Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two on Yosemite

Yosemite in Recovery

I watched an old man prepare his breakfast from my campsite table. He had brought a small, handleless broom he used to brush the minor debris accumulated during a night in the woods from atop the metal bear-proof locker. From the locker he pulled a gray, weather-beaten box which held an old propane camp stove with only one burner. He poured water into a small saucepan from one of two plastic jugs he kept stored behind the locker. I could tell the locker had been packed tightly. He lifted everything out, setting it neatly on top, then returning what he did not need. He stood tall and thin in his red, woolen shirt, a green knit stocking cap fit tightly over the tops of his ears, white-silver strands curling slightly at the nape of his neck. In Birkenstocks and thickly padded socks he carried his supplies to the picnic table, wiping each dish thoroughly with a paper towel before setting it in place. The sun rose higher, glinting off his wristwatch. He retrieved a leather jacket from his one man tent and slipped it on, watching his breath dissipate in the chill of early morning. As he walked forward to the table I noticed the jacket was not leather, but a deep green and brown flannel plaid lined with fleece, cream and fuzzy. He reminded me of the men in the yellowed Remington calendar that hung from the wall of my Grandpa's basement workshop, solitary and comfortable. He set the pot on the burner, lighting the flame with a match he had produced from his pocket. As the water heated, he stepped back to the edge of his campsite and took out a thin, silver digital camera. He took photos of his makeshift kitchen from every angle. Leaning against his sparkling blue Prius, he pointed the camera across his table, facing mine. If he saw me there he did not acknowledge it. I watched him there alone. His gait was tall and confident, striding without determination, simply from point to point, at home in his surroundings. My own steps cane-bound and measured, each foot carefully placed in the sloping dirt as I paced slowly the length of the campsite, staving off the building tension in joints at rest and encouraging circulation, one hand clutching the foam handle of my cane, the other buried deep inside the pocket of my hooded sweatshirt, retreated inside the sleeve. The man poured the now steaming water into a small tupperware half-filled with oats. He stirred it casually with a metal spoon, sitting down with a plastic mug of orange juice and a newspaper. He did not look up to see me watching, rubbing my hands, waiting for the others in my party to wake so we could prepare our breakfast.

Crutching to Soda Springs

Slow but steady - consistent thud against gravel
And grass - small reverberations through my arm and chest,
Like an aluminum bat struck gently just below
The sweet spot.

I watch the ground for slight changes in elevation -
Errant pebbles - the mountains rise behind me,
Snow-patched and unaffected.

Fifty yards ahead my friends graciously hike
A casual pace - they slow and swivel to remember
Where they are - my wife listens to me huff
And shuffle close beside.

The sign said .5 miles.

Larger gravel skids the rubber tip askew -
A series of rock-edged steps rise two feet
In total - they must be calculated, navigated -
Must be focus and a plan.

The path rises, rock-strewn and narrow - crutches dig
tight to armpits - Lean my weight against them,
Splaying aluminum arms for solid footing - the grass
Edging the dirt slips - a sharp intake of breath
Behind me.

A clear plateau too high to trust - I loose weight
From the crutch, trusting wrists- straining
To raise one more half-foot.

Let the others pass - It is not
Too long - Inefficiency and payoff
Do not concern those climbing

The sign said .5 miles.

The sweat and dust, sun
And time - the privilege of my wife scooping
A handful of Soda Springs - to taste
The rusty carbonation of a minor miracle.

One mile - back and barely standing -
One day I will be glad my knees
And ankles swelled for days - Couldn't sleep -
The sun through the trees - the nothing
Else but being in the morning in the woods.

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