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"Like Day And Night"

Trail Notes by Margaret Pettis, HUPC Board Member

"Like day..."

The hikers' trailhead was jammed with sleek Suburus, the horse loading lot with behemoth rigs. What had I expected on that last weekend before kids returned to school, when even one of their teachers was squeezing in one good hike she could cherish before settling into the brick world of freshman English?

My pack was heavier than usual; I'd lent my filter to some friends so had to carry full water jugs into Naturalist Basin. My burden made me regret, with growing nostalgia, the quick crossing of a little stream at which I had countless times a quarter of a century before stopped to admire, follow its mossy course upstream, and lift a silver Sierra cup of Giardia-free water to dry lips. I fell in behind the first of about 40 people I'd count along the trail that day: parents with day packs and toddlers, two women from Hawaii on their first overnight trip, three men leading three stout geldings loaded with fishing tubes and tents, several groups of scouts strung along the trail in moods matching their physical prowess and lopsided packs, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, llamas, dogs, the silent, the chatty, the sunburned, the grimacing all trudging to or from an August visit to the sunny High Uintas.

Maybe it was throwback behavior to my days as a Forest Service wilderness ranger in Idaho's Sawtooth Wilderness where "the quick interview" was required with all travelers to be noted later in my official journal their whereabouts (in case a rescue was warranted) and use patterns (for trail and site management, I guessed), but I still like to ask folks in passing where they are headed (so I can stake my camp elsewhere!) or what treasures they have found: a moose by the creek this morning, a coyote last night near the pass, an unknown owl, incredible hail and lightning or, as on this trip, the buzz about a fire above Pinto Lake.

At the Naturalist Basin turnoff, I left the "highway" and its occasional Lemonheads, Band-Aids, and Camel filters to climb up to the meadow below Blue Lake. There I tucked my tent back in the forest and spent the waning hours of the afternoon seeking wildflowers in rocky pockets of the cliff's garden. Defying Utah s drought, the sparkling stream enticed me through deep meadow grass to follow it further into the basin.

Indeed, a fire was burning from a boulder at the outlet of Jordan Lake I watched (and sketched) flames jump through the crowns of pines, aswirl with smoke in a vast cloudless sky. I imagined sitting on the same rock 400 years earlier, marveling at a fiery consequence of Sky's power. No water or chemical suppressant was dropped on this strike of lightning; it had nowhere to burn but up to the rocky summit and had thankfully triggered no militaristic zeal like the scout-ignited fire on the East Fork Bear River. With the unusual presence of a fire burning as naturally as a dipper dousing herself in a waterfall, I walked back to my camp, rummaged for an apple, and crawled into my purple cocoon .

"and night."

Moving in and out of my dreamy landscape, an owl had claimed the meadow. I opened my eyes: in her fullness, Moon cast long pine shadows across my little tent. My watch face glinted two o clock. Finding my moccasins with eyes rather than fingers, I slipped them on and emerged into a diamond-dappled sky. Night masqueraded in white, silent but for the owl who had moved to the meadow's edge.

On crunchy meadow grass, I walked to the stream. As I slept, Moon had silver-plated the cliffs. With eyes shielded by one hand against her brilliance I searched the ridge for Bighorn. Would he be out tonight? Or Lion, slipping from one patch of ancient trees to another? I looked deep into the sky, like the Old Ones who named for animals, gods and themselves each unfathomable speck of heavenly light that enveloped our spirits that night. The agelessness of those mountains, thrust high in a rosy robe of quartzite and krumholz, held me in a timeless Now. With Moon my ghostly companion, I walked back to the tent and returned to night's stories.

Five-thirty. Morning birds knew dawn's schedule. I too rose and broke camp. What starlight was not lost to insistent Moon, now settling far off Earth's western curve, showed Orion so close that I imagined I could touch his spangled belt. The pull of Moon was undeniable; shouldering my pack in the direction of the trail, I fell in once again with steady companions the silver orb ahead, her work done for the day, and, announced by the long shadow cast before me, rising Sun at my back.

It was a charmed retreat. For two and a half hours I walked the forest path, feeling the forest's minute movements and flecks of first light, with no other human encounter. The shadowed side of a meadow shimmered in warming frost. Scudder Lake, hemmed in pond lilies, mirrored Bald Mountain and Reids Peak for those early enough to see.

Swapping leggings for shorts, I made my way to the trailhead, hefted my pack into the truck, and turned down the road toward Wyoming. At Ruth Lake's clogged trailhead an errant pair of retrievers wearing bandannas loped across the highway to their climbers, packs looped with biners and ropes. When we slowed for cattle on the road, I could see someone stumbling, brown bottle in hand, through the cavern of the high-walled Bounder that had rocked and spewed exhaust for miles in the lane ahead of me. At Beaver Creek a couple of hefty men in camo were being shown the finer points of their rental ATVs. I felt myself inescapably miring in the human flow.

But as I cruised down the mountain road, a patch of bright yellow leaves caught and spun in my wake. I knew I would return another time through that tunnel of windy aspen to meet once more Orion and Owl.


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