The dog Ginger, car camping for two nights, trying to break the food addiction she picked up in Germany with the 24/7 on-demand treating and feeding, so hungry she’s licking a patch of dirt in the gravel road, licking what soon becomes a patch of ants! It’s the big, black military ants, with discrete body sections, and she’s twisting her jaws like it’s bubble gum, sometimes gagging, baring her teeth, and the kids gather round to watch — and later I catch Charlotte sitting with her in the shade, trapping and feeding them to her one at a time: but Ginger’s uninterested, just sits there blank as if she’s lost the taste, it’s now a matter of duty.
And though we’d planned to hike into the basin and camp there for our second night, we changed our mind and decided to stay — but a guy pulled down with his rig and a chocolate lab named Piper, said he was planning to stay here with about a dozen guys (but no drinking): a dads’ bible study group, from the nearby mountain town, Cashmere.
The area is so big for us, with an open meadow and a few other fire rings, and we’ve taken the largest spot, so we offer they can stay, no problem, and one of them brought a chain saw so they make up like a cord of wood and drag some pieces up for us: and later on it’s true, you can tell they’re not drinking, which is strange, to think men could meet like that in the wilderness and enjoy each other’s company clean and sober but they do: a couple sleep in the bed of their pickup and are decked out in camo, with knives on their belts, but that’s the worst of it.
We throw the football and I teach the kids how to roll out of the pocket, to go long, the flea flick, a tight spiral: and catch the ball NFL highlights style with a lot of flare — Kellen Winslow, Lynn Swann, Franco Harris — and there’s a natural time to quit, that’s unsaid, you can tell everyone’s just done, and Lily says I love you dad, I say I love you more, she says I love you most, and I say that’s well put.
I talk climbing with some of the guys, who are planning the nearby Iron Peak in the morning, and guess I judged them because of where they were from, assumed they were hicks but quickly learned I was wrong, this guy a fluvial geomorphologist who knows some of the scientists from Seattle I met when I was doing volunteer salmon research for a couple weeks, measuring the size of river rocks, carrying expensive instruments — and he asks more about what I do and what’s my story and I tell him, and he keeps smiling, and before we go asks if he could say a prayer for us, and we take our hats off, close our eyes, and it’s impromptu of course, talking to God, but so heartfelt it brings a tear to my eye, and I say thanks and tell the others for me goodbye.
When we pack everything up and leave it has the feeling of breaking down a theater set, how odd that was when I acted, you’d work on something for a couple months, you’d be at the theater most every night creating this imagined world and then with the end, the last applause, you’d get out the tools and start dismantling it all, and in a few hours it would be like the first day you came in to audition, bare.
That’s how the patch of earth looks where our tent was but I don’t linger or look back, though you can feel it drawing down with each bit that’s packed and put away I tell myself we’ll be back, though my kids are changing so much, so fast — and yet it’s the summer nights, when the light hangs on so long and goes a soft blue and seems it will stay that way forever, it really feels we’re out of the grip of time with the days so long, we’re immune to it.
And it must be my imagination, but it seems the river makes a different sound in the morning, a gentler one, that’s the steady white noise of snow hitting the windows, softly building but unrelenting, a long, slow burn.
Lily admires the Pilot, the fact we can sit in the back of it with the lift gate up while it’s raining, that it seemed too big for us but now it’s like a portable fort, and with the spots of mold on the shoulder straps and scratches the length of it on the broadsides it’s broken in now, finally us. And Charlotte wanted to go, I gave them the option, but she came around to staying — and we sat in the back talking about what it means to live in the moment but moved on soon to talk about something else.