The trail description said it gained 700 feet, but I didn’t remember it all happening in the first five minutes. I didn’t read the notices at the trailhead or carry a map because it’s just a canyon, one way in, one way out. It’s what happens when you have just enough experience, you start thinking you’re above common sense.
I had to coax Ginger to cross the scary suspension bridge by holding out cold pizza and walking backwards with my pack on as the bridge swayed and the river below looked green and deadly. Ginger’s been described as an unusually timid dog, perhaps due to an inverted vulva — something I’d never heard of, the kind of thing you learn about when you start having kids and dogs, you can’t take anything for granted.
The trail up the canyon crosses a creek a couple times, but the creek looked dry which didn’t make sense, this time of year. The memory plays tricks because memory is subjective, subject to change. I thought wouldn’t that be something, if I found myself in the wrong canyon, and pressed on.
There is a rule in the backcountry, if you don’t know where you are stop and go back to where you did. The trail was splintering off into game trails and although we passed a coyote carcass I read about online, it could have been any coyote carcass; I wasn’t even sure it was coyote.
I turned around to view the trail from the opposite direction, to remember that day in March I was last here and scan for a match, but nothing. So I turned around and we marched back.
When we got back to the trailhead we’d lost an hour and a half by going left instead of right. The fog hadn’t lifted and made everything look mystical, sage accented with frost. Before I left my job, my stylist and guru said I’d have to get into the cracks and crevices to figure things out, so here I was.
We made camp and set about gathering wood. Alone in a camp with a muddy, frosty patch to sleep on there’s not much else to do but gather wood and ration your beer. It was stamped in me from an early age when the cement was still wet, but I was wasting time wandering up dead-end canyons convinced I was going the right way, trying now to remember who I was when I believed I’d be someone else.
It’s painstaking, meticulous work gathering wood. Rummaging through the clutter of the forest floor, then breaking it all down into logical parts, stacking, drying it. I found a fallen tree in a stand of cottonwood and yanked it out like a lance, 12 feet long, feeling pretty butch. I then smashed the tree with a large rock bit by bit and organized it with the larger logs for later.
We put on the iPod shuffle Ouija board to consult with the living and the dead, both vie for your attention in the wilderness and deserve it.
All signs were pointing to a confrontation with coyote, either the corporeal or metaphysical. The fire got the wicked blue flame in it that makes it look fake, like it was turned on with a remote control. I sat there proud of my fire as the night fell and the fog held on, and the creatures came out and I knew it was only myself I had to fear, they would have to reckon with me too.
Fires aren’t much different fire to fire, and anyone can learn to start one with a little technique and patience. There’s an infinite number of ways to approach a story but stories aren’t much different story to story, unless you get scientific about it and start cutting them up.
I wiped the condensation off the flask, thought of my step-dad, toasted him, and settled into a corner of the tent with U2’s The Unforgettable Fire, the charmed quality of a band, stark and desperate. I got to thinking my dog was a wuss, cowering by me not for loyalty, but out of fear. She looked like a photo of an old lady wearing a bonnet.
In the morning we set out for what was left of the moon and my water was near frozen, but I got a fire going in the dark and made coffee, broke everything down and crossed the creek back up the mouth of the canyon, home.