“Exhaust” by Harold Stearley at Earthwalking

As I awake in the morning darkness, I see a hint of Grandfather Sun rising in the East.  A bit of a tease as I am shaking off my tent after forty-eight hours of continuous rain.

Inhaling, exhaling, I’m rebreathing my own exhaust in this confinement. Over and over again.  In – out, in-out, as the oxygen concentration decreases, and my carbon dioxide emissions continue to rise.

I can smell and feel the dark, dankness of mildewed canvass. Constricting around me like a massive snake. A death-grip of a hug that will take you to oblivion. If you don’t break free . . .

Not all days are good when you are on the road.

But this day was massively changing. For with the new day Sun came light, warmth, unbelievably fresh air, the scent of pine trees, and the soft cotton candy of snow at those higher elevations.

It was time to seize the moment. Control it. Manifest.

This concept or phrase still haunts me a bit.  That whole business about “Carpe diem.” “Seize the day.” Gnawing at me is a better descriptor, perhaps, for this type of haunting.  But it gnaws because the expression is true.

Perhaps more so than any other time in my life.

Each and every day, now, I must decide what it is I’m going to do.  That’s a heavy responsibility, because I don’t want to waste what little of time is left. It goes fast.

Run rabbit Run!

There is no retreat. I must decide. To fill every moment of it. And I’ve driven 2000 miles to be here, nowhere else.

And I’m not staying in that tent another day, that’s for sure!

So, I emerge from the darkness and enter the freshness of the wilderness. The revered home of a living volcano, high altitude, with snow-capped peaks. It is quite the contrast.

Fire and ice.

The hydrothermal features here include roaring fumaroles (steam and volcanic-gas vents), thumping mud pots, boiling pools and springs, and just plain steaming ground. Spots you don’t want to walk on or into, least you desire a visit to a hospital emergency room.

One lake here has a temperature of 125 degrees!

Into this Volcanic Wonderland, add the Subalpine Meadows, Seasonal Wetlands, and the charred remains from the 2021 Dixie Fire, and one might not be sure if they were in heaven or hell.

Smoking ground and the straight-standing monolithic, scorched remains of Lodgepole Pines give you impression of a tattered army, the wounded survivors standing guard over steep-sloping terrain fading into the blue hues of where the Sierra Nevada Range disappears, and the Cascade Range begins.

The day I arrived, the road still hadn’t been cleared of snow and rockfall, but today, the road is fully open. So I make a beeline to the Bear Creek Trailhead.

As I gather my day pack and ready the gear I’m bringing, I notice the leather on one of my boots has torn free from the soles. Duct tape to the rescue. And as I head out for the trail, I start to remember habits that I’ve forgotten.

Forgotten because I’ve been away from those trails for a while.

So yes, camera battery charged. I place it at the ready by my side as I drive remembering when a juvenile Black Bear surprised me on that Coastal Road a few years back, and I was able to get the capture I would have otherwise missed.

Once on the trail, I remember to do my 360s. Taking in all that surrounds me. Especially this one, since snowpack covers a lot of it. The rangers were kind enough to have placed small flags marking it, but the distance between these spots varies and can be wide, so best to familiarize oneself with what the trail looks like in reverse.

If I wish to return.

I time myself and watch distance by the step-count my Garmin records. I also watch Grandfather Sun and note his position. I need to know when to retrace my steps, and I need to pay attention to when my body says, “That’s enough, time to turn around.”

I descend into a valley for a glimpse of Bear Creek Falls. A glimpse because the wildfire destroyed the overlook and I’m not willing to risk joining the falls in its plunge downward. Instead, I choose to hike back out.

The Garmin gives me credit for Forty-Four (a sacred number) sets of stairs as I finish the last switchback up. The equivalent of a twenty-two-story building. Not bad, considering I’m out of shape and shaking off the stiffness of the past few days.

As I marvel at what is all around me, I often struggle for just the right words to transcribe these images. To convey them to others. And then, of course, in this process, I stumbled upon a couple of words worth mentioning with this endeavor.

The words I often search for are my attempts at describing my “qualia.” My subjective interpretation of what my senses have perceived.  In doing so, if I succeed, I can take others down that trail I hike.  Of course, the reader may add their own qualia to what they are seeing with their mind’s eye.

I want you to see the gray slopes, merging with white snow, interspersed with Whitebark Pine, Red Fir, Quaking Aspen, and Cottonwood.

I want you to smell the wildflowers that spot the trail including, Lassen Paintbrush, Tehama Copper Moss, Sundew, and the rare Panicum Grass.

It’s all a cacophony of visual delights; blurs of colors not yet reduced to names; the intoxicating aromas emanating from loamy soil, club and juniper mosses and those wildflowers; the meditational rhythms of streams and waterfalls; the taste of fresh snow on the tongue in June, the symphony of birds as they call out to each other.  This wondrous and spirit-imbued biomass.

It all brings a lustrous smile to the heart.

But imagine this, what if you lacked the ability to imagine?  Yeah, there’s a word for that too.  “Aphantasia.”  You could define this as having no mind’s eye, being incapable of mental imagery.

Wow!  I can’t even imagine that.

I remember once when I was working on a carpentry project of mine, and I tried to explain this to another person.  They were unable to grasp what I was doing at all.  Even though it was half-way finished.  I could see the completed project in my mind.  In fact, I visualized it before I even started.  How could one not?

I have the inability to imagine what it would be like to have the inability to imagine. 

Ponder that for a bit.  In the meantime, I’ll be shedding the exhaust and be out hiking – somewhere.

In Metta

Rabbit Hole # 1: I mention the responsibility of deciding what to do with oneself each day. It’s not like we don’t do this every day or that this is something new. But I’m retired now so my occupations, and inconsiderate bosses, no longer dictate my days. I’m single, so no other person is in my life to aid my decisions. These things change over time, but now there is a different type of urgency to take action.

Rabbit Hole # 2: This little adventure had a few curve balls. The uncertainty of roads being open, my car developed issues, and then there was rain – on top of the existing snow. There was also the uncertainty of how well my body would perform. Many challenges when you’re on the road. But it does add to the excitement. And as fate would have it, the fix for the car was 30 miles away with an extra 2 days of waiting. Not terrible, and I took my chances driving to that trailhead 30 miles in the opposite direction and Great Mystery gifted me with a most magnificent day.

Rabbit Hole # 3: The Raven. I swear Ravens were everywhere on this trip. They followed me. They spoke to me. In a sense, I felt like they were looking out over me. Raven’s symbolism, or its medicine, is pure magic, and there was indeed magic all around me. They are also known as shapeshifters and the bringers of creation. It is said that they can teach us how to “go into the dark and bring forth the light.” Raven speaks to the magician in all of us.

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