Summer was cancelled west of the cascade mountains, so we drove east into the desert, to where ponderosa pines stood tall in the yellow sunlight and clear rivers, flat and deep, wound their way through the soft ground. But thunderstorms followed us over the hills, and we camped in a torrential downpour the first night, next to a wet, cold lake that, when seen on brighter days, is breathtaking. In the morning we waited for the rain to stop but it would not, so we drove into the town of white rock-climbers and ate strange combinations of things at the wholefoods deli. Soon the clouds thinned, and grew paler, and the water ceased to fall, and the trusty sun peeked through, beating the already beaten ground. So we drove back into the mountain, the same route that you and I once biked, now wet, and with all the snow melted. Up and up and then down and over, to a lake so large it made its own tiny waves, where we filled up our water, folded our things, and set off into the forest for good.
The evening light was pure and good, the air was cool, and the forest was rolling and deep. Flooded, broth-colored streams made their lazy way through meadows that turned out, on closer observation, to be lakes. Sunlight criss-crossed everything. We camped on a damp patch of grass next to the trail, and as soon as we stopped moving the mosquitoes, overcome with joy, attempted to suffocate us with their small, eyelash-like bodies. Panicked, we threw up the tent and tumbled inside. We made dinner in the tent (sans rain fly), and ate. Rice pasta, sea vegetables, and an expensive can of salmon. We washed the dishes and then crawled back into the tent. Mosquitoes congealed on the tent walls and whined at us, tapping themselves uselessly against the mesh. We stared out at them in silence as the forest dimmed around us. Time thickened like cold honey, and then stopped. The dogs, small and mighty, burrowed into our sleeping bags. We fell in and out of sleep.
In the morning we removed the top sections from our packs and, using the straps from Finn’s sleeping pad, fashioned shoulder bags. In the bags we put dried pears, salmon jerky, rox chox, and a salami. We wore running shoes and our brightly colored, low-tech city clothes and set out, small dogs bounding in our wake, to walk/run to a lake seven miles distant. The trail was flooded, had become bog in some sections, had turned into shapeless, ambiguous water that gathered sunlight and harbored choking clouds of ravenous mosquitoes. Downed trees, stuck all over with pointed sticks, crossed the path at awkward angles. Sunlight fell in triangles. Beautiful grasses ringed everything. We ran, leapt over logs, lifted the dogs over logs, lost the path, found it again. Suddenly, a man appeared. He wore a beard and carried an axe. He stopped us in a friendly, if aggressive manner, and pulled a wilderness permit and a pencil from his hip pouch. We filled in the scan-tron like sheet while the mosquitoes gleefully attacked our faces.
“Do you have any mosquito repellent, by chance?” Asked Finn.
“I just have a little bit. Just enough for me.” Said the forest ranger.
We handed him our permit and he took a few steps and was gone- not on the path, not to either side of it, but just gone- as if he had melted, seamlessly, back into the forest.
“Where the fuck did he go?” Asked Finn.
“I don’t know.” I said, looking out at the tangled bog, the clotted forest, the empty trail.
We climbed a few hundred feet and the forest, sandy now, wrung itself out and became dry. The trees grew tall and they rustled a little in the breeze. Then we were upon Mink Lake, sprawling and clear. It was set like a garnet into the mountaintop. We stood looking, out of breath, feeling as if we could go forever. The mosquitoes, suddenly, were absent.
There was an outcropping of rock with a camp on it, but the camp was empty. There was a tent there, two cooking pots, and a dog, but no person. A small crank radio sat in the sun. We had found two oranges on the trail, split, but not rotten, and we sat with our backs against the rock and ate them. Presently a man appeared, paddling towards us in an inflatable raft, across the great expanse of the lake. Hallooo! We called to him. He reached the rock and climbed up to us, carrying his fishing pole. He was sunburnt and smiling, and wore only a pair of swim trunks.
“Name’s John.” He said. “Dog’s name is Daisy.”
He had walked in from another direction, was staying for several days. To fish. We bothered him for a little while and then I absconded to a small stretch of beach, where I took off all my clothes and walked bravely into the water. The water was cold. I swam out until I felt as though I might hyperventilate and then I returned to the shore and lay in the sun, the dirt soft and warm beneath me. Sonny, the five-pound papillon, curled like a fox in the shade of some pine boughs. Kinnikinnick, the eight-pound chihuahua, scratched a bed in the dirt and lay sprawled, wheat-colored sides rising and falling in the sunlight.
Time passed, somehow, even in the silence, even with the sunlight golden in the cloudless sky, even with the still, clear water. We gathered up our things, our stomachs full of chocolate and salmon jerky, and began the long walk back to camp. We walked quickly, and still we could not keep ahead of the mosquitoes. Finally we had to run, bounding through the forest like antelope. Back in camp, we threw ourselves into the stream, and let the cold water soothe us. Dinner was thick split pea soup with freeze dried vegetables and bits of salmon, and then in and out of sleep until dawn.
The last day we walked out, the sky a brilliant blue, the limbs of the trees baked white. We drove into town and ate vegetables, pork, tamales. The dogs were exhausted, sprawled like corpses in the backseat, the papillon’s paw pads raw and bloody from the walking. We ate the last of our chocolate and drove, reluctantly, west into the rain cloud. The skies clotted, the forest thickened, the ground became lush. Rain fell, splattering the windshield.
Now I am back in my apartment, my wonderful, beautiful apartment, with my noisy neighbors and the shady, forest-like dog park down the street. Kinnikinnick, exhausted, sleeps in a tight little ball on the couch, and dreams her small chihuahua dreams. Before backpacking I was doing other things, and had been away from my apartment for a month. But it feels as though I have been gone forever, for a hundred years. Now, at last, all the things that I have are falling in place around me, like debri settling after a tornado. Mornings are thrilling, days are hot and good. Magic, nature, and possibility are everywhere. Life is a huge, unpolished chunk of rose quartz, roughly the size of my heart.