Camp Four Jeffrey, Inyo County, CAI.
On the way east, Hwy 108
where logging trucks once roared,
gears shifting down, solid coffin loads
of seemingly rolled cigars, strapless dresses
displayed in open-air street bazaars. The silent
theatre of moonlight was there, remembering, and
disrobing into night. By day, this mountain road
has us police human kind, kisses can be death spun
into a crash. And as the summit nears, timberline
skirts the peak. Can granite holding both cold and heat,
comfort? Is this where the Sierra meets to weep
the science of our lives, of the why we all just keep
climbing on? Once here, you cannot leave the sky.
This site, a great Boheme, like a deer pacing the cold
of night until the morning sun slowly wakes the river stones,
reaching out to what will be called noon, where the laws
of the sun become the Lord's prayer. This deer
quiet, leaves no shadow, and you still searching
far up to Lake Sabrina, well stocked, the Ranger
says, looking for a hand-out of drinks & meat,
telling of drop-offs, and following the chill
of inlets with spinning lines. You love them all,
cautiously, tumbling white foam over rocks
like a hallway of turbulent clouds above, that
shut out the western blue heavens with T-storms
coming and threatening the tents anchored with
their backs to the wind, and damn the grey rain spilling
into their own tribal pools, thirsty nostrils of the camp-
ground floor, innocent. What is reliable now is the
need to continue casting down into the nymph
waters under any bridge where a government
sized trout demand live bait over glitter, and
the quick wrist of life keeps sweeping on.
At Camp Four Jeffrey, the name
suggests a brotherhood, each packing a gun.
Phrases brief, syllables single, many contractions
like a spider's web not yet spun whole.
Ice age boulders are this mountain's first modern art.
They sleep with a jaundiced eye. Trout keep flashing,
eggs cold in the tackle box become a dangerous dream.
The daily plan is to stay alive until the sunrise turns down
the slow cast of shadow, of promise God guarantees up here.
Stars carved out of darkness melt into the wild snow pack running off.
Campsite number 12 has a tent from the state of Maine.
Last night the hiss of a Coleman lantern was comfort,
snakes are not as terrible as you might imagine.
Morning fire smoke dances in the cold like a woman returning,
daybreak doubles the sun's intense kiss almost cruel at 9,000 feet.
More spring run-off marbles down along a path, a crooked roulette wheel.
I bite into an apple, hike beyond the tethered lines of aspen. Look
into the pharmacy of bark and leaves. And the matted under-brush,
pillows the steps of animals, announces the eager sportsman, muscles flexing.
I gave up hunting before killing anything. I can be excused.
The elementary warning bells of attack mean nothing up here. True fire
is a possibility we cannot escape, or bless, or self inflict, no matter what the cold.
Up here air is so demanding your vital signs
reach a hypertensive a doctor wouldn't believe.
Something as telling as a black and white photograph
from the 1950's, a grey-stone treasure the color of general
advice, never let go a smile into the camera without a prompt.
Now at 60 years we eye each heartbeat for arrhythmia,
listen quietly for any sigh of A-fib. But finally above
South Bishop Creek, the geo-terrain Scott the scientist
interprets, is beyond our wild-west ideas. At 9,000 feet a desert
mountain canyon where Earth is dammed for electric hydro-
power, and stocked with rainbow trout to keep life alive.
The cold run-off, rushing tears of what was once a frightening
storm not letting go, screaming its name down to an end.
Wesley points out, that each late spring snow tumbles over quick
granite accents. And how, like bed sheets they flow as a wind
that ruffles into the lake, attracting fish, and then men, in their
aluminum boats. I think if a poem's stanza is made of water
and rock, it would be here at this place, and here at this moment.
The next morning, a wandering doe, eyes sympathetic, tackles
an impulse to repel. Live bait cast up-stream, avoid sunken logs
and low hanging tree limbs, we just can't hide, deer and trout
know where we are, lifting over moss covered slate, young green
grass-patches in a dare to read the sun's tiny nails flickering
a private heaven. Time now to wait for the sun's first call,
where good men will obey the ordained early light, and the echo
and the forgiveness of the cold hard water coming down.
At this outdoor library-café, a thousand feet above
Bitterroot Camp, young aspen cluster like spines
on bookshelves in family groups, crusts of sliced winter bread.
Morning firewood smoke washes into this room, and the camp host
collects overdue hunting fees from the saddle of his green four-wheeler.
Dan cleans his glasses. The rising sun pushes the Earth's shadow down.
The girl with brunette hair, draped over pages upon the counter, reads
about Eve trapped in a wood without paper, cloth, or a voice for words
nothing can describe. Non-Fiction is to the left. The water fountain
is stainless steel. A ground squirrel scampers over linoleum and
live oak leaves. Someone cocks the hammer. Smoke lingers.
And the fire, ringed safely in concrete, refuses to weep.