Fragments from a Perilous Journey
Almost twelve miles and only two-thousand feet in elevation gained, but much more in elevation gained then lost then gained then lost. There is some lesson there but it eludes me now. The topography spiced the grueling effort with fragrant flowered hillsides, clear springs issuing from mossy rocks, changing vistas – the Bailey Range, Mt. Olympus, and the Hoh River valley. Our camp is scenic and mosquito infested. The lake shimmers in twilight. In the valley below, a black bear ambles, grazing the lush meadows as if in slow motion. Darkness, too, comes slowly in these northern skies.
When my ashes are scattered to some distant red desert,
It should be said of me, “We all knew he was crazy but
Mosquitoes made him quite insane.”
Billy-goat peers in the tent at dawn
I holler and he is gone.
Voices in neighboring camps voices
Like mosquitoes nagging.
But the sun is bright on the laughing creek
The jovial lake invites us into the day
Slowly we break camp slowly
Trying to eat, hydrate, invigorate
Slowly we shoulder the packs slowly
We trudge on.
A nanny and a kid are lying in a snowfield.
Lupine meadows perfume the warming air.
Late day scramble to camp above The Catwalk
Fearfully exposed arête we must navigate
Melting snow for water on a high dry ridge
Ensconced in swirling fog at sunset with
Salty winds from Puget Sound roaring up the valley.
Peaks vanish, reappear ghostly in orange light
Mt. Olympus glows in vaporous hues.
The Hoh River far below, a silver snake
Curls its way to the gleaming Pacific.
But we never see the sun, only the tricks of its light,
Then it’s gone.
Wild bears and goats, wild mountains,
The miraculous winds of the wild universe
Laughing and weeping, blowing right through me.
The wind howls through the night into the chill of dawn
Keeps us focused and cool across The Catwalk
Scrambling through twisted trees, over jagged rocks,
Clumps of goat fur indicating the route,
A long fall the price of a misstep and
Say “hello” to the ghost of Boston Charley.
There is always more bushwhacking.
The prospect sits heavy on our minds
In this forest that in this moment
I hope to dream of a bear that will show us
His trail through these thickets and black woods
Down to the river we hear but seldom see.
It plays tricks on the ear,
Is that a voice, a clarinet, a train?
I long to gaze on the ocean once more.
In a cloud of mosquitoes,
I spent almost two hours collecting water
In tortuous drips from a wretched muddy spring.
I could see the river but would have died
Trying to reach it.
Back at our forlorn camp,
Jeff has fallen asleep on the ground,
his head resting on a mossy log.
My knee is swollen and there is blood
On my clothes.
We are bitten, broken, and malnourished
But we have water for the night.
I slide again into white noise dreams
The inner vacation always possible.
I crave the raven’s eyes so I can look down
On me, on where I am, on where I need to go.
I am a madman writing by flashlight
In a stand of towering hemlocks,
Wind in branches and water
My only music.
--Eric Walter (August 2012)