It’s the starkness, the windswept landscape, tangled black manzanitas with gnarled twisted fingers that point up to the dark sky that take your breath away. The flicker of light from the campfire illuminates a tiny ring compared to the vastness of the countryside. Ridge line after ridge line, stacked one upon another, ever higher as they proceed off to the west, the place where the sun disappears. For some reason the stars are hidden, a veil of mist high up obscures the complete show that was expected, instead rendering a rout version, something phoned in, a night off so to speak.
The circumstances dictate that sleep is not allowed, or at least until voices disappear, the first light of morning is seen. Once a parent, always a parent, regardless of who’s children you maybe overseeing. The recognition that there are all manners of threats that exist, whether it be a trigger happy rattler, a marauding pack of bears descending like locusts onto the camp, or snarling mountain lions circling ever closer to choose their meal for the cold spring morning. Then there are also the others, fellow packs of campers dotted throughout the plateau, couched in various stages of sleep and awake states. These, the second group, the others, are the thing of most concern, something to cause a sense of unease, to keep ones eye open late at night, to be vigilant. Odds on there’s nothing to worry about, yet when overseeing those new to the outdoors it is better to error on the side of sleeplessness.
S and I wandered down the aging cracked road, taking a break, seeking silence. A glass of pinot in hand, we eased down the hill, until we arrived at number 13. The camp space was absent of cars, seemingly intentionally empty due to its number sake. Who in their right superstitious mind would choose a campsite with a unlucky number as an address for a night? Easing onto a rock next to it, we noticed a short distance off, a distressed tent, barely erect, seemingly abandoned in haste, sitting idol and in need. Cigarette butts littered the ground, obviously someone in a nervous bout, smoking one after another, probably as they stared back at the wreckage of their tent, and what maybe inside. All of these clues were soaked in as S and I sipped slowly, smiling and laughing in the dusk light. Ten minutes later, break time over, we wandered back up the hill to begin preparing dinner for eleven.
Tall grasses line the only creek, polished boulders remembering the scouring water racing off the mountain sides on either wall of the canyon. Gradually the further you wander downward, a catch of boulders creep ever closer to narrow the stream bed, and then you reach a dead end. Deep pools of cold water are found within the cracks and crevasses, sunlight splotched between trees and rock that tower overhead. Tucked at the top of a precipice, a respite from the sun and heat can be found, swimming can occur, rest within shade found. Two sides can be recognized, the first being the fun of time in the water with laughter, or the reminder of where one is, at the pinch point where fierce amounts of water tore at granite, moving boulders with marshmallow ease into this one place where there was only one place to go, and that was nowhere. The boulders wedged within the canyon were slowly melting away year after year, millimeter by millimeter dissolving into sands that washed down the canyon, down sloping to the sea.
Around the campfire they sang, enjoying the last night before heading back down the mountain to the city. Blistering sun gave way to cold night air, a waning moon dozing overhead, the flicker of city lights peeking 50 miles off in the distance between the edge of two mountains. I think it was then, listening to the young charges trying to do all they could to remember the moment around the campfire, the countryside that they had explored, that a sense of melancholy was heard. A desperate tone of wanting to reinforce, to state over and over the memories, to tell the story to one another so that it wouldn’t be lost or forgotten, within this, S and I understood the sadness that comes from happiness in their lives.