To finish up the season, two young women who worked the front desk at the ranger station in town came up to help me shut down Piute cabin. Their (thankless) job entails, in part, giving out information about the backcountry and this was an opportunity for them to see some of it in person and have a good time; they certainly deserved a little vacation. So, on the 21st of October I rode back to the cabin with Erica and Chris. These entries are from the last two days.
22 Oct (Fri) An outstanding fall day, weather-wise and otherwise. No complaints were heard from any quarter. As promised (and expected) I made famous buttermilk pancakes but—without benefit of whole wheat flour, flaxseed, and cornmeal—they were poor substitutes for the real thing though good lookin’. ◦◦◦◦◦ After clean-up we walked my standard backyard loop to the top of “the quarry.” For subtle psychological reasons my visitors typically never leave the yard (sometimes never leave the cabin) and this is my usual ploy to get them to look about. From the top of the quarry the meadow is laid out clear and simple…a true high mountain meadow, rimmed with real-live mountains, swathed in timber. Gets ‘em every time, this encompassing view does, and nobody ever notices that I’ve slyly taken them out and dunked them in unadulterated reality. ◦◦◦◦◦ Erica had to leave by noon. So after our little walk we took down the back fence. Erica, hating to leave said, “I feel like I just got here!” and I replied, “You did just get here…I feel sorry for you.” Then we did some shit-kickin’. I instructed the ladies on the need for and technique of proper manure-scattering and they went at it with a will. Erica tapped right in to the therapeutic value; she went through a nasty break-up this spring and commented on how good this activity would’ve been for venting. ◦◦◦◦◦ Erica left. It was lunch-time (and then nap-time). Chris entertains herself well, is not the chatterbox I thought she’d be. In fact, she’s very thoughtful and insightful, a genuine article in tiny androgynous form. ◦◦◦◦◦ After the nap I brewed coffee and we went back to it. Chris and I went to opposite corners of the pasture and did “the Piute two-step.” Shit flew! In one of the old oxbows I found a tiny plant, “pearlwort” (Sagina saginoides) with microscopic little perfect flowers, a late blooming individual—a plant of still-moist silty riverbanks exposed by seasonal lowering. I’ve only seen it a couple times and am amazed by its tiny-ness and near invisibility. ◦◦◦◦◦ Chris split firewood rounds, had much fun doing so. I closed the skylights and did man-chores. BBQed chicken and gabbed. Chris unfolded a few more layers. Skipped my river bath. Last night’s was definitely the last of the season and a late one at that. Thanks for a lovely day on the mountain!
23 Oct (Sat) Leave-taking, last day. How nice to finish my season (17th) here at the cabin. Official statistics (I counted last night, adding up past annual totals): today is the 1077th day I’ve been here. Today’s, my 169th “commute” out—which is by no means the figure for all the times I’ve traversed the trail, as in day-rides out and back…only for the trips out. [I kept track of these things each season so it was easy to tally up the totals.] If I added those long patrols I’ve probably traversed this narrow road almost 400 times, phew! ◦◦◦◦◦ But it wasn’t such a good day at the start, actually…my back was a bit tweaked yesterday either from chopping rounds or, more likely, dragging that stretch of fence across the river. I slept poor, really stiff. Got up and made a fire, got back in bed for a bit. Sun finally hit the cabin at 8:33 revealing a lovely day. ◦◦◦◦◦ Hustled. Amazing how dark and dingy the cabin is without the skylights. Especially dismal since I was in some pain and leaving home. Plus kinda overcast and stormy at first. I fried up leftovers (not even hungry…) and finished shutting down. Pretty much on top of it, having done the bulk yesterday. A trip across the creek to drop the front fence took twenty minutes. Chris is a dear soul—a tiny, homely, boyish lesbian with obvious background problems, therapists, et cet—but warm and kind, humble, open, bright, buoyant (she floats!). She loved it here and it’s so encouraging to see how she’s trying to be at peace in her world. She’s been easy to please and loved chopping firewood. ◦◦◦◦◦ We left at noon after 10,000 poignant impressions had pressed themselves into my clay. That final, final-day, last ditch clinging to the vestiges of “the life” knowing, as I do, that it may be the last of the sweet days (ya just never know) so, live it now, boy, as hard as you can. We live on such a wonderful planet and I do enjoy being part of the cast of characters. ◦◦◦◦◦ But I was in some pain with that sharp, tight thing in my ribcage. Chris was often aways behind so little talk and much looking about. Sun came back out and I was traveling in a perfect world, aspens glittering under the blue bowl (which, over the last year, has been much enhanced by my polarized sunglasses). Make no mistake: I am not ecstatic or even joyful at such times. I’m just riding along taking things in, absorbing while remaining very neutral. Little in the way of emotion. But always sensing the perfection and with mild awe at the complexity and improbability of it all. (As I say, we have a pretty darn nice planet to live on.) ◦◦◦◦◦ Last contacts with the visitors today and had two that made for striking contrast. Down Lower Piute way, at the Lily Pond: solo male with gigantic pack. When he saw us (and horses) he got off the trail to go around…clearly sullen and surly and not wishing to speak to anyone, which I understand and respect. Probably without a permit, too, which I also have no problem with (in October…) but had to at least hail him and ask where he was heading. At that point he noticed I was dressed in green and said, “You with the Forest Service? Hey, when are you guys gonna end this ‘sweet-heart deal’ with those pack station people?” (This, his way of greeting strangers.) Chris, who’d been a bit behind, rode up in time to hear all this. I unconsciously put those quote marks around “sweet-heart deal,” otherwise just a phrase in a sentence. But, hearing this and similar loaded slogans I immediately sense some sort of polarized political affiliation. And the sneering sort of tone he used. Sure ‘nuf, turns out he’s with the High Sierra Hikers Association—the anti-stock-use group that’s suing the FS. So despite my rush and being in some pain (actually, a good diversion from both) I got off my horse, removed sunglasses, and spent twenty minutes taking all this guy’s questions head-on. I didn’t expect to sway his views, nor did I attempt to. His beef is that horses (mostly via pack outfits) do most of the resource damage in the mountains—a horse at least ten times more than a human. I immediately agreed (and told him that Bart would also agree) but the figure was more like twenty times the damage. “But there’s nothing you can do about that if you accept stock use. They weigh a thousand pounds, have four feet and wear steel hiking boots. Do you know what a jungle looks like when the herd of elephants has passed through? I reminded him of the historical “opening” of the backcountry and initial establishment of trails by people on horses. He understand that and acquiesced on those points. I told him that so long as there were people wanting to do this sort of thing, there’d be pack stations and mule strings ripping the trails to dust. As time goes by there’ll be a natural political and economic flow that will determine future use patterns. And that he should be far more concerned by the growing political clout of the ORV [off-road vehicle] users, whose toys have generated entire industries. This news seemed to catch him off guard but then he suggested that Bart at least should be required to add $10 per head toward trail maintenance. To this I informed him that, despite what he thinks, businesses like Bart’s are typically break-even affairs subdized by outside income, winter jobs. The realities of running a small business with so much overhead is often not compatible with “how things ought to be,” on many levels. We talked long and hard. As I say, I’d never change his attitude, not to mention his mind—just wanted to address the issues fair and square. After we rode on, Chris and I agreed that this guy was not a “happy camper”. ◦◦◦◦◦ My second encounter (and season’s last) was above Lane Lake. A couple, 50s-ish, from Twain Harte and, like the other fella, had never been up here before. But quite a contrast: man says, by way of greeting, “You must be the ‘author’!” [Referring to my trailhead-sign ranger’s greeting letter.] I admitted that I was indeed. He said, “We really liked what you wrote….” Et cetera. Glowing praise to go along with the big happy smiles. They were thoroughly enjoying their day. “Where you headed?” I ask. “We don’t know!” I congratulate them on having no plan, adding that I always applaud people who don’t have the usual rigid itinerary, the line drawn on the map. Such a nice final meeting with visitors. All of us awed by the perfect autumn day. “Well, have a good trip,” I said in fare-well. “That’s absolutely assured,” man replies. ◦◦◦◦◦ So we rolled on out. Pack station all closed up—a thing I’ve never seen before. Doc always stayed until the highway was closed, ostensibly to “keep out intruders,” no doubt, but more of an excuse to avoid the short days in the foggy flatlands. The Tiltin’ Hilton was all boarded up, so sad. I sighed. We unloaded and unsaddled by the deserted highway, aspens mostly bare but with a few orange and yellow patches here and there. ◦◦◦◦◦ To town in a daze, back screaming. Dropped off tack and horses, said ‘bye to Chris, and took a shower at Greta’s (ahhhh!). Stayed the night out at the barn, reunited with kitties…completely spent and “done.”
24 Oct (Sun) Up in the dark, a mere 14°, and drove to Travertine [hotsprings] for a fine soak. Not a soul around! On Sunday morning! Blessed be! ◦◦◦◦◦ To Greta’s for last visit and cuppa joe, warm hug goodbye; almost like lovers—this last one—for the last several years now, with pats and rubs and soul-meeting. She’s a fine sister. Good bye! ◦◦◦◦◦ To the warehouse for final packing. Of course, Shitbird was off hiding somewhere. (Lucy safe and sound, soundly asleep in the warehouse.) Merri and Michelle stopped by—just back from climbing Mt. Whitney, two nights at my place [near Lone Pine] which, of course, they loved. They were tired, sore, victorious, and sunburned. “We did it! We’re never doing it again!” sez Mer, in Mer-like fashion. More fare-thee-wells and hugs. ◦◦◦◦◦ So I drove away…again. Bye bye Bridgeport. Aspens still splendid at Conway Summit. ◦◦◦◦◦ It was a good year. I was pretty happy, plenty glad to be back to the cabin. Lots of great experiences and moods and lights…long days, fine meals, river baths, mosquitoes…aches’n’pains aplenty as well. What a deal. I’ll take it!
©2016 by Tim Forsell 29 May 2016