My annual family picnic is generally a two day affair. Day one: arrive in whatever city was chosen: Ventura, Lompoc, Solvang, etc. Check into hotel room. That afternoon at the picnic, eat enough to starve a continent. Claim that your old war wound prevents you from taking part in the reindeer games that follow. That night, meet up again and eat some more. Day two: Eat breakfast. Say good-bye. Go home.
This year was different. There was no chosen city. Instead a forest was chosen: The Sequoia National Forest. The hotel was a lodge. Hikes, instead of rest, were arranged. A campsite was reserved. There would be two days of cookouts and three nights of camping. Aubrey was going camping.
Father, Boyfriend and I went. So, Thursday AM we set off, after I had made sure that Boyfrirend had brought liquid bug spray, aerosol bug spray and anti-bug wipes. After initially getting lost in the heartland of central California, we began our 5,000 foot ascent into the Alpine range of the Sierras.
When the trees began to straighten, with limbs stretching high enough to challenge the horizon, when thickets and glades began to appear, when mellow redwoods begain to outnumber the delicate pines and firs – silvery in the clear sunlight – when the trees cast shadows across the afternoon road in a natural noir, I began to forget my misgivings. The air was thin, cool and smelt of wood and greenery. It was impossibly lovely.
Now, father was staying at the lodge. But an extra room was reserved for Boyfriend and myself, just in case we wanted to pamper ourselves. With screen windows. With a mattress. Witih a flushing toilet. That sort of thing.
However, Boyfriend and I went straight to the campground to set up our tent. Our chosen site was somewhat removed from everyone else. It was right next to, as one of my cousins said, 'bear highway'. There are stories of how one tore a sedan apart like a croissant to get at a Big Mac.
Now, alot of my cousins are career campers. Let me tell you something. Staying in an RV is not roughing it. Nor is staying in one of your posh tents that you blow up with a tire pump. This, friends, is Roughing It:
Still, that night we slept at the lodge. It had, after all, been a long trip. We didn't feel that it was too bourgeois of us.
Friday AM I pulled my back out – as if things weren't interesting enough.
We were taken to see the world's largest known single organism by volume: the 'General Sherman' tree. Over 2,000 years old, this noble tree was located in a grove of equally noble brothers, but none so voluminous. Many were scored with burns at their base where lightening had pierced them. The resulting injury created a cavern that one could stand in:
None could be photographed in their entirety in one shot:
A word about the weather: HOT. Two words about bugs: numerous. Flying. Boyfriend and I annointed ourselves with bug spray religiously. All day long you felt random stings, itches; heard constant buzzings…I thought I would start twitching like a horse in the mid-day sun.
That evening we walked to the campground and did the usual things. We sat around the campfire. I looked up into the night and saw a dark blue, star-sequined sky watching us from its circle formed by the far-reaching pines. Eventually we departed for our tent.
Now, I'm not saying that it was comfortable. Far from it. And because of my back, getting into my sleeping bag took me a good 30 seconds. But it was snug. And the closeness made one feel so curiously safe.
Around 6AM, I woke to the sound of galloping hooves. I remember thinking what an odd time it was to go horseback riding. When we finally emerged we found the camp talking about the mule deer which had come visiting the previous evening. I again thought of those hooves and imagined the flick of the deer's black-tipped tail before it vanished into the whispering green.
Saturday we went hiking up the High Sierra Trail. There were some very fine outlooks to see before we decided that the Trail had gone High enough and turned back.
We saw Crescent Meadow, deep and marvelous, shining like a golden pool.
After this, we drove a corkscrew trail to the Crystal Cave, a marble cave set deep within the forest. Its breath was cold and in its heart were natural galleries, passages and domes. Through it all you could hear the streams which cut the patterns into the wall and drenched them with color. Marble formations – blue, green and white – formed the bed of these streams, like the bath of a Roman emperor. Stalacmites grew up from the ground, while stalactites dripped from the cavernous ceilings. It was too dark for photographs, so I looked to the Internet for an image:
The 1/2 mile vertical walk back to the parking lot was perfectly diabolical, leavened only by some pretty sights:
That evening there was another barbeque, and another congenial campfire, under a full moon.
While last night the children – of which there were myriad – seemed to outnumber the adults, this time it was the elders who gathered around the bonfire. A bottle of Jim Beam was passed around – I ignored it, hoping that a martini would somehow materialize – but Boyfriend stopped its circulation more than once.
We camped out once more. For awhile I was kept awake by the drunken revelry still going on, by my aching back, by the clicks of insects with poor sonar bumping into our tent, by the light of the moon.
We started for home late next morning. Now, there was a lot wrong with this weekend, but there was a lot that was right and good about it too. And thinking of it as a memory makes me feel oddly sad.