It was good to be warm. It was exceptionally good to be dry and warm. It was great to be dry and warm and have all my rain gear dry and packed away; the trifecta.
The sun did its job. I guess that, when unencumbered by storm clouds, it normally does. Then again, sometimes it manages to do its job even if there are storm clouds trying to disrupt it. The sun is just awesome like that.
Around noon I shed off my excess morning layers and found some food to squelch the rumblings in my stomach: crackers, canned ham, and dried apples. Yum; not sarcastic, truly. I know it doesn’t sound very appetizing but I do enjoy my backpacking lunches. The only thing they are missing is some cheese, but there isn’t a really good way to keep cheese fresh for so long without access to refrigeration. That is slightly problematic.
After eating I flipped over all of my wet gear so the other sides could soak up the sunny goodness as well, and then went in search of dry wood. The quest served two purposes: to limber up my muscles and joints and to procure the necessities for having a fire that evening. Some backpackers and other outdoorsmen (and women) shunned having fires while invading the sanctums of the backcountry. They argued that as a non-essential part of the experience it was one more way we were scarring and manipulating the natural order of things as we moved across the landscape and went against the tenants of low impact camping. I don’t disagree with that thinking on principal, but I enjoy having a fire and when I can I will almost always take the opportunity to have one.
Campfires warm my weary bones, relax my muscles, and help me stay out of the tent longer into the evenings. I already spend way too much time in the cramped quarters of that fabric enclosure and glom on to anything that helps me avoid it for as long as possible. Except, of course, in the mornings when I’m trying to avoid the cold air outside the tent for as long as possible.
After three days of rain, which I may have already mentioned once or twice, the search for dry wood took a very long time. That was expected. I ranged up the sloping hillside away from my camp and nearby stream trying to find that perfect combination of a thick canopy to provide partial shelter and previously downed trees that might have one or two dry sections hidden away amongst the shambled mess of a pile.
I went through two false positives, where conditions looked good but none of the wood had remained untouched by the rainy grasping fingers of the storm, before finally finding exactly what I had been looking for. There was even a stockpile of dry pine needles to use as kindling along with the twigs I was going to break off some of the dead branches. It’s all well and good to find dry firewood, but without kindling to start the process and catch the larger pieces I wouldn’t get very far. Matches can’t do the job alone, even as an Eagle Scout and having a trick or two up my sleeves.
I once successfully started a fire by rubbing two sticks together, in ideal circumstances, when I didn’t even need the fire and was just doing it to see if it could in fact be done. It could and it was. Yay me. However, I’ve thankfully never had to resort to rubbing sticks together to get a fire going when I actually needed a fire (for cooking or warmth) because it was a real pain. Even then, showing off my awesome skills, I’d still need kindling to get the fire going anyway. That’s just the way these things go.
I returned to my camp with my armload of fire necessities and stowed them within arm’s reach of where I planned on sitting that evening while enjoying the campfire. In setting down the pile I noticed the sad state of the fire pit. I unearthed my privy shovel from the long side pocket of my backpack and then unearthed the fire pit by scooping out the mud that had built up against the inside of the rock perimeter. I actually laughed out loud as I was doing this while I thought about the absurdity of language: how it was equally acceptable to use “unearthed” to describe discovering something that was previously hidden and to describe the process of removing earth from one place and relocating it to a different place.
Yes, I’m weird like that. That’s probably something good for you to realize early on.
Just as I finished getting the fire pit to a state I was happy with a sudden movement from the periphery of my vision caught my attention. I swiveled my head up to locate the movement but could not determine the source. Though the birds were still singing away, celebrating the sun I’m certain, I didn’t see any of them flitting through the trees. There were no squirrels busily collecting nuts. There were no larger animals either. I studied the spot I thought I had seen the movement for a few moments, trying to stay perfectly still while kneeling in a mostly uncomfortable position.
There was nothing clinging to the trunk. There were no birds in the low hanging branches of the tree. There weren’t even any unaccounted for shadows stretching out among those cast by the oaks and pines. Maybe my mind had played a trick on me. Maybe my eyes were just really tired. Maybe it had just been a bird swooping low through the trees in search of a mid afternoon snack. These were all likely possibilities.
Unfortunately, I didn’t believe any of them. I was certain I had seen something. The screaming pain in my knees forced me to move finally and I stood up. I groaned. My knees were not happy with me. I didn’t actually need to groan though. I let out the sound thinking that my movement and noise might startle whatever I had seen into moving again. No such luck.
I was used to spending time alone in the Sierra but that didn’t mean there weren’t certain aspects of doing so that I was uncomfortable with. I wouldn’t say “scared,” but perhaps I had heard one too many ghost stories at a young age and the mountains definitely always had a very haunting quality about them. Plus, while camping in Kennedy Meadows once with my family when I was very young we came across a crew taking casts of what they believed to be bigfoot prints. I don’t know how the prints got there, if they were placed there by hoaxers or anything like that, but I saw them with my own eyes and they looked real enough. They made me believe.
So, yeah, being alone in the mountains sometimes made me uncomfortable. Movement that could not be accounted for added fuel to that particular feeling. Despite the glorious warmth of the day a shiver ran up my spine.
After waiting an additional couple minutes to see if I saw anything else or if I could locate some clue as to what I had seen I gave it up for a lost cause and chose to decide it must have been a bird. That was the most likely culprit anyway and that fact that they were merrily singing away at the top of their longs lent some substance and weight to that theory. “Besides,” I said aloud hoping the sound of my voice would help calm me down, “if there were something sinister out there the birds wouldn’t be in full voice, right? Right.”
I made my way towards the creek in search of a cleaning tool to use on the shovel. Since all debris was swept towards the water there was nothing left in camp I could use. I located a small green branch that had snapped off and fallen to earth at some point during the storm and wiped the blade down with the still wet pine needles. The shovel didn’t come out completely clean but it was good enough to stow away back into my pack, which I then did.
While at my pack anyway, I grabbed my pole bag and creel, and then made my way back to where I had left my butterfly chair next to my drying stone. A nice trout seemed like a good accompaniment to dinner and since I had the rest of the afternoon to fish I felt there might be a decent chance of getting lucky and either finding a spot where the water was clean enough for the fish to see my hand tied flies or a fish hungry enough that it was snapping at everything that was falling into the murky water. I hoped for the former. Hungry fish don’t really make for good eating.
I put the two pieces of the pole together, attached the reel, and fed the line through the grommets. Easy, easy, and easy. Then I fed the line through the bubble which wasn’t easy. At some point growing up the companies making the bubbles my family used switched how they were putting them together and they went from being easy to string and nearly indestructible to being impossible to string and completely flimsy. Seriously, the things seemed to fall apart if you looked at them wrong.
Plus, I was certain the manufacturers had somehow figured out to install invisible rock seeking magnets in them. I’m not the best fisherman, I will readily admit that, as I just did, but I know what I’m doing and I swear those bubbles took on a life of their own sometimes after what should have been a perfect cast. You’d think that they could have put the technology behind developing invisible rock seeking magnets to better use but I guess I can’t really fault them for doing everything they can to bolster their profits. That’s just the type of society when live in and if I were in their place I’d probably have made the same choices. Money is good.
Money wouldn’t be able to do anything for me that day though, but I didn’t mind that.
After I wrangled the bubble onto the line I pulled a fly from the film canister I store them in. To accommodate the size of the stream I would be fishing, I selected a medium sized one, with nearly perfect hackle, and then double checked to make sure the eye of the hook was closed. Since I tied the flies myself I normally didn’t go through the trouble if the hook wasn’t any good; but, it didn’t hurt to check again. It would hurt to lose a fish to a shoddy hook.
Satisfied, I fed the line through the eye, created a loop in the line, and then twisted the fly around and around before finally slipping the end of the line back through the loop and synching the fisherman’s knot tight. I used the knife from my multi-tool to clean off the excess line and my fishing preparation was complete.
I’d like to say that I had forgotten all about the uncomfortable situation from before assembling my fishing pole, but as I worked my eyes strayed from time to time to the spot at the edge of my camp where I know I’d seen something. The longer that initial movement went unrepeated, though, the more comfortable I became and the more time I took before each scathing glance into the woods.
By the time I hit the water in search of trout I would have nearly forgotten the incident entirely. But, it wasn’t yet time to go in search of fish. They liked their meals just before the sun started to set when the bugs came out in droves. I liked my meals just before the sun went down too, but that had nothing to do with the volume of bugs available at that time and everything to do with wanting to eat as late as possible while still having natural light to cook and clean by. Thus, there was always a timing difficulty, a scheduling problem, which went with fishing.
I needed to postpone heading out as long as possible while still leaving in enough time to try several different locations in case the fish were being less cooperative than I wanted them to be, while also leaving enough time to get a fire started so I could cook the fish in the coals and eat before it got too dark. That usually meant heading out around 3:30 or so. No matter the month or location in the Sierra it pretty much always worked out that 3:30 was the perfect time to head out. It’s just one of those things.
With some time to kill, I leaned my fishing pole against a tree near my backpack and hung my creel from the short protruding stub of a broken branch next to it and fished a book out of the top flap pocket of my pack. Fun with words again, I couldn’t help but smile. We’ve already been over that. I grabbed my butterfly chair and moved it into the shade. I was finally warmed up and didn’t want to burn. I settled in and lost myself in the words for a spell.
As 3:30 approached I returned the book to the pack, and then gathered up the dry gear from the rock where it had sun-bathed all day. I folded it all up and stored everything in their proper places. As the last of it disappeared into my pack I sighed with contentment. I slung the creel over my shoulder, grabbed my pole and headed to the water. “Here fishy, fishy, fishy.”
To recap: sometimes the mountains make me uncomfortable (not scared), words are magic, I’m a bit of a weirdo, and I may get a bit too much enjoyment out of having things organized and put away. Then again, that last point probably falls into the “weirdo” category anyway, so you can ignore it.
Word Count: 2,376
Total Word Count: 6,094
Story progress: A little bit more character development and then a whole lot of, well, a whole lot of not much. With this latest addition I fear I’m trying to turn what might make a good short story into something longer than it should be. Am I being overly wordy? Maybe I can salvage it going forward once I get into the meat of the story.