The last days before the equinox

Fall’s moody shadows, pine needles, leaves: all that starts from above one day will drop, past the mountain peaks Jack Kerouac walked, they probably looked the same to him too, it’s hard to believe those photos of people in the past in black and white lived in the same color as we do.

Lily and I walked down to a patch of grass by the lake and I got out a cut of smoked salmon we shared with a knife and ate the skin, briny and tough like something you shouldn’t eat, like the foam backing from the packaging but it wasn’t, just tough and scaly, and I wondered if it was bad for me but didn’t care it was so good: the clouds made shadow patterns like claws skittering up the backs of the mountains, like bat wings unfolding in the contours and couloirs — and I made Lily lead the way to the lake which was tricky, you really had to follow the cairns, and she said something about being ‘such a klutz’ as we sat by the shore and I said no you’re not, don’t think of yourself that way, look at all you did — and I think she felt good, she was proud of herself for being so afraid but doing it anyway.

I pointed out the rust-colored lichen in splotches on the rocks, how the tint changed from bright orange to brick red, and wondered if kids could lose touch of what it’s like in the wild with all this technology or if I was overthinking it, but it’s probably worth overthinking.

How peaceful it was when the breeze stopped and a bird peeped, a sound cue for the wind to start up again, to hear it building and creep closer, the clarifying feel of it: how the blister sensation started on my heel when I was out with Brad like a pebble grating at first and then a hot ember until the sensation just died and I felt nothing, like the nerve endings crapped out, and how funny, the pain comes back once you regain the feeling, it makes you wonder which is worse.

Lily and I by the lake singing “Heaven is a Place on Earth” (ooh baby, do you know what that’s worth?) not caring if anyone else can hear, so happy we were singing-happy, like throw-your-arms-open-and-twirl-around-the-meadows happy: a glacier-fed lake, the end of the summer and the look of fall in places, springtime in reverse, gone from green to brown or purple, some gold: moss nodules by dried up streams, mountain rivulets, teaching Lily friction climbing, how to do the rest step, using your hands to find holds in the rock — spooking her on the dangers of dehydration and what it can do to the brain, most of it true, until she’s taking hits off my bladder every ten minutes and we drink a good two quarts going up.

I made a playlist and set the speaker in the tent with the door open so it flapped and beat like a living organ in the breeze, the sound of a slide guitar warping in and out and the round, bulbous rocks with cracks like plates on a giant tortoise we sat upon: I pointed out the silhouette of our shadows against some trees as the sun went down and Lily said we should get our sleeping bags out and sit here waiting for the stars, and we did.

Telling Lily about coming here with Brad, doing yoga poses in the morning on the rocks with his coffee. The pale green tent, my first one, abused by the winds of Mt. Rainier that bent the poles (two grown guys bouncing around inside it was so strong) and my friend Loren, who brought an avocado we forgot in one of the pockets that got smashed when we packed it down that time in the Olympics there was more snow than we bargained for and the Volvo snaked its way up the forest roads, a bad idea, but we made it — and the light on the peaks went honey colored, the color of Rosé, as the sun sunk behind Lily and me — and the sky got all Maxfield Parrish with pinks and electric blue and nymphs coming out to admire themselves and we watched the cloud deck move in to smother the mountain tops, I made a motion with my hand choking it — and it was like that time in the Alps we got socked in Eberhard just kept shaking his head and swearing but I didn’t mind, I loved the whole of it, when we came to a pass the mountains opened like a deck of playing cards splayed out and a couple guys were there selling schnapps so we bought one and toasted, and at the bottom of the lift there was a beer tent with live music, the sound of it got louder as we got lower, and when we got inside our glasses steamed up and we took the last few seats, and huddled in close and drank.

In the morning the wind was savage, it went hard for most of the night too; we had grit in our teeth and more on our faces, and I resolved to take our time packing out, to not look at my phone to check the time but to really enjoy it for once.

Lily and I agreed it felt like a week ago we started our trip when it was only 48 hours, and was it because of all the stimulation we crammed into such a short space that made it feel that way — and why most of the days seem to go by so fast when not much happens, they just stretch apart like fabric you can see through with nothing left but the threads, the rhythmic layering of days, not much at the end you can really point to.

Lily, a transition between seasons herself, still a little girl many times but with shades of who she’s becoming as a woman too: when she tells me the lake is the most beautiful thing she’s ever seen and I say I’m glad I can claim some responsibility for that, for bringing her here — she says ‘I can too,’ adjusts the straps on her pack, straightens her back — and the weatherman calls the time for sunrise to sunset, how it narrows like blinds, like the covers on a book slapped shut, and we’re all in balance again for just a day before we move on to see what’s next, we forget.

Categories: parenting, travel, writing

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26 replies

  1. Beautiful, Bill and what sounds like a lovely experience to share with your daughter. She’ll remember that I’m sure 🙂


    • Thanks Lynn — yes, we’re lucky we could do it before the summer is gone here. We also get wildfires I’m sure you’ve heard, and this area can have them around the perimeter, so some years I don’t get here at all — and in the spring/early summer it’s often socked in with snow so much you can’t get to the trailhead by car. There’s a kind of tree called a Golden Larch that looks like a pine tree (has needles) but the needles turn golden/rust colored like leaves do this time of year. It was just starting like that in some places, but if you go to this valley in late September, the whole valley is full of the larch trees changing, really pretty. Add a touch of snow, confectioner’s sugar!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It sounds stunning, Bill, though not a place to go if you don’t know what you’re doing by the sounds of it. Is that far from you or a bit of a hike? What a wonderful environment to spend some time in – nothing nearly so wild here, perhaps only in tiny patches, say in the far reaches of Scotland. The kinds of places that remind you humanity does not have complete control of the planet

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just a couple hours east, which is why I like it so much, for how close yet exotic it is. Some similar golds as we saw in the Highlands too 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • Sounds beautiful. And in the Autumn too – such a stunning time of year


  2. How old is Lily? I forget. This rings in my ears. I’ve had these frozen moments with my daughter as well. Not camping, of course. I’ve already given you my take on that. But crossing the threshold into a Broadway theater or turning the corner at the Met and being gobsmacked when she can separate the Van Gogh’s from the Matisse’s from the Pollocks. Same vibe. Different venue.


    • She’s 11 and Charlotte about 9. Frozen moments is a cool way of putting it; gobsmacked must be an English word, it’s good. Nice your daughter gets that art eye from you, what a neat thing for the two of you to share. I’ve been trying with this outdoor stuff for a while, and pretty good success with it, but you can’t go too far of course. I’d been waiting a few years to take her to this place which has a couple difficult sections, but she did well and said not only was it the most afraid she’d ever been, but the most beautiful thing she’d seen — so it’s nice those two can go together in a positive way. There were sections of the trail that are really narrow and it feels ‘cliffy’ on one side even though it’s not really, kind of a psychological thing — multiple layers of meaning and all that life lesson stuff you know.


    • It’s funny, those moments. This a.m., as Abby and I left the house, we realized neither of us had said goodbye to her mother. So we went back to the door and — whisper, whisper — sang “Goodbyyyye… goodbyyyye…” barbershop-style. Then we ran away to the car giggling. 15-years-old, man. The giggling doesn’t happen much anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The reminder that all things will fall makes for a comforting opening in a lovely piece. Your girl will always remember this trip, how hard the trek was and how good it felt afterwards or the singing or salmon and definitely the dangers of dehydration. As a mother to girls (and once a girl myself), I appreciate that you challenged her idea of being a klutz. Beautiful writing and sentiments in all, Bill.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Kristen, thanks. Yes, I’m amazed how much an entrapment (a self-entrapment) that klutz self-talk is, how self-fulfilling. I think my wife has a touch of that and I do in other areas of course. So getting out on the trail is a kind of practical exercise to work through that, I’m glad you can appreciate that. But I’ll admit, I thought about that story you sent me (don’t feel bad, I read it!) of that couple on the Applachian trail, and it kept me up a bit our second night, hearing footsteps out of the wind outside our tent, and so on…dun, dun, dunnnnh! Enjoy your day my friend. Bill

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh shit, well that was pretty stupid to send to an actual hiker as opposed to the armchair kind. I know you don’t need it, but my apologies. The danger of dehydration is one thing because you can do something about it. Evil is another matter, though I liked what the mom said about recognizing the beauty of even that particular area of woods. I forget the wording but their families found some peace and the hiking community came together, some light getting through.


  4. This inspired me to write something for myself today. Beautiful.

    Liked by 2 people

    • And that makes my day, right there. I would do this the rest of my life if just one person felt that way, some days…very cool…and thanks for letting me know, friend! – Bill


  5. Holy smokes! This is like coming around a bend to discover a broad, deep canyon just filling the frame of your vision — just so much beauty to take in it’s almost impossible. Just lovely all around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s the coolest comment ever. Glad you enjoyed Ross, and thanks for reading. These are the best times for being a dad. Especially not having to twist her arm to get her to come out with me…the window’s closing on that maybe…Bill

      Liked by 1 person

  6. “How it narrows like blinds…” I like that a lot. Makes you realize we’re on this thing that’s moving and something that seems steady like light and time are all warpy and wobbly.

    I have the same puzzlement with black and white photos. The world has always been in full technicolor, yet it feels like Jack London must have experienced it on a gray scale. Wait. What?!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Warpy and wobbly is right Kevin. Glad you got that puzzlement about the B&W vs. color; it struck me driving past those peaks off I-90 thinking about Kerouac, how firmly B&W he is in my mind yet it had to have looked the same. Just weird. Like world-is-flat weird. Good weird, I know you get that. Thank you, hope the temps are moderating for y’all down there. It’s a bit of heaven up here now, the birds concur. — Bill


  7. Reblogged this on First Draft and commented:
    My buddy Bill killing it! Check out his great and inspiring prose.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey I’m happy to be your buddy Austin, thanks: that means a lot to me for how much you read, and just in general. You got a birthday coming up or just passed? I was thinking about you and your Virgoan ways today, as you say. Glad you were able to read this and liked it. Cheers! Bill


      • Hi Bill. Yep actually tomorrow the 14th is my Bday, thanks for thinking of it. I got Virgo heavy. The atheist, rationalist in me wants to join the others in bemoaning the BS of Astrology, but empiricism and deep study of self and others has proven otherwise. When’s your B-day? Cool thing about Astrology is, like most things, there’s much more to it then meets the surface. Like you ain’t just one thing my friend. Multitudes and all that. Moon and Mercury. Sun beaming down on your Moma’s busted ass!

        Thanks for saying hello. Your post was great. An impressionistic portrait of self, which was much cooler than that sounds…

        Last chat spurred me to go do more Hippie research, went and read Ken Kesey’s book Demon Box, definitely some evidence in there of the spook hypothesis! Pretty cool though too. Book was phenomenal. I got One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, on deck here. Never read it, loved the movie though. Nicholson. Whew. There’s a motherfucker! Anyway, I’m rambling. As always, I look forward to reading ya.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Happy Birthday, Iowa! 10 minutes to go. Mine is November 30, thanks for asking. Cool you went deep on the Kesey, Oregon represent yo’! I have a Carhart vest I wear a lot and hopefully more in common with Ken than that. Life is good, enjoy your special day. Bill


  8. Our dreams have gone from B&W to colour. Does it change the view separated by time?
    (I have got to stop asking these paradoxical questions 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

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