Humans have it all wrong when it comes to how they spend their time. They can’t help it, cave men evolved to sit still around a fire and stare at bright flickering things while they cook their dogs’ dinner, and that’s why modern humans just want to stare at screens all the time. When Mom tells people that we spend our weekends driving five or six hours to sleep in the back of the car, wake up early and hike, and then drive five hours back home again, they look at her like she’s crazy. They think she’s crazy because you can’t look at screens when driving, and your phone doesn’t work in the places where you can see the stars. What I don’t understand why they want to go home and stare at a flickering screen all night and then run in the same fart they always run in, if you could leave work and by bed time be so far into the wilder-ness that you can see every star in the universe?
This week Mom and I went back to the Forgotten California to climb a mountain that we saw when we were having all that trouble with rivers. Sometimes a place defends itself from crowds by closing itself off to new explorers. It puts rivers and poison oak and white dirt and rain storms in their way so that they can’t discover a place. But if you are like Meatloaf on the porch of Fight Club, and you keep coming back to show your commitment, the place opens itself up to you. Today, the Trinity Alps let us in and showed us what they’d been hiding under the white dirt, on the other side of rivers, and behind a mask of smaller mountains.
On some mountain trails the trees are so close that you never get to see anything far away, but this mountain was just the right steepness so that it was like a balcony, and between the trees I could see the rocky mountains exploding into the sky across the valley, and the shorter mountains humping up behind it until they blurred away in the distance. The trail wasn’t so steep that nothing could grow there, and there were big, straight trees and short twisty trees, and furry mossy trees to keep the trail cool and give us something to look at so that we didn’t get bored of the mountains. There were also lots of kinds of flowers, like the ones whose petals were more like tufts of fur, and the ones that looked like little stars, and big lollipop flowers, and fluffy fluff flowers, and flowers that looked like a dog’s snout with his tongue hanging out for a kiss. I’m a dude, so I’m not great at describing flowers, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate them.
We climbed and climbed for miles up the trail that was never too steep, and never too hard to find, and was mostly clear of spider webs as long as you let Mom walk first. Suddenly I heard something in the brush and cocked my head. I smelled it, and then I saw it: a great big buck! Most people don’t know this, but deer are actually very large birds related to chickens and turkeys. Poultry like deer can’t fly very far, but they can fly over bushes without breaking stride. This deer took off up the mountainside that was so steep it was practically like a wall, flying over all the bushes in its way and then running in between. Since I can’t fly, I crashed through the bushes behind it like a boulder crashing downhill, and then uphill, and then downhill again, and then sideways on the hill. Finally I let the deer fly away and ran back to Mom to tell her all about it. When I found her, Mom was shouting like she was concerned but also smiling like she was laughing. She probably appreciated that I did something exciting like what happens on TV so that she wouldn’t get bored without Netflix. Her smile was big, but mine was bigger.
After four miles of climbing straight up, the trees ended and Mom and I were walking through a large meadow spread out in front of us, with three pointy mountain peaks standing proudly over it. The meadow was perfect for a critter-chasing ground game, with no pesky bushes to fly over or crash through. I sprinted all around the meadow while Mom zigzagged her way toward one of the peaks. Before long, we had reached the ridge where we could see over to the back side of the mountain. When she saw what was there, Mom’s mouth dropped open like she was panting for breath too. In front of us was a giant bowl surrounded by ragged, jagged, craggy, scraggy mountains like something out of a nature show. In the bowl that all of those mountains made was an entire winter’s worth of white dirt. It was like the mountain knew it had guests coming, so picked up all of its white dirt and threw it where it thought that no one would look.
The problem was that we needed to hike through the mountain’s secret to get to the peaks we had come to see. The white dirt didn’t go all the way to the brim of the bowl, though, and Mom and I carefully climbed the rocks along the edge of it for awhile, until we came around and outcropping and could see that the trail would be covered in white dirt for at least a mile. “I guess we’ll just have to come back again,” Mom sighed. For once I could tell that she was really disappointed to be turning around, yet again, without making it all the way to the top of the mountain.
As we were driving down the 6-mile dirt road to the bottom of the mountain, the Wagon stopped so suddenly that everything flew into the front seat. Since I was in the front now, I looked out the windshield and saw a man standing in the middle of the road in front of a tripod with what looked like a blank screen on it. He had a wand in his hand, and was poking the screen with it, probably trying to get Netflix to work. He turned around and smiled when we didn’t run him over.
“IF YOU WANT TO WATCH TV, GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE MOUNTAIN, AND THEN DRIVE 30 MILES TO THE NEAREST TOWN!” I barked at him.
“How was your hike?” the man asked. “Did you go up to Stoney Wall?”
“DON’T JUST STAND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD LOOKING FOR RECEPTION! IT’S DANGEROUS” I advised him.
“I don’t know the name of where we were,” Mom said, swatting me rudely out of the front. “But we went up the mountain until we came over the ridge, and then everything was covered in snow.”
“Well you should go to Granite Peak next,” the man said. “I was up there yesterday and it was clear. It’s just the next mountain over.”
“Granite Peak! I can remember that!” Mom said. “Thanks for the recommendation. Enjoy your day, and sorry for almost running you over.”
As we trundled on down the hill I came back to the front seat for counsel with Mom. “You weren’t actually planning on taking that loon’s advice, were you? He seemed pretty batty, trying to watch TV in the middle of the wilder-ness like that.”
“He was painting, Oscar. It’s like a photo you make yourself. And I’m absolutely taking that man’s advice! Don’t you see we must come back here to finish that trail?! Maybe we can come back in a couple of weeks and do both hikes on a Saturday-Sunday.”
“Why don’t we go over there now, then?” I asked. “He said it was just the next mountain over. We can have a snack and take a nap and watch the sunset behind the mountains like you always want to.”
“Well we can’t do it now,” Mom said. “We have lunch plans tomorrow, remember? We need to drive home in time to go grocery shopping and do laundry before bed.”
“But friends are around any time. The mountains only take off their white dirt for a short time every summer. By the time we come back here, all the trails might be gone.”
“We still have plenty of summer left, and these trails aren’t going anywhere. Anyway, if you don’t have lunch with other people every once in awhile, people think you have no life.”
“But…” I started.
“This morning doesn’t count,” Mom cut me off, knowing what I was going to say. “‘Having a life’ means that you have to come out of the woods and spend time with people every once in awhile. Don’t ask me why, but that’s the rules. If you don’t, people start to think you’re a little daffy.”
Oscar the Pooch