The following is an excerpt from my recently published novel, 'Wilderness'.
The South Fork of the American River, rushing down the mountain through the canyon like a freight train in places, and in other places, calm, collected in reflected pools, deep enough to jump from overhanging rocks, or float around in on a lazy summer day. But it was just early spring, still cold, so we were not going to be getting wet, at least not intentionally. About twenty minutes up out of Placerville, we parked off of Mosquito Rd., just the other side of an old suspension bridge that connects a population of rugged individualists living back in the hills to the conveniences of a moderate sized civilization in, and around, the Placerville region. A lifeline kind of bridge on a dangerous curvy road that has always kept the out for a Sunday drive kind of folks away from the area. It’s a pretty steep walk down to the river on a narrow trail, maintained only by the nightly procession of deer, raccoon, and other animals making the trek down the precarious hillside for a drink of cold, clear, refreshing mountain water.
This wasn’t Golden Gate Park, and Kevin was like a free man in paradise, if just for this one day. After reaching the water we continued to explore upriver alongside the ever-changing landscape. That’s the thing about these rugged mountain rivers, every fifty feet, or so, they’re a completely different environment, a different terrain, a different topography, a different setting. The rocks change, the water changes, the current changes, the view changes, as does our relationship to it.
Like teen-agers on peyote at an amusement park, we were scanning the shallows for crayfish, salamanders, trying to catch fish in the shallow pools with our hands, turning over rocks to try and find garter snakes curled up, undisturbed, until our rude intrusion settled unsuspected, and unwelcome, upon them. We watched dragonflies in aerial acrobatics, frivolously courting, what seemed like no fly in particular, and scanning the surface of the water for bugs to bring home to their main squeeze for supper.
We watched a beaver intently gnawing logs on the shore upriver as if he had to get his shelter built by the end of the day or his partner might shack up with the old guy further upriver in the bigger house. In the blue sky overhead turkey vultures circled a decaying carcass, floating lower to the ground with each pass around its lifeless body, eventually landing like a glider would, gently touching the ground, but then standing around waiting for the flock commander to sample the first hors-d’oeuvre of the morning meal. A red-tail hawk watched from the highest branch of the tallest tree, content to do his hunting solo, and for game that still might have a fighting chance.
We spent the morning exploring, up and down the riverbank, both sides of the river, rock-jumping back and forth across the water like fresh cadets on a Boy Scout obstacle course, feeling more like fifteen than mature men in mid-life. We joked about how you can make a man out of a boy, but you can’t necessarily ever take the boy out of a man. Life gets pretty serious at times in the grind of the day-to-day, but when you get out on the river, or the mountains, or the lakes, there is a restoration that occurs inside, a re-coupling of the natural world with the nature of man, a returning to the simplicity of a less complicated life, a re-unification of one’s body with one’s perpetually dormant soul. It is something I experience every time I get away. Every time I get away. And it is something I don’t ever take for granted. . . . . .
. . . . . . We took it kind of easy in the afternoon, content that we had already lived the best part of a pretty remarkable day. I did some writing. We sat around and rested, reflected, listened, and observed the amazing display of natural motion around us. The light and shadow changing shape on the water, the rainbow spray of mini-falls tumbling over boulders, the sound of water finding its path, winding its way down river around rocks and logs, fighting cross-currents even to establish its own direction. The sound of unknown animals moving around, and through, the brush up the hillside behind us; the continuing sight of that one lone red-tail hawk, unmoved, and undisturbed, by all the unusual activity on this remote, but emotionally accessible river.
Kevin and I drove home in relative silence, content to let the day speak for itself. We had some pretty incredible visual images to dance around with, but none more captivating than the diminishing sky we were driving into as we made our way back down the mountain.
The tranquil sky, stretching wide across a lingering horizon, painted with the loving hand, and expertise, of one who knows what stimulates and invigorates the souls of men such as ourselves. I do not suppose the artist chose to paint it for our pleasure alone, although I’d like to think that, but for others as well. I can only hope that everyone else on the planet is finding a moment to embrace it. The expanse that unfolds so dramatically before us creates, and enables, a similar expanse inside of me, from deep within the hidden recesses of my faith, and of my sometimes pain, extending outward now, opening my arms to the possibility of the unforeseen, the unexpected, and the mostly undeserved.
The tranquil sky. It is an expanse that moves me to move beyond myself, beyond that which is hidden even, that which is broken, in disrepair, or disarray. It is a provocation to rise above the weakness that is my own tired body, and the bitterness that is too often buried in my heart; above that which is frail, that which is decayed, and decaying, that which lays dormant collecting the insincere accolades of its own apathy, and that which seeks to extract the divine from its partnership with my quietly emerging soul.
It is not every evening that the sky offers itself so willingly to me. But when it does it announces itself like a trumpet call from across the great divide. The sky, I believe, seeks to interweave its nature with my own. A man would be a fool not to pay attention . . . . . .