circle views of the ground before us. We marched on, or the woods marched on and we marched in place.

Then we gave up and just decided to be wet.

That didn't work.

Then we decided to have a huge fire under heavy trees to try and blast some dryness into us.

And that didn't work because we could not get any fire going.

Then we decided to get drunk.

But we only had this little tiny thing of whiskey Oliver brought, and it barely affected either of us. Well, maybe a little more than we thought.

And then we really gave up.

We climbed into my roomy tent with whatever semi-dry things we had, and we waited it out. We spent one and a half days in there, eating gorp, reading, endlessly fussing to maintain our last, slowly disappearing vestiges of dryness, and talking.

Early on, at something of a low point, I reasonably ventured:

This is fine. I mean it kind of sucks right now, cold and wet in the woods, and I haven't forgotten that there are great parts to this trip so far. It's just,” I lowered my voice. It had been much on my mind but this was the first time I'd say it out loud for me to hear. “I don't see doing this for 2,500 more miles. It's way too much. I don't see the point to that anymore. I don't really think I can do it.”

Yes.” Oliver said with a touch of uncharacteristic gentleness. “I can see that. That would have been a very worthwhile consideration before you began.” He paused, then gravely added “But it's too late now.”

The change in his tone made it possible for me to take it seriously for once. “Why?” I asked, irritated.

You caught a star from heaven.” He raised his eyebrows. “The gods are throwing bloody shite at you.”

After a moment, I caught on. “What, the meteorite? I didn't catch it. It fell dozens of feet away from me. I went and picked it...” I waved my hand wildly apart. “What does this have to do with anything, Oliver? Could you be serious for just a minute for once?”

You caught a star from heaven.” He repeated without any of the mugging. “Let's see it. Take it out.”

I rolled my eyes. But I took it out.

Throw it in the hottest part of the fire.” Oliver said.

We don't have a fire.” I was more exasperated than amused.

Here. Give it to me.”

I handed it over. Oliver examined it minutely. “I can just make out the lines of its text.” He muttered. “Ash nazg durbatuluk, ash nazg gimbatul...”

One meteorite to rule them all, one meteorite to bind them.” I translated compulsively, mostly not amused.

Ash nazg thrakatuluk, agh burzum-ishi krimpatul.” He added gravely.

One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.”

Not far off, actually.” Oliver said with all the serious gravity he was capable of mustering, which was about 30%.

Hmph.” I sighed. “I should've called you “Sam”.”

It wouldn't have been far off Guv'nor.” He said, turning his English accent back up from a “two” to a “12”. “He was the real hero of Lord of the Rings. But Gandalf would work better probably, eh?, as a name for me, or maybe it should have been Dodger?, or Dubya R, hmm, or maybe Sancho, or, um, actually, you know what?”

What?” I asked.

Oliver is fine. It doesn't matter.”

Then he dropped his voice way down to where I could barely hear it. “Listen carefully cause I'll say it once. It wasn't supposed to fall from heaven. Someone got mad at you. It's worth the world in value. But you have to put it back.”

What?” I asked, both from barely hearing and from having no idea what the hell he was talking about.

Oh my God!” Oliver cried out in a normal-loud because of him- voice. “I just realized!”

What?” I asked.

I have a deck of cards!”

He dug them out and we played gin for the next seven hours.

I had questions, but I can assure you they were not answered.

Monday, March 28, 2022

Chapter 12: Flowers of Paradise


Chapter 12: Flowers of Paradise

Here is one last memory from West Pine Creek before we climbed out of that magical, deep, and narrow slot of stone and winded our way up into the low Russet Mountains with its long, tangled meadows and fragrant woods.

The deep canyon of the creek was starting to open out and we were spending less time trudging in the water. As the canyon eased up, trails formed, and everything became less demanding and less spectacular. But then, in one final burst of quintessential West Pine Creek Canyon, two walls closed in for one last time. A long, deep emerald pool, glowing as with an interior light of its own, filled the canyon below a tumbling fall. And a final trip across the water was required. It had been so many miles since we encountered one of these pools that we had deflated our donut, so we brought it out and blew it up again. I piled as high on top of it as I could, hoping to preserve whatever hard won dryness I had coaxed back into my backpack. After a couple of wobbles and splashes, I made it across the surface of the pool. I set my pack on the rocks by the falls and flung the life preserver like a frisbee across to Oliver. He was just able to reach it.

Oliver too tried desperately to keep his pack out of the water. Perhaps he tried too hard. He balanced way up above our little flotation device and then he gingerly kicked off. Teetering on and tapping at the water he made it about halfway across, and then, in the blink of an eye, he flipped.

There was a tremendous splash. The donut bounded on the surface of the water. Then a backpack, puffed up in plastic bags, floated heavily to the surface. The water calmed, but Oliver did not appear.

Oliver did not appear!

But the water was only three or four feet deep, so I wasn't much worried, and I could see a lot of movement under the surface.

Suddenly Oliver burst out of the water. He was holding, squirming in his arms, some kind of prehistoric fish more than half his size.

I looked admiringly at the monster fish. Reflecting though upon Oliver's much discussed vegetarianism I wistfully commented "If only it were that size but a parsnip."

Oliver just grinned wildly, then carefully set the fish back in the water where it bolted away. "I hope it doesn't eat my pack." He said, then waded over to the half floating bag and sloshed wetly with it and our insufficient donut to where I was at the falls.

And that was it for West Pine Creek, sort of. For several miles the trail worked along the creek, but now that creek was just a pretty feature of the landscape, no longer hemmed in and an entire world unto itself. We celebrated that night with a big fire- we were already among much mixed oak and pine- and by feasting on a rich stew that Oliver brewed up, full of sage and wild onions and mushrooms he had foraged, along with the usual carrots and sweet potatoes and rutabagas and such. It felt good to eat a thick bowl of hot food by a fire. We were getting better at drying all our wet things on makeshift frames by the flames as well.

We climbed all of the next day. The path was good if a little overgrown. Though I had been backpacking for well over a week I still wasn't up to the kind of fitness I probably should have started the trip with. Oliver, light and quick and full of energy, would bound out ahead of me. I would plod towards him, breathing heavily, and then when I reached him at the top of some pretty crest and threw my pack down, he would gather up his own pack and say "Ready to move on?"

"No." Was invariably my answer. I needed water, which I drank as slowly as I possibly could, while Oliver, having long enjoyed the view, bounced eagerly as he waited for us to be on our way.

Repeat that scenario a hundred times and we made our way deep into the mountains. The woods grew thick and we even saw a few patches of last-to-melt snow from the Winter. The scenery was unspectacular again- no high alpine wonderland are the Russet Mountains- more like over-sized rolling hills covered thickly in second growth forest. Creeks were the best part of it for me, as I love running water, but the trail usually crossed them and almost never followed them. Other than that it was the endless pleasant trees, and the quite glens between.

But there was one day when I was wearily climbing yet another rise through the long forest and was surprised to see Oliver standing at the top of the rise there. We were nowhere near due any rest, and I was starting to get more fit anyway. As I approached him and started to speak to inquire he held his finger to his lips. I headed up and looked out.

There was a huge open area down below, a meadow. It was dotted with ponds and a clear little stream. The whole of the field was absolutely covered in blue flowers- a sea of blue flowers, an ocean of blue flowers, set in the richest green of grasses- a million flowers like technicolor stars in the day. And then, wandering among it all, browsing contentedly, there had to be more than 70 elk.

It was astonishing.

"Elk." Oliver said quietly.

"Elk." I repeated.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Chapter 11: Out of the Water


Chapter 11: Out of the Water

And just like that I was no longer on a solo thru-hike.

I liked Oliver a lot. I don't know where he was from or how old he was or what he ever hoped to do in his life. I don't know what happened to him, if he's alive to this day, or if he was ever born. I'm pretty sure I never knew his real name. And as I write this I half believe he was the personification of a spirit rabbit. Okay, my belief in that is way more than half, but I didn't want you to doubt the down-to-earth sobriety of my account here.

What I did learn about Oliver was that he was cheerful, evasive, knew tons of wild plants, was easily distracted, funny, a heavy snorer, and fiercely vegetarian. That can do for a start. He regularly tried to get us to blow off our hiking, or explore intriguing side trails that moved us no further along our way, or even get us to just laze about our camp reading and eating the gorp he loved all day, accusing me of being a taskmaster with a monomaniacal need to keep to my merciless schedule at the expense of "enjoying the dandelions along the way". But then on another day or afternoon, Oliver would fervently try to make up for all this lost mileage with exhortations to keep going deep into the evening, or he would prod us to get a few more miles in by getting us up at the barest hint of dawn, all along fretting that I wasn't being fully committed to this quest and what it demanded of me. He would even tell me he didn't think I realized how important this trip was.

When Oliver said things like this I always asked "Oh? And why is this journey so important?"

Which would only cause him to start calling me Guv'nor a lot while providing leading non-answers.

If this sounds bewildering it wasn't exactly. It was hard to take anything Oliver said seriously, and at the same time it was all delivered with such exuberance that one was inclined to nevertheless lean into the spirit of it and accept it as it was.

Oliver was trying for some reason to memorize Alice in Wonderland- my theory was that it was because it had a talking rabbit in it- and we'd sit around a fire at night while he'd recite long passages with his terrible accents, ridiculous voices, and frequent mistakes and digressions. He would never admit to forgetting any of the text and would instead start making things up when he lost the thread. I was supposed to correct him, but usually couldn't bear to because it was all so ridiculous and fun.

There is this great part in Alice where a bunch of animals get wet and they all have a consultation about how to get dry again. The mouse among them is a person of authority and he calls out "Sit down, all of you, and listen to me! I'll soon make you dry enough!" So he says "This is the driest thing I know. Silence all round, if you please! 'William the Conqueror, whose cause was favored by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and northumbria---'"

Being generally wet ourselves, we loved this bit and whenever one of us would complain about being wet, the other would leap in with "Silence all round, if you please!" And then we'd launch into some tedious bit of absurd, made up history until the other of us cried out "I'm dry! I'm dry already! That was the driest thing ever!"

This joke was much in vogue with us as we were throwing our flotation device back and forth, and swimming through cold ponds and climbing up waterfalls. Our joke faded with repetition though, and as we climbed out of West Pine Creek Canyon, up into the dry woods it seemed to disappear. But then further in the mountains we got five straight miserable days of rain and we were back at it with a vengeance, boring and entertaining each other with long, dry stories among the drenching monotony of the rain.

Will this sodding rain just bugger off!” Oliver would grumble.

"I can help.” I replied. “Now, silence all round, if you please! The Tummler Woods here were first established by one Richard Tummler, who owned a large cattle ranch in these parts of some 1,600 acres, where he also ran a few sheep and ducks and geese, and in 1877 was able to turn a profit of $595 with which he provided 11 Christmas Turkeys to the the local town's charity arm, The Ladies of Perpetual Wonder. This in turn allowed the Honorable Mr. Tummler to develop a closer relationship to the Powerful local Deacon, Deacon Clinton of Northumbria originally, who later sold him a share of prodigious timberland bordering the counties of Russett and Clairborne, and encompassing several tracts formerly in the possession of the Burlington Railroad Holdings, held by the esteemed Edward Burlington the Third himself."

"Dry! Dry! I'm so dry!"

I think we just both liked to talk.

So we did.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Chapter Ten: New Friends


Chapter 10: New Friends

I broke camp early, while the canyon was still deep in shadow. It was miserable climbing into damp... everything- shoes, shorts, shirt, pack- but the sooner I got into it the sooner it would all assimilate to my body temperature, or they could maybe meet in the middle. Also, keeping an eye on my long-term progress I knew I needed to push forward a little harder. Things like my food supply and the seasonal trail conditions months down the line were all on a clock running steadily down. So I hoisted my pack, grabbed my inflatable doughnut, and plunged into the calf-deep creek. It was very cold in the morning.

I made some good progress and took my late morning break in the first spot of sun to find its winding way to the canyon bottom, on a little flat shelf of stone a short climb up above the creek. It would have made an intriguing camping spot if it were six or seven hours later. As I sat there drinking water and eating gorp I saw a red-headed kid come sloshing up the stream. The going looked difficult. Without apparently spying me he turned from the creek and climbed up to where I was as if it was all prearranged.

When he got to me he threw down his pack.

"Guv'nor!" He cried.

"Nigel!" I replied.

"How did you know my name?" He asked in bewildered surprise.

"Really, your name is Nigel?"

"No." He said, grinning widely. "It's Reginald Longbottom."

"No, it isn't."

"Oooooh! Got me there Guv'nor. It's Franklin Oliver."

"What if you tried flipping them?" I suggested. "Oliver Franklin?"

"Done then." He said brightly. "So where're you headed, mate?"

"I'm hiking the whole Agua Fria Trail." I said proudly. "I'm going to walk clear to the shores of the Great Opal Lake."

"I have never heard tell of this "Agua Fria Trail." Oliver said. "But isn't that a lake in the Arctic somewhere?"

"You are actually on The Agua Fria Trail right now." I said, surprised he hadn't heard of it. "And yes, I have way over 2,000 miles still to go."

"Cor." He said, which seemed to be an expression of being impressed, or taken aback, you know, kind of like “blimey”. "I can't go that far Guv'nor. But I can go the next five or six weeks with you, however far that takes us."

"That's very... nice." I said politely. "But I was planning to do it, you know, solo?"

"You'll hardly notice I'm here." He said with a reassuring air, and then he started rummaging through my pack.

"Hey!" I said.

"This ent right! You can't eat like this!"

"Why, what are you eating?"

"I cook a proper meal every night. Loads of hearty root veggies."


"Oh let's not talk about all that. Everything will get all mixed up. So what do you say, team up for a while? I'll cook." He put an appealing look on his face. He seemed almost too young to be alone on a trail. He looked puppyish. I sighed. It was a long time ago. I probably looked puppyish too.

"Okay, sure." I said.

"Great! So I can share your life preserver thingy then?"

I raised my eyebrows at him. I shrugged. "We'll toss it back and forth. How's that?"

He grinned and handed me some watercress.

I took it. "What do I do with this?" I asked.

"I picked it not half an hour ago on the creek. Eat it."

"Not bad." It tasted peppery. "Gorp?" I offered, holding out my bag.

He grinned madly. "I thought you'd never ask."

Friday, March 25, 2022

The coyote break


I'll take seeing a coyote around here anytime. It's thrilling. I mean, I'm usually out there with my camera hoping a robin will let me get close enough for a picture, or taking pictures of stream water, so a coyote is big news. My heart races and flies. I've hit the big time.

But I have to admit my photography luck with coyotes has been historically troubled. Once I was focused so hard on taking a picture of a squirrel that a coyote wandered past, not 15 feet from me, causing all my belated realization pictures to be of his butt. Another time I was headed west up the creek and the coyote was headed east, and I got so involved in the awkward politeness of our trying to pass each other that my pictures were scanty at best.

This time I saw the coyote, through the trees, at the top of the Shadow Falls, a perfect setting. And he was very tolerant of me. But just as I was getting to some good pictures, the only person I saw on my entire hike came along at the worst moment with two dogs! There was a big dog and a little dog. 

I said "There's a coyote up there."

He mumbled something, then walked on. The coyote ran away down the trail. The man turned around and called to me. "Hey, did you see that? There was a coyote!"

"Yes." I said, trying not to sound peeved. "That's what I said to you."

"Oh, sorry." He said ruefully. "I was just totally zoned out in my own world."

In my heart I fully accepted his apology, but it was still disappointing.

I did get a few pictures of the coyote that, with a lot of post production work, I liked. Strictly speaking, it was three pictures, which I include below with a few variations.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Chapter Nine: Gifts Given


Chapter Nine: Gifts Given

When I got down to West Pine Creek I set my pack down and, after admiring the cool, beautiful water and all its rocky splendor, I prepared myself for a couple of days (it turned out to be more than three) of a different kind of backpacking. West Pine Creek wasn't really a trail. It was a creek. Which is charming and picturesque and even convenient. I never had any problem collecting water to treat and drink for instance. But sometimes there was just canyon wall, water, and then canyon wall again, so that whatever trail there was, technically speaking, was three feet under water. There was climbing waterfalls, trudging through mud, and winding back and forth across the creek hundreds of times.

To deal with all this I had three essential pieces of equipment: an inflatable pool doughnut, some old canvas sneakers, and multiple bags of plastic to keep my pack dry. The doughnut was great and helped me across shimmering pond after shimmering pond of West Pine Creek. Sometimes it was so nice on the doughnut I'd just float on it for a while, resting. The sneakers saved my boots and didn't make my feet into sodden anchors, though they were still mostly unpleasant to wear through long, wet traversing, regularly filling with sand and debris and wreaking havoc on my tender feet. As for the bags? Every part of everything I owned still got wet or damp, but on the plus side it all happened a few minutes slower and was a few small degrees less wet than it normally would have been.

For my first day on the creek I made it 14 miles upstream by my reckoning and maybe about five miles in actual distance, if I was lucky, which I probably wasn't. So let's say I made it four miles up the creek. I wanted to get to a fairly early camp to try and dry things out. But drying things out turned out to be beyond my craft. I even was able to make a small fire, the very first of my trip, and it was delightful. But it only served to singe one of my socks, positively burn part of a shirt, and generally make everything I owned smell of smoke forever more.

Fair enough. It was a beautiful fire, and worth near to any cost. It warmed my soaked cold parts. It roasted my salami, which was my first dining innovation that was an unmitigated success. And it provided endless, heartening entertainment with its glowing wonders. Fires are magic.

But, arguably, not as magic as talking rabbits, one of which I was joined by as my flames crackled and the last dribbles of light leaked out of the sky.

I was fussing with the placement of my sneakers around the fire when I heard a curious attention seeking noise like "Ehhhh..."

I looked over. "What's up doc?" The rabbit said.

I was super excited, "I have your carrots!" I exclaimed.

The rabbit perked up alertly, his ears springing straight into the air. I dug the carrots out of my pack. "Sorry," I said. "They're a little damp"

"Maybe just throw them over here?" The rabbit said cautiously.

"In the dirt?"

"Dirt, my friend, grows carrots!"

I threw them over. He sniffed them all over. I mean all over, muttering things like "Oh, good, good color. Tasty, tasty. These will do, these will do. Oh yes. Ohhhhhhh, yes. Loamy. Good, good." And so on.

"I understood that now I can ask you some questions about talking rabbits, and magic, and the nature of the universe?" I ventured.

"No, no. Sorry. Not that." Said the rabbit. "Doesn't work like that at all. I just end up making stuff up and lying and what's the point, hmm?"

It seemed to be a genuine question, as he simply left it there hanging.

"You could tell the truth?" I suggested.

"Oh no. The truth is much too fancy for a rabbit like me. I'm sure I'm not up to it. But..." He said grandly, "I've got some good stuff for you. Let's see. Let's see." He twirled around oddly, like he would find the thing he was looking for if he could just catch up to his tail. Then he stopped, confused, and said "I thought I had some notes to work from, but, er, I'm a rabbit, so no notes, I guess."

He paused and looked at the carrots. "Do you mind?" He asked.

"Please." I said.

He started nibbling on the carrots for a while, humming something I couldn't make out.

After some gnawing and nibbling that I watched with interest for a surprisingly long time he looked up at me. "Right. Where were we?"

"I actually have no idea." I replied. "You were looking for some notes and weren't going to answer any of my questions?"

"Ah, yes!" He exclaimed. "Thank you! I'm sure I can wing it" Then he sort of rose up, as much as a jackrabbit is able to do, for he never stopped being a jackrabbit. And then he spoke, as if in a recital.

"As the keeper of the fallen star you will have five guests. They will accompany you, one at a time, whether you want them or not. And so shall they leave. Take you they will to the final destination where you will rescue the world as we know it, oh hero of the age, though it will be way less fancy than you might imagine. And also it won't seem like much to anyone. Also, you will receive no reward, recognition, and probably not even all that much personal growth. But I, your first herald, would still like to thank you, provisionally of course."

The rabbit lowered down and started nibbling some more carrot.

"So that's it then?" I asked.

"Oh, pretty much. The version I had was way better but..." He trailed off.

"You're the first herald then?"

"Oh my! Will you look at the time!" The rabbit exclaimed, looking up at the sky like it was an oversized alarm clock. I'm going to be..."

"Late." I finished for him.

And then he was gone.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Chapter Eight: To the Shadow of Death

Chapter Eight: To the Shadow of Death

West Pine Creek Canyon was beautiful.

Not like “Clever appreciators of the natural world admire its subtle beauty” beautiful, more like “Let's put this sucker on a postcard” beautiful. I'm not complaining. Well, I probably will complain. There were things to complain about. But the canyon being lovely and interesting and amazing wasn't one of them. It was full of broken, sometimes towering pale umber stone walls, little oasis-like glens of delicate trees (rarely pines, despite the name), rich groves of grasses, and a merry creek full of clear and luminous green water tumbling over picturesque little rocky falls into deep pools swarming with tiny fish that against all the odds were adorable.

I descended into the canyon on a steep, rough trail that was easy to lose. This was a new challenge after the first 60 miles of a simple, converted jeep track trail. Here there were rocks that gave way under one, loose sand, uneven steps, and times where staying on the trail meant going the opposite direction of where one might ultimately be going. All the downhill pounding magnified the little problems of my pack, my boots, my blisters, and whatever uneven balances I thought I'd learned to put up with.

There were also people here. And people were nerve-wracking.

The first section of my trip headed resolutely across a swath of BLM land, a trail to nowhere for most people. But now I was connected up with a trail heading out of a parking lot no more than a few miles away from me, heading into a fairytale wilderness garden. I guess it wasn't the Grand Canyon or anything, but it was certainly a place worth heading to for a long weekend. And so people did. There were not crowds, but every hour or two there was someone.

People are friendly on trails and so, though shy of folks, I still said my friendly "Hi's" as we worked around each other. But I quickly found that every time I said "Hi" and someone greeted me warmly back, a little voice in me complained, "Why didn't you ask them if they had any carrots to spare."

Twice I vowed to ask.

Twice my resolve failed.

And then I came upon a young man sitting on a large stone next to a tricky split in the trail. He was pouring over a map, looking perplexed. At my approach, he looked up brightly at me and asked "Aye Guv'nor. D'ya 'appen to know which way it is to yon creek." His accent was sort of English.

"Are you from England?" I asked him skeptically.

He grinned impishly. One of his canine teeth was missing. He had bright red hair, flaming red in the sun. I doubt he was more than 17 years old. But he didn't say anything. He just kept grinning what he clearly thought was an impossibly winning grin. This makes him sound less scruffy than he was. He was even scruffier than me!

Spurred by all his... orangeness, I inquired "You wouldn't happen to have any fresh carrots on you?"

"That I might, Guv'nor." He said in his not really, almost certainly fake, English, Scottish? accent. He started rummaging in his pack. He had some absurd things in there; an alarm clock, a snow globe! I was hoping maybe for a couple of cut carrot slices from a baggie if I was super lucky. But no. He pulled out two, maybe slightly wilted, carrots, complete with their rough but full green carrot tops. The carrots were very much the color of his hair. He held them out to me, grinning again.

"Are you sure?" I asked. "This is super nice! Thanks."

"My pleasure Guv'nor. Now, do you think left, or do ya think right?"

I considered it. "Well, I think the left fork of the trail looks foul, but feels fair, while the right looks fair but feels..."

"Aye. Like it's going too much in the proper direction. I ken. Sounds a bit like the description of Strider from Lord of the Rings, no?"

"I suppose so." I answered smiling. "Are you a fan?"

"Oh, more than you might know! Well, I've been lingering here a bit too long so I'd best be off. Perhaps I'll see you down in the canyon sometime Guv'nor. Enjoy the carrots!"

I took a gorp break to let him get out ahead. I drank the last of my water too. I wasn't thinking it would take me so long to get down to Pine Creek. Munching on my all too familiar staples I looked over the carrots. Real-life vegetables.

They looked delicious. But I figured I'd better hang on to them for a while.