The Head of the Snake: Backcountry Ballad in ‘E’

Superstitious, sentimental, stupid: put these together and that’s me going back into the mountains to get in shape again. So my first outing had to be perfect and auspicious and just how it used to be five years ago, when I was five years younger.

I got tinnitus from the last Sonic Youth album, hitting it too hard with the earbuds in the angry pre-dawn hours. I wanted to be that guy you come upon who’s just getting off the mountain when the sun is coming up, climbing alone in the dark for hours, doesn’t say a word when you pass him.

I didn’t like people getting ahead of me and didn’t like the sense they were gaining on me, below. I learned to drink water and breathe at the same time. I got good at snot rockets and sliding my ax in and out of the small of my back like a weapon, like a fucking Orc chieftain.

And so I set out with our well-behaved dog Ginger, the only car at the trailhead. But as I did, a pick-up arrived and just then a metal clanking began and continued the entire way up the valley, a clanking that poked my brain in wonder of how or why, and regret I left my earbuds behind, how it could almost be music at times but more likely, work.

It’s a trail I didn’t think I had been on before because I’ve started to lose track, either through all the stuff I’ve had to remember or all the effort I put in to forgetting, I wasn’t sure. But then I came upon a section and knew I had been here before with a girl from the late 90s.

I started to say we dated but that’s not true, and to say I courted her is also bad diction. She was in much better shape and I let her go ahead of me on the trail because I liked the look of her from the back, and she liked to lead.

She ate yams for meals: just a yam tossed in the microwave, eaten with a kitchen towel standing up. She had a famous climber boyfriend she talked about who she could only tolerate when he was high, it seemed to soften his ego. She encouraged him to get more, started to source it for him.

After we stopped seeing each other I went to see the famous boyfriend give a talk about climbing at a local bookstore. I stood in the front and watched him and thought about dropping crude remarks that would make him wonder how I knew what I knew.

The clanking dulled as I got higher and the morning sun hit the tops of the trees, and it was like a scene shifting as the clanking grew more distant now, the sound of metal and military campaigns, creaking wheels, armies the size of ants seen from the vantage of the Orc chieftain, the head of the snake.

I found a stick of lip balm and opened it, compared the environmental impact of throwing it out to risking disease, and pocketed it. “Coconut Pear Hydrating Solution,” and another girl from the 90s, my boss at the college cafeteria, a Bengali, who used creams and lotions with soft scents. Cooking a stir-fry for her on our first date, the closest I could get to her culture from a culinary standpoint, then teaching her the western style of making out, heavy on the tongue, sticky college sofas.

The Orc chieftain has yellow eyes like a snake and grooves in his face, a blade for an arm, probably tinnitus. Ginger and I tag the top and descend, and the clanking resumes, and now I know it’s gone on too long it can’t be music. No one would play that long for free.


Categories: humor

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Can I tell you that I often get discouraged about my own writing after reading your posts because your writing is so terrific? It’s haunting and beautiful–

    I was just going back through the post–just about every sentence is intriguing and could stand on its own as the beginning of a short story (I realize this is memoir, but I may have told you that I read your blog for a long while unsure of what was truth and what was fiction). Anyway, I especially love the line “She ate yams for meals” because it’s perfect: revealing so much (and perhaps also so little) about the character/person.

    And also that bit about being unsure if you had hiked there before: “It’s a trail I didn’t think I had been on before because I’ve started to lose track, either through all the stuff I’ve had to remember or all the effort I put in to forgetting, I wasn’t sure.”

    Really wonderful stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Karen, thank you — but don’t be discouraged. I know what you are saying and feel similar when I read some writers, but don’t be discouraged please. I would hate to have that effect…as a hard-working writer you know it’s a funny thing and just takes time and practice, like anything else. I’m glad you liked this post and really appreciate hearing from you; thanks for taking the time and don’t over-think it, you know! Life is good, I wish you and yours the best of times with this new year, this day. Best, – Bill


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