Hat's in the wind
The cabin reeked of booze, sweat, and pot. A cloud of cigar and reefer smoke hung in the air and clung to our clothes. We grew facial hair and wore suspenders and put on hats.
I felt large, open and free. I felt the sea itself moving within as the earth’s great winds blew against its surface.
By Stacey Warde
In 1976, I thought I was a bad ass.
At 17, I had already signed for a three-year stint in the Army as an Airborne Ranger.
My world felt free and I wanted to go into the mountains, where I’d never spent any time in my whole life, other than a few quaint drives into the snow with my family.
I had decided to spend two weeks in June in the backcountry with Scott, Tom and Brian as a way to celebrate high school graduation.
We were going to pack into the McCabe Lakes, starting at a trail not far from the Tioga pass.
We’d planned our trip for months. We met at Scott’s home with our packs and ran through our lists, and mapped a route.
Scott’s father owned and operated the ski facilities at June Mountain. He was a big shot, and it felt good to be hanging out with a big shot’s son.
We started our trip with a couple of days lounging at the family’s lakeside cabin, smoking cigars and playing cards at night, drinking ourselves into oblivion, rolling endless joints.
We played the music loud, told jokes and talked about our upcoming trip. We mused over girls we’d fucked or would like to fuck. Scott said he used to twirl his girlfriend around like a propeller while she sat on top of him. We laughed trying to imagine the girl’s legs up in the air, twirling like the twin blades of a fan.
Tom kept us amused with his claims of genius. He possessed a mathematical aptitude that was off the chart, he said.
“By the time I’m 30, I’ll be a millionaire.” Tom’s passion for logic, though, made no logical sense. His real forte was art. He told us of an older Brazilian woman who had seduced him into her tub with wine and kisses and bubbles.
She had asked him to come draw pictures of her, which he did, obliging her request to sketch her nude figure. She sat, he said, with the most ease of any woman he’d ever sketched. And she was by far the most beautiful. When she asked him to bring her wine, he knew the woman was planning to teach him another art.
“The art of solving paradoxes?” Scott asked.
The cabin reeked of booze, sweat, and pot. A cloud of cigar and reefer smoke hung in the air and clung to our clothes. We grew facial hair and wore suspenders and put on hats. We were in the mountains now, and a whole new vista was opening before us. The cloudy haze of our first nights in the cabin would pass and soon we’d be on our way.
We took Scott’s family boat onto the lake, drank and smoked, fished and swam—the first lazy days of summer. All of it was new to me. I had grown up in the new suburbia springing up all over Southern California as thousands of acres of orchards were demolished to make way for housing and industry. The biggest outdoor adventure in my life up to this point had been throwing oranges at cars passing on the street, or watching the bullies hang John by his thumbs from a tree and leaving him there alone, deep inside the orchard, screaming: “Help!…Help!…Help!”
I had never come this far into the wilderness. I had never felt so much independence.
The profoundness of life held sway. We thought big and felt big. The world lay before us and soon we’d find out just how big it really was. Nonetheless, I felt strong, invincible in a way I’d never feel again, and soaked in life’s deep possibilities. June Lake shimmered beneath the Sierra blue sky, and the pines whispered in the wind as it scuttled over the lake and mountain boulders and into the distant wilderness. The late afternoon sun felt warm on my neck.
I felt large, open and free. I felt the sea itself moving within as the earth’s great winds blew against its surface. Everything felt connected—the lake, the ocean, the wind and the mountains, the scent of fresh pine in the breeze, a whole life before me, a life of my choosing. I sat on the cabin porch, peering across the lake and out into the flat distance, eager to start the next day’s journey.
That evening, Scott’s older brother crashed our party. He had recently graduated college and was on the mountain for the summer to help repair the lifts and do the upkeep on the ski facilities. He wasn’t amused with our offer to smoke a joint.
“I don’t smoke,” he said. “You guys shouldn’t be drinking here.” He turned to Scott, “This is dad’s cabin.”
Scott shrugged and his brother left.
“What the fuck was that?” Tom asked.
“He doesn’t know whether he wants to be a preacher or a lover man,” Scott said. “He’s up here fucking his mountain girlfriend, and when he goes home he’s Mr. Church. Don’t worry about him.”
“Not worried a bit,” Tom said as he finished rolling another fat joint and lit it. He sat with the joint and puffed it for a while before passing it on. He always did that. Once, he asked me to join him while he smoked an entire gram of hashish. I declined and watched him as he reclined in his father’s easy chair and packed the hashish into a pipe and smoked the whole thing. He gazed at me and smiled and never moved from the chair the entire day.
I thought he might pull another stunt like that until he passed the joint to Brian, who put down a trumpet he was blowing with great result. Brian seldom spoke but made wonderful music whenever he wanted to be heard.
“He’s going to turn us in,” Brian said as he expelled smoke from his lips, which he pursed for another blow on the horn, and handed the joint to Scott.
“Fuck ‘im,” Scott said. “Let’s play cards. Who’s dealing?”
Our first day on the trail, we hit weather.
The wind kicked up and the sky turned gray.
Scott’s brother agreed to take us to the trailhead. He made sure we’d checked in with the rangers and acquired our wilderness permit—just in case we got lost. After quickly checking our packs, we handed him our map route and waved him off. He’d pick us up in 10 days, he said. Just call and let him know where to get us. The truck lumbered back on the road toward June Mountain.
“How can he be such stiff asshole and nice guy at the same time?” Tom asked.
“He’s just like my dad,” Scott said as he hoisted on his pack. “Let’s go.”
As we followed him into the stony silence of the Sierra wilderness, Scott’s steps appeared large. The stones beneath his boots sounded hollow and full at the same time, somewhere in the balance between “this way,” and “that way.” Yet, Scott seemed to know where he was going, map tucked securely in his pack.
We walked in silence. I considered his passions as we walked in quiet wonder among the naked boulders and hairy mosses growing in the shadows and crevices. I’d watched him fall in love and take on a woman with complete abandon, as men will do when they feel large inside. Scott’s insides were huge. He could take in a lot: Women, books, music, good food.
In one moment, he could fill himself on the naked zaniness of spinning his girlfriend around like fan as she straddled him, and in the next, he’d quench his thirsty soul with religious icons, poems and readings from the Bible. He never expressed any doubts regarding the tensions between these, between body and spirit. To him, they were the same.
He could hold a Bible in one hand, and take a long draw from a joint in the other. He could belt out a jazz tune while Brian blew his horn, and make you feel like you were in church jazzed, singing gospel hymns.
We camped beside a mountain pond, half frozen, in the shadow of Shepherd’s Peak, somewhere above the tree line, where the wind began to whip a chill, and it felt like snow. I stood beside the pond, gazing into the distance, into the valleys and wide-open desert below, and wondered how far the wilderness might have gone, were it not for civilization.
On the far side of the sand-blown flats, somewhere beyond my view, were clusters of people organized in villages and townships and desert ratholes dotted with dusty trailers and torn curtains, carrying on and trying to build lives, roads, bridges, trying to make sense of their world as the planet hurtled through space.
“What the hell am I doing here,” I wondered. The wind kicked up again. The late sun drifted west behind a thick screen of clouds threatening rain or snow. The sky took a white-gray pallor and the stony landscape turned cool. The wind lifted my hat, held it aloft for a split second and whipped it fiercely into the half-frozen pond.
“Fuck, my hat!” I shouted, reaching wildly into the air in a futile attempt to save it from getting blown into the water.
“You all right?” Tom asked as he struggled against the wind, pitching his tent.
“Shit!” I shouted. “I lost my hat.”
I stood at the pond’s edge and watched my hat float away, taking on water. It started to sink.
One minute, every thing looks fine, I mused, and in the next, life’s treasures suddenly lift or slowly drift away, dropping from view and forever out of one’s reach. I watched helplessly as my hat slipped below the surface and sank. §
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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