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The Scenic Route

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Dancing on stone

In the rock, I hear a song, a monotonal, mid-pitched hum that persists for all of the time I am in its embrace; standing on it, walking through it, surrounded by it. The song is made of all the past and all the tiny bits of silt deposited in layers and layers and layers over all that time; layers compressed as thin as paper, turned into pages of history in books of stone a thousand million years thick.

These layers, powered by the shifting of tectonic plates, move eternally east and upward toward the crest of the Rockies. They are not only ambulating away from the Pacific; they are tilting upward toward the southwest, angling like the deck of a sinking ship as the northeast corner of the block dives into the ocean of stone around it. A once-horizontal, former sea bottom twists on an axis that abandoned all pretense of parallelism, left the gravity it got into bed with a billion years ago for forces immense enough to bend or break whatever stands in their way.

Tectonic shifting knocked the book off the shelf, but it was ice that opened it and loosed the song in the rock. It was ice that cut the curves of the cirques and honed the ridges rising between them, scalloped the pages with giant thumbcuts marking symbols we can only guess the meaning of. “A” might stand for “ancient” or “antique” or “antediluvian;” “B” for “behemoth,” “beauty,” or “balance,” precarious though it may be.

Mike and Dennis and I trod the high edges of the thumbcuts today, danced with the stone in the only cadence the song will allow, one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, each step carefully chosen, each foot solemnly set in as safe a place as possible. It is a long way to the bottom of the thumbcuts, 100 feet here, 200 feet there, 500 feet just right over there. Our packs and the stone’s jilted lover, gravity, help us set our feet.

We are grateful for their assistance on one hand, resentful of their interference on the other, for we wish to fly across these places at an elevation of eye level, and see what we are seeing without having to wipe sweat out of our eyes, not that Dennis ever seems to sweat.

Last night, having forgotten notebook and pen in exchange for remembering a can opener and moleskin and fresh-ground coffee to share with my fellows, I borrowed a Merwin’s Hardware pen from Renée, a journal from Mike and a stone seat from God and pieced together our day, sitting in the Savage Creek watershed surrounded by yellow glacier lilies, slender white bear grass and splendid purple    penstemon.

Renée, our poet-in-camp, declared herself the writer in the group for remembering pen and paper, but graciously lent me the pen. Mike confessed he hadn’t been journaling much when he handed me his small, elegant notebook, generously allowing that, come time, I will be able to tear my pages out to take home. God ... gracious and generous both ... told me I could sit anywhere I could find a seat, so I chose a sun-warmed chair of gray-white stone padded with club moss, decorated with arnica and Indian paint brush.

Twenty-four hours later, three of us are in different rock, separated from Renée and her friend David by a billion tons of antediluvian pages. When we topped the wall between Savage and Blue Creeks, our pack trip poet found she couldn’t take the altitude. She and David had to go back, but before we parted, she handed me the pen.

We came on, and now the sun is setting over Scotchman Ridge, and once again I am in a borrowed chair, on stone turned pink by age, ground smooth by ice. The song of the rock is in my ears and the book of stone is open before me.

As we made camp tonight, Mike told Dennis and I that had he known what we were going to do today; that we would ascend and descend, climb and clamber through the pages of the stone book like goats, and have to think like elk to find our way; that his eyes and his thighs would burn and his senses be assaulted by the heights of the thumbcuts we would skirt, he would never have come on this trip - but he is glad he did. Tomorrow, he will tell Dennis and I that we are a couple of crazy so-and-so’s - but he will be grinning when he says it.

In a few moments, I will slice the pages out of Mike’s book with the Case my father left me and walk back into camp, and when I hand his journal back, this man who confesses that he never would willingly have consented to this trek had he known its rigors, and to not journaling much of late, will ask to borrow Renée’s pen. I don’t know what Mike will write, exactly, but it will be something he learned today, treading these pages of stone, dancing to the song of the rock.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

Tagged as:

hiking, nature, Scotchmans, Compton Crags, Blue Creek

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