We are ancient, or think we are. Our tired knees and bruised heels tell us so as we climb from the valley floor to the lookout, the one perched high on the ridge above the valley. We spend an hour here before descending to the lake for camp. We make dinner and eat as the sun sets, as clouds move across the mountain. She’s going under, we say, and nod.
When we wake it is late and white covers the ridge and valley and mountain. Here and there and now and again, the mist moves and reveals one surface or another – the flat dark of the lake, the soft green of the sedge’s, the deep blue of gentians. Everywhere are the webs of spiders, each like an ornament in the branches of mountain hemlocks.
We think we are ancient. Old. We feel our bodies giving way, youth ceding to age. With each step our heart races to catch the next beat. One moment adds to another then gives way to an hour, a day and so on and so forth. It will occur to us that this cannot go on forever, this day in and out. It will occur to us we cannot forever climb these mountains, carry heavy packs, sleep on hard ground. We cannot forever expect our bodies to do everything we ask of them.
The sun comes later in the evening, after another dinner, after we wander all day in the fog. We are at the lake, hushed by white when the sun comes through a hole in a cloud, angled so at a notch in the ridge as if to single us out, there by the shore.
We wake to sunshine and below us the valley is clear of clouds. We can see the river, think we can hear it even, far away and distant – churning. Above the river and the valley is the mountain and on the mountain are its glaciers. We name them and point and follow with our fingers on maps and in the air. We follow the creeks that flow from the glaciers, carved as they are into the flanks of the mountain. We say the names of these valleys and creeks and follow with our eyes the downward flow to where they become the river. We listen to the river. We listen to the river distant and far below.We know names. We know places. We point where the trail must go, where a bridge was or where we think it must be. We point at the place where one flood or another tore through the forest. We see bare and bleached tree trunks. We see green growing into sand.
And we know Douglas fir, cedar and hemlock populate the valley floor. We have walked among them. We have touched their bark, rested in the shade of their boughs, searched for their tops high over our heads. There they have been, long before us, before this forest or wilderness was created, before this nation. They have stood for centuries before they were given names. There they were, young and easy, as Mongols marched toward Bethlehem, before the plague or pilgrims or pilots. They were there before we came with our cameras and tripods, before we looked down with our fading eyes and sore knees – our sweaty brows. They were there long before we stood here, high above the river and imagined ourselves ancient.