Saturday, September 05, 2009

Atop the mt. - 4

[Last installment of what I call a quasi-vision quest. Read first installment here
and the previous one here.]

The dog and I have three choices for where to bed down for the night. The first niche rests on a ledge surrounded by four-foot boulders, facing southwest; it offers the widest view, and I judge it exhilarating at sunrise. Problem is, it's so well enclosed, my dream-bears could unexpectedly come upon us in the dark, through no fault of their own. The second is on the plateau, but affords only bare rock for sleeping space, since large red ants have colonized everywhere else. So we take the third on the face of the mt., which provides some safety from oscine or insect. There's space enough for the dog and a smaller one for me to keep watch. I don't plan on sleeping; that's not what I'm here for. I take my last photo.

After securing Manchas's food high up a scrawny pine and my unopened crackers on a ledge where neither can be reached by Mr. Bear, and as the sun caresses the crest of the western mountains, I light my second cig and wait. For what?

Not unlike early Great Plains indigenes, to my rear I can see "Pike's" Peak, which is sometimes still visible all the way to the Kansas border. Unlike those first Americans, I wasn't drawn here by any belief or understanding of the Great Spirit embodied in that rocky mountain. I am very like campers and tourists who consider the area more suited for pitching tents and hill-climb racing. A crown on the eastern mountains faintly gleams of the urban lights of Colo. Springs. How far away have I really come?

But the dog and I are alone. We're so high up, no park noise reaches us, no porch lights, though throughout the night, jet engines and airliner's flashing lights high up too often pass over. As daylight leaves us, most of the birds cease their activity and communing. One last drink of water for both of us, to toast the coming night.

After maybe an hour of starlight my mind ceases dwelling on daily concerns. I don't need to worry, plan or decide anything about the house, the job, the truck or the world I left behind, even though only for this night. So what then will I "think" about? The brain requires something to occupy itself and exist, no?

Some time later I realize how "by myself" I truly am, and not simply in the sense that no one sits beside me. More, I'm not in a room by myself, surrounded by my electronics, furniture, paper and constructed walls, enclad by my modern man-ness, there's little here of creations or possessions of artificial making. I have the small thin blanket, clothes and bare necessities. No tent or sleeping bag to enclose me; I won't even make a primitive man's fire to keep away my bears or relieve the night chill when it comes--the closest I'll get to deprivation. I consider going totally bare skin, but am too civilized and don't want to shock Manchas.

So what's the deal about being alone out here? First, it's disorienting. The organic and inorganic that normally root you to society's concrete foundations are absent, and I miss them. Light waves of vertigo flow through me, as if I'm repeatedly on the verge of falling from lack of references to hold onto. I keep righting myself, and my mind grasps for reliable and familiar objects, purposes and goals, but they're not there. Right before the sensation threatens to reach a high level of anxiety, it stops. It will flash back later, but in minor, tolerable versions.

Now something else threatens: my heartbeat is the loudest thing about, no owl hoots tonight, no cougar snarls here. Silence seems to promise only boredom. Will I not make it till dawn because I died of that? How unromantic. How . . . boring.

Manchas stirs, twirls and circles to find better footing. He lies down and attempts to hold onto the slope with his nails to keep from sliding. He does this a few times through the night, but will succeed in getting much more sleep than I.

I take a swallow of water. It tastes incredibly good, more refreshing than I can remember. We're down to a quart.

I peer into the darkness under the trees where the stars don't reach. I imagine primitive man doing the same, with his survival possibly at stake if he fails to notice something. I remove my glasses to see as he saw and wonder how my genetic line made it through those times. With such poor vision, my ancestor must have easily qualified as bear food. Yet, I'm here, so survival of the fittest must not be the whole story. Pure luck played some part.

After awhile of the darkness-peering I look to the heavens. I haven't googled what I saw and don't plan to. At the time I assume it is some optical imprint from staring into darkness. Everywhere between the stars fills with a mosaic, that reminds me of Palenque inscriptions carved in stone there, but these aren't Maya. Mine are abstract, without characteristic design, lacking rational meaning. Their complexity, intricateness beg capturing, drawing onto paper that I have but won't use. Their beauty stays in my mind to this day. At some point they fade into the black of outer space. I assume I can make them appear again by repeating the process. I probably didn't have my vision, but I feel slightly exhilarated, anyway.

I expected the wind would kick up during the night, but it stays light, hardly reaching us, down as we are below the crest. A couple of gnats and horseflies visit briefly, about all the wildlife that makes its presence known to us. This will not qualify for an episode of Wild Kingdom.

The near full moon is high up now. At least I can see Mr. Bear if he tries making it down the two narrow paths to us. But I doubt we'll be entertained by that; it's too damn steep. Manchas rises, this time not just to find a better spot. He stares fixedly, to the crest looming above us, listening for something. It's nothing large or he would bark. Probably a chipmunk or such. He'll do this a couple more times tonight, again never barking. Just staring. Maybe wondering. He finds a new spot.

I can't find my own. I should have done more removing of smaller rocks to make a comfortable bed for the two of us. I take naps, but the mt. doesn't allow me more than a few minutes of sleep. My shaking knees awake me from what will be the last nap; they shake from the cold. They won't stop. I don the sweatshirt. It doesn't stop the knees. Then it's all my legs. I wrap them with the blanket. That doesn't work either.

I do the math. It averages fifteen degrees cooler here than the maybe fifty-five in the Springs. That means it's something like forty, maybe colder. No wonder I shake. The Boy Scout motto pops into my head. Dummy me may be prepared for a vision, but not for the mt.'s cold. I could locate wood to build a fire, but that might take me out of what we climbed so high to find. Now to see if a little temperature deprivation will help bring that vision.

Manchas of course isn't shaking. Curling up with him doesn't help me enough to make it worth tolerating his dog smell. He's my companion, comrade in this, but there's an olfactory limit to all friendships. The sweatshirt and blanket feel like they've lost their thickness. My shivering becomes uncontrollable. It's too dark, unsafe to go down to where it's undoubtedly warmer. After what feels like forever, I give up trying to control the uncontrollable and let the cold in.

My body is hallucinating. Not visually, not through any of the five senses. Some other way. Maybe it's an early frostbite symptom. Don't matter. I just shiver. My body feels different. Disconnected. Sighing. Restful. And then the shaking stops.

But the feeling doesn't. Where the cold and the mt. took me and my body, I don't know. It stays on, in me. Now weeks later, it's still here. Another place I can be, put myself into. It's good. How long it lasts doesn't matter. I'm certain I can produce it again.

And it's more than physical. I look at many things now as if I'm turned sideways, from an angle I think others might not see and that I didn't have before. I won't explain all of what I see from there, because it won't necessarily mean anything to anyone.

At sunrise I don't go atop the crest to check what Manchas had heard--no necessity of spoiling the mystery, though no bear was definitely a disappointment. But I know two things. In a sense, the mt. has physically beaten me. And I let that mentally beat myself.

We are leaving, but both of us take some of the mt. with us. Manchas is a housedog, but since then, every night now he's reluctant to go inside. I think he wants me to sleep outside on the patio with him. I don't know why I haven't yet.

On the other hand, the beating I, at least, took had its other side, as already described. I take that from the mt. when we head straight down its side instead of returning on the longer route. Several times we slide, fall, strike things, but manage to not break anything.

A couple we pass on the trail call us early risers. "We spent the night up there." They look at us disbelievingly. That's fine.

I'd only gone twenty-four hours without food and wasn't really hungry, but stop at the Hungry Bear in Woodlawn Park. I eat only half of the delicious breakfast and drank half the juice. I'm usually a pig about a great meal but deliberately don't go there this time. But, believe me when I say you've got to eat there--blitzes, pastries, home-style cooking like restaurants used to serve. Before our decline in the world.

We take Colo. 76 to avoid civilization for as long as possible. People warn me about delays because of flooding and "the fire." They don't know to warn me about my reaction to them. Miles of road and acres of black naked trees on both sides. You turn a curve thinking you've seen the last of it, and there's another mountainside's worth of burned tree and almost bare ground.

My reaction disturbs me. I don't think of destroyed homes, family tragedies, lost income, ugly devastation. I see Nature. Earth's life cycles. Equilibrium returned to imbalance. I can't find compassion in myself for the "loss" suffered here. What happened just seems right. Maybe that's the mt. in me talking.

I haven't told you everything of my quasi-vision quest because this piece is long enough. Mine obviously differed from tatiana's; hers reads of the real and the true believer. If you haven't yet, do check her post for something further out than mine.

I end with sitting out on the patio a few days ago. A hawk flies over Manchas and I, coming to rest twenty feet up in one of my trees. He stays for minutes, long enough for my wife Carmen to hear my yelling and come out to see it, so I wasn't imagining it. Hawk stays longer than you might imagine. He's wonderful. I see him again soaring on other days. I can hope he'll decide to nest in that same tree. Who knows--maybe the mt. sent him to remind me.

Not that I can forget.



msedano said...

so will this be annual? the columns were sure worth to me the teensy bit of discomfort to you. what are a few uncontrollable shakes as payment for such a quest? as the old saying goes, "without vision a people perish." with vision quest a man and a dog revivify. thanks for the columns.

Greg Allen-Pickett said...

Gracias por compartir hermano. Vale la pena, la experiencia y los blogposts que escribiste. Una exploracion y inspiracion.

Cuidate y siga escribiendo.

Anonymous said...

"teensy bit of discomfort?"
I don't seem to remember it that way!

Pocho Joe commented in an earlier installment what would come next year: ice floes in the arctic? That would be pushing my tolerance of chills.

I have no plans for next year, except first to see whether I'm still on the planet in my present form.

Gracias por sus comentarios,


Anonymous said...


Yours are some kind words, and, knowing where you come from, well appreciated.

Muchísimas graz,

Bobbiejean said...

Each installment was worth reading and pondering. I kept waiting for this last one. Let us know if the mt keeps speaking to you, or at least me, I'm interested.

Anonymous said...

to Bobbiejean:

"Let us know if the mt. keeps speaking to you"?

Will do, so long as I can understand what's being said--not an easy thing.


Unknown said...

I enjoyed every word you have written and as I've told you before, you have a gift with words!! And--thanks for heeding my suggestion. Keep me on your list for the next installment!! I'm glad you made your trip and shared it so insightfully!!

Anonymous said...

I loved this, Rudy. Between each installment, I found myself wondering what was going to happen--car break down? hunger? rain? My fantasies always lead to the worrisome

It was much in the tradition of the beautiful quest, yet honest-sounding of what it "really" felt like.

I read somewhere, maybe in Bernd Heinrich's Winter World, that shivering is a reflex that keeps us warm by burning more energy. Birds do it and other animals too. Manchas was warm enough, so he didn't need to shiver.

I like it better in the story that you don't explain it, just experience it. It's really a beautiful piece.


Unknown said...

quite impressive for such a viejo. despite my obvious hopes for your well-being, i was always imagining something horrible around the corner. maybe i'm still too attached to the tragic civilzation

Anonymous said...

Eleanor and Joshua,
Both of you had similar speculations about what disaster might befall, unfortunately, neither of you were rewarded, unless you call FREEZIN' MY ASS off a disaster.

Eleanor, I was tempted to google the info, and would have found out what you described about why the body reacts to cold with shivers, but like you, I thought it would have detracted.

Joshua, my dread of the wilds never left my head until I got frozen out. But after that . . .

Thanks to both of you for your strong words of encouragement, however backhanded they were (Josh).

Anonymous said...

This posting took me from conviction, to stamina, then deprivation, and finally connection. These
human emotions are not taught anymore but they're what kept our ancestors alive.
The journey IS the answer!

Robert and Patricia Maestas said...

Excellent reading! My wife and I really enjoyed each of your installments. Great insight on what took place on your trip. Someday I wish to do something similar but do not believe my battered body could take the climbing. Wish for the time alone from the cruel human race. Thanks for including us on your list.