Magoo eats it
The starkness and beauty of the place felt unsettling: Snow and sheets of ice, the jagged edges of a mountain, mosses, low grasses, and rivulets of water everywhere.
Stark gray, blue and charcoal-colored stones popped through the snow and climbed into the sky, one on top of the other, until they became one and formed a jagged crest cutting into the cobalt blue above.
Magoo eats it
Scott’s dog gets in the last lick
Editor’s note: The following story is part of a series on culture and religion in America.
By Stacey Warde
We didn’t tell the rangers about Scott’s dog, Magoo. Dogs aren’t allowed in the backcountry of designated wilderness areas.
Dogs are nuisances in the wild; they attract bears and leave their piles in the wrong places. They bark and harass wildlife; they run after marmots.
Magoo, a black lab mix, kept quiet and seldom barked, unless provoked. He was a good dog, but temperamental.
Scott loved his dog and tormented him. They were like lovers. He’d pet Magoo, who’d lick his hand, and then Scott would pull on Magoo’s tail until he barked, first to say, “Stop!” A second bark meant, “Goddammit!”
Magoo carried his own orange pack with silver bowl attached. The pack rested over his back like a saddlebag with pouches on either side.
Scott had packed the pouches full with Magoo’s dog food, enough to last a few days. By then, we’d hit Tuolumne Meadows where we’d re-supply before returning to the backcountry, where Magoo wasn’t allowed.
We broke camp mid-morning for the crest to hike down, into the Upper McCabe Lake area. We first had to climb over the ridge before descending.
We trekked through snow as the June sun warmed our backs. Magoo held steady and carried his load with no complaints. He stumbled now and then and we lifted him over the more difficult boulder-hops.
“Magoo’s a good dog, Scott,” I said as Tom and I held him aloft for Scott and Brian to lift him up to the next boulder.
The passage down started to get a little hairy. We could see the lake below but it would take time and unhurried traversing across exposed boulders to get down there safely, and without falling to our deaths.
Magoo was the first to sense danger and resist moving onward. He pushed his front paws straight out against the rock, and resisted being nudged forward. He wouldn’t budge.
“Fuckin’ Magoo,” Scott said.
We decided to let Magoo have his way. We found a place behind us, stopped to rest, take in the view, eat a snack and smoke a joint before attempting the exposed crossing.
“This is the best, man.”
Magoo scraped his bowl against the rocks as his tongue and muzzle swiped it clean. We gazed at the distant ranges, the lake below, where melting snow and ice slid slowly into its belly on the near side.
Stark gray, blue and charcoal-colored stones popped through the snow and climbed into the sky, one on top of the other, until they became one and formed a jagged crest cutting into the cobalt blue above. The fierceness of it finally struck me, the pointed hardness piercing the sky, the placid lake below, frozen in places, vulnerable to wind, ice and sun.
“How does anything survive up here?” I asked.
“You don’t see any houses,” Tom said, as the herb kicked in and he got that goofy grin.
“You’d be amazed at the amount of life there is, right here under our feet,” Scott interjected. “Stuff under your boots just fucking away like crazy.”
“If I had to live up here I’d be fucking away like crazy too.”
“Yeah, living like this makes me horny.”
“That’s all you think about isn’t it?”
“Nah, man, think about the risk you’re taking just being here, sitting on this rock, out in the open like this. You’re vulnerable and you know it, and you know the species must survive, so you get horny and wanna fuck like crazy. That’s life, man.”
“Sure, that’s life. Just keep your horniness to yourself.”
We reached for our packs. It was time to go. Scott moved first. He surveyed the tilt on the face of the next boulder we had to traverse. The granite’s angle posed a threat to our safety, he said. The rock itself appeared smooth. He ran his hand across the boulder.
“It’s a little slippery,” he said, his face flushed with concern. He looked above us, beyond the unsafe passage, seeking an alternate route. “We’ll have to slide across this boulder. It’s exposed.”
“What does that mean?”
“It means that if you slip, you’re going to fall. I just can’t see from here how far,” he said, looking over and out into the space beyond the boulder. He leaned over as far as he could to see the bottom. “I can’t see how far the drop is. But this is the only way to go. Wait until I get to the other side.”
He grabbed his pack and slipped across the boulder with the ease of a crab. He stopped on the other side, took off his pack, looked at the drop again and turned to face us. “Shit!” he said, smiling, breathless, “it’s a long fucking drop.”
“Magoo’s next,” he said, holding out his arms.
Magoo barked as Tom, Brian and I picked him up and lifted him to the boulder. “It’s OK, boy.”
He barked again. “He’s swearing at you Scott.”
“It’s OK, Magoo,” Scott said. “Ease ‘im across,” he told us, then, “Come ‘ere!”
Magoo scuttled across the boulder and jumped to safety past Scott. He plopped himself down on his belly and turned his head to scowl at Scott. “Good boy, Magoo!” Scott said. The dog continued to scowl at him.
“OK, who’s next?”
“I’ll go,” Tom said. He walked across, his weight low, knees bent, body leaning close to the boulder. He jumped off and landed next to Scott and together they urged Brian to cross. Brian slid across sideways, back to the rock, looking into the valley, feet pointing downward. He froze. He started to slide down the boulder.
“Fuck!” Scott and Tom reached for the collar on Brian’s jacket and the back of his pack and pulled him to safety. He turned and scrambled off the rock.
“You all right?”
“I’m fine,” Brian said, shaken, looking at the place he’d nearly fallen. “Jesus.”
“Face the rock when you cross,” Scott advised me. “Don’t look down.”
I had no sense of the actual danger until I reached the other side. When I got there, I stared at the rocks below and tried to guess how far. “It’s at least a couple hundred feet,” Tom said.
“It’s more,” Scott corrected.
We continued our trek to the Upper McCabe Lake. Once we arrived, we sat breathless, leaning against our packs, sucking up the mountain air. The starkness and beauty of the place felt unsettling: We were surrounded by snow and sheets of ice, the jagged edges of a mountain, mosses, low grasses, and rivulets of water everywhere. I felt we didn’t belong.
In the days ahead, though, we had plenty of fresh mountain water to drink and virgin trout to eat. We fished and ate well. We jumped into the icy lake and howled like dogs. At night, we sang and told stories until finally we tucked ourselves in, between two enormous granite rocks that leaned against each other and formed an impenetrable teepee, a barrier against wind and cold, in the middle of an alpine meadow.
Magoo kept good company and never barked.
We camped three nights before deciding to leave the Upper for the Lower McCabe Lake, a much easier and more leisurely hike that would take us back inside the tree line.
I was ready for it.
The lush green forests in the distance below held a perpetual allure, like emeralds, even while we feverishly explored the naked silence of the rocks and ice above.
The hike down was mostly uneventful, except for the stony bounce in our steps as we smoked dope and tripped along the smooth arms of the mountain’s limbs, dropping to lower elevations.
Lower McCabe felt warm. The trees offered shelter from the sun. We camped beneath the trees, not far from the lake. We put up hammocks, rested, swam in the lake and washed off.
I shat forest green.
“How did that happen?” I wanted to know. “I’ve been eating fish and dried food.”
“It’s the air,” Scott said. “It’s cleaning you out.”
“You woulda thought a bear did it.”
Scott reached inside his pack for a towel, put on his swimming trunks and said he was going to paddle out to the rock in the middle of the lake and sun himself. He whistled for Magoo, who lay quietly beneath Scott’s hammock, and trudged into the lake. “Come on, Magoo!”
Magoo stood and shook himself off and turned toward the lake. He strolled, as though the thought to go swimming had originated with him.
Scott turned himself and lay back on the sheet-glass surface of the dark lake, holding the towel above his head, pointing his body toward the rock. The sun glistened on his wet, black hair and the green lake surrounded his face. He whistled again. Magoo loped into the water and began paddling out to Scott. “Keep paddling, Magoo. That’s it, toward the rock.”
Magoo dogpaddled past Scott’s head and pressed hard for the center of the lake. Scott reached over and grabbed his tail and held on while scissor-kicking his own legs. “That’s a boy, Magoo.” The dog panted hard as he neared the rock’s edge. He pulled himself up and Scott let go of his tail. Magoo tried to bark at Scott—twice, but it sounded more like a hacking cough. It was a definite scold. He rested for the longest time while Scott stretched himself out on his towel to soak up the sun. Magoo simply laid there, head up, tongue hanging, panting, waiting, staring ahead, not paying any attention to Scott.
Then, without warning, after catching his breath, Magoo jumped back into the lake and swam for shore, toward our campsite. I decided to explore the woods surrounding the small lake. Brian set out earlier in the morning for a hike of his own. Tom slept soundly, snoring like a bear in his tent.
I returned half an hour later to find Scott still on the rock, sitting, preparing to jump into the water. At camp, Magoo lay contentedly beneath Scott’s hammock, chewing up the last bits of Scott’s straw hat. §
Part I of this story can be viewed here:
Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at swarde@rogue voice.com.