We are in in a gorgeous spot, where quiet harmony is seasoned with the call of the various birds. The first morning’s pastel light has made its way through the silhouettes of the canopy of tall majestic pines, which dwarf all of us below. Splotches of golden clear light paste a glow to each bush that it touches, a splotch here and one over there.
Rolling over, looking out the screen of the tent, I see the northern slope of this treasure, turning fully golden. Golden rose, golden yellow, translucent golden greens in a myriad of shadows. Beams burst through at intervals. I lay blessed. “Whoah” escapes from somewhere deep in consciousness and falls from my lips.
From a deep sleep, into wonderment, I grab my camera. I’ll seek an attempt to capture a piece of this, all the while knowing that I have no way of doing it justice. I have the sense of that energy of the first morning’s light, which all life seems to know. That energy that makes birds sing, sex arise, wakes the sleeping rabbit, flowers unfold and comforting warmth begins to grasp us all. Can a photo truly capture these new beginnings?
…The show is over, I squat and crawl into the small opening in the mesh, which is made by the familiar sounds of that zipper. I do all that I know to not disturb DF as she sleeps and rejuvenates the tired sore muscles from the previous day. Her determined flight into her disturbed dream, that must be completed in its haphazard way, draws her away and she only briefly notices. We rest together some more.
Wandering in paradise, we tend to campsite chores. DF pours and scrapes the honey and almond butter over whole-wheat tortillas. I dig a hole in a remote patch, between trees roots and the next larger chunk of rock.
Barefoot, we take our water bottles and filter apparatus to the streamside. Each step is a brief encounter with being, a moment of sensual aliveness. A boulder, or a patch of pine needles gives way and slip down the slope, as we ride, surfing in our balance to more firm earth
The stream slides through the myriad of rock and contours. Bubbling is the music of the neighborhood. A small waterfall takes attention from the silence.
We carefully cross rock from rock, “Is it solid enough?”, “Is it slippery” and each foothold brings safety.
We are gathering our needs for the trail today, when a lone walker comes by. He wears a cap with a logo from his organization, a kaki uniform of fashion and boots. Extra-large binoculars hang across his chest, apparent.
“So, are you here for the birds.”
“I saw a special fellow two days before in Ida Canyon. He had a lovely Chinese orange-ish red coloring and when he took off, his back showed a green patch on his back. The colors were like a parrot.”
A scientific name immediately rolls off of his lips. Something beginning with a” Tar.” I try to record the name into my mind, he repeats it as he tells us of its preferred habitats . He tells of other new creatures that seem to be “immigrating north for some reason.” He knows each canyon in these mountains and who lives there.
“I’m going up about another half a mile more and back. Maybe I’ll see you there.”
We continue chores at a snail’s pace, gathering our wits into one backpack. We are taking the food with us and our needs. We’re concerned about creatures that would rob us or do mischief while we are gone. The human population on a Monday should be less. There has been only one other walker, a woman who looked very much like a friend of ours, walking a small dog, but she came back shortly. We figure that most people have goals along the trail and turn around. There is that split rock, there is the 2 mile sign, etc. This is past most of them.
From about here, it is two miles uphill with plenty of distractions along the way. We are in a designated wilderness. We can leave our little home away from home alone in this forest. It is open, covered with the tarp and the mesh bug net under. I take the other pack and fluff the down camping quilt. I make it look like someone is napping in the solitude and shade.
We stuff some light clothing into the daypack, just in case the wind picks up at the more open, higher elevations and chills us. DF has volunteered the backpack duty and wears a very thin beach covering for her shoulders with a short dress that may have been meant to be just a top. I’m up for nudity. The weather is continuing to be in right the range of just perfect.
Taking off uphill, the sore muscles used during the previous days begin to take my notice. As they get into familiar rhythm, their stiffness has to stretch out once again.
Soon we are at a pace, with our attention occasionally pulled into small wonders along the trail. I see the miracle of an unusual flower, the touch of an unusual rock, a smell as we pass, and the brush of a maple leaf against bare skin.
We come to the fork marking the choice of two journeys and take the unknown, newer path. The old trail had been washed out by the floods which followed the fires several years ago. The old wide road to a mill (Miller Canyon) has been replaced by a thinner trail, which wanders above, but aside the steep canyon stream below. We hear water rolling and catch glimpses of heavenly little falls in rock and moss.
It is soon that we hear our birder. I pull the sarong out from under my shoulder strap to make quick cover.
He is greeting us, “I don’t mind, it’s okay.”
“Oh, it’s my birthday.”
DF joins in, “It’s his birthday suit.”
The guy assures us, “I’m more concerned with escaping the deadly plague. Naked people are not going to harm me.” Now, more than likely, the mountain is ours. We had arranged for the weekend crowd’s dissipation. We had arrived later on a Sunday. It is now Monday; the work week has begun.
This is a mountain; everything is uphill, until we return. A workout is expected, a physical accomplishment to celebrate the diminishing of the onslaught of what is described with a three letter word (age). We trudge, we rest in shade, we observe, we explore.
I am struck numerous times by the inspired awe of the mountains. I am stupefied by the fauna changing with spring.
There is a sense of newness. Buds are becoming flowers and flowers are dazzling us as they do. New growth is everywhere.
Some of the new growth is wandering into the trail. The last time that I was in this canyon, it became overly overgrown.
It was trouble to pass, the stiff branches scratched and caught my clothing. Nude would have been a needling harassment. Since that experience, I have thought many times of coming up here and helping the funding choked Forest Service, which is victimized by politicians and greed. I’ve thought to spend a few days. My fantasy would be to camp along a stream and venture out each day with clippers and bow-saw, correcting as a Samaritan. So far, the trail has been comfortable and my clippers have remained in my pack’s pouch.
I’m doing my bit, clipping spring growth here and there.
After a time, we arrive at a loss of trail. There is a mysterious series of footsteps eroding the sharp climb of the hillside. It looks like no trail, but it is going somewhere. Crossing the creek, there is thick overgrown foliage. I chance to see an orange plastic ribbon in the green mass. It must be a trail marker.
I wade in and a dozen feet beyond I see another. The new trail is not maintained after all, I presume. I begin to clip my way through, as the growth gets thicker still, and then tangled. There is a fresh tree fall with numerous branches, but it shows wear, people have been over it before.
There are more orange ribbons. I am doing the equivalent to the work of a machete. I’m breaking branches with brute force, wishing that I had remembered my gloves. At every step, I think of the possibility of a trail on the other side. We had taken this route down from bathtub springs a year, or so, before. It was good. Somewhere this mess will link to that and we will be walking again.
I cross the stream once again and pass what could be a good campsite. It is level here, something that is of a premium in these mountains. This is a place I could stay at and mend the trail.
After at least a half of an hour, we are with doubts. I look up and across the canyon and see a line. It’s a trail along the steep hillside above. We have probably lost our way, or it is an old trail. The ascent is slippery, unstable and steep, but we are probably back on track.
Where we lost it and why, we’ll have to figure out on the way back. The trail levels and is shady, as I walk along. DF asks me what happened to my arm. I don’t know. There is a stream of coagulated blood down it past my wrist and wrapping around my hand. She tells me that there is a smear on my back.
“I don’t know. Nothing hurts.” I contemplate and inspect, “It’s stopped bleeding.”
We climb some more, as the trail becomes switchbacks. When it levels off, my feet and ankles feel odd as they have been going uphill like a staircase for so long. We want to see where the old trail meets the new. We may even make it to Bathtub Spring and the familiar. The last time there, it was Fall. This time it’s spring.
We have no idea how far it is ahead, or how far we have gone. That detour has changed our sense of timing and our reserves of energy. Today is less of a walk in the park. Much of our time and focus is taken with looking down in care at the uneven rocky, slippery slope.
At a switchback. I glance to my left and discover a treat for DF. She is behind, huffing and looking very worn. This will pick her up. This is something that she’ll delight in.
I begin to walk off the trail. She tells me that I have missed a switchback in concern. I smile and wave, curling my finger to her, the signing to follow. I watch her face light up as she notices a huge rusty steel tube. It is a boiler for the old mill.
Decades ago, this was a landmark, and today part of fond memories of youth. As a young woman, she would hike up to Miller Peak from her home below, to see her husband in the fire tower. She had been through these ruins many times with friends and loved ones, which are still a part of her life. We had seen pictures and mentions of these relics on the internet. She wanted to see them.
She knew they were near the old trail, but concerned that they were bypassed, or buried by the floods.
She photographs every piece of artifact like some excited archeologist.
She will send photos off to everyone.
I can see her reflection, as she pieces memory and changes together. “This was here, that there, we used to do such and such.”
We don’t find the old trail that used to pass this way. Perhaps, we’ll someday continue from down below to see where it ends.
The trail becomes a series of switchbacks, steeper and less enjoyable. We pass more than one old mine. We will see rough colorful rock, or some different kind of stone and then soon, a hole.
I pass one mine, missing it, as I keep my vision downward at footing on the rough trail before me. She calls me back. It is like a scene from Arabian nights. A large boulder looks as though it has been magically rolled away from the entrance of a cave. She climbs up and looks inside.
It isn’t deep. The boulder, looking like a perfect fit for the entrance door is just to the side. But it probably just fell down from its perch at the entrance.
We still have the long walk back, the breaking of camp, and another two miles backpacking before sunlight leaves us for the day. Looking up, we see the ridge that we always stop at on the side of Carr Peak. From that we know that there is more uphill and a quarter mile, or more, to reach where we have been before.
We’re very tired. Discussion brings consensus. “It ain’t worth it. Let’s head back and have a lunch.”
I envision myself in the shade, stretched out on a soft mattress, lying still and stretching. We make our way down.
Bushes of lovely lavender and pink blooms line the trail. They had been buds in the morning. They are now lush bundles of flowering.
It’s a while before we return to camp. It has come mysteriously, magically sooner than anticipated.
The mattress feels better than my imagination. The winds die above us, just a few leaves flutter around us. We lay so very still, feeling every muscle inflamed, but in tremendous relief. It feels just so good.
We gather the tent, the tarp. We roll up the drop cloths and then arrange everything in practical order. There is enough water bottled, no need to make more purification. It is time to move again.
We make it in what feels like, just in time. The two extra miles with a pack has had its impact, as we arrive safely at our SUV. Slipping on some presentable clothes, we make our way to that divine local Italian restaurant for a birthday celebration.
While DF prods of my leg, I stay awake at the wheel, all the way back to Tucson.
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