Wednesday, April 16, 2014

John Muir Trail: Day 22 — Evolution Meadow to Colby Meadow

I got out of the tent with the first hint of morning, grabbed a water bottle, a Clif bar and a small bag of trail mix then headed back down the trail to search for Kai’s jacket beside Piute Creek.  The world was wonderfully still, plants wet with dew, the air fragrant and chilly.  Scattered wisps of mist hung above Evolution Creek, and dawn’s silver-pink fingers touched the margins of tree leaves.

As I crossed the creek on a series of stones, a doe and her fawn darted into the trees, making a racket and startling me as much as I’d spooked them.  I descended the thousand feet of switchbacks to the San Joaquin River before the sun had climbed high enough to burn the mountains’ shadows away, and I jogged the last few miles back to Paiute Creek, feeling light and strong without the burden of a pack on my shoulders.

When I reached our old campsite I searched around the areas where we’d pitched the tent and shared meals, but there was no sign of a jacket.  I walked along the creek where I knew the boys had played, looking behind rocks and trees, but there was nothing.  Then I walked circles around the whole area, worry starting to gnaw at my gut.  What if I didn’t find the jacket and we hit a storm?

But finally, after walking a few concentric rings around our campsite I spotted it, all wadded up and stuffed behind a rock, partially hidden by shadows and bushes.

“Knucklehead,” I muttered as I pictured Kai taking it off and shoving it down in this cranny before running off to play.

But I smiled.  I would have done the same thing when I was a kid.  We all would have, and I remembered how wonderful it felt to be caught up in every moment that way.  There have been some wonderful times since I’ve become a dad when my boys’ uncontained excitement about some aspect of the here and now, the charge of some new experience, has been startlingly contagious, taking me back to that childhood feeling in a way that is almost impossible for me without them.

So I had to hike eight extra miles.  So what?  Those moments were payment enough.  They fed my soul.  They were more than worth it.

I sat beside Piute Creek, chugged half of the water I’d brought and scarfed the Clif Bar.  Then I headed back up the trail.  Up was harder than down.  I walked fast instead of jogging.

I stopped again before the thousand-foot wall of switchbacks, drank more water and ate the few handfuls of trail mix I’d brought.  When I finally reached the top, I found myself walking beside a wide swath of blueberry bushes.  Somehow I’d managed to walk right past them twice before without noticing, but now a million berries stood out like a chest of pirate jewels spread before me, and I dropped everything to get my fingers on them.  At first I just ate, stuffing every tiny berry I could pick into my mouth, but then I drank the rest of my water and started collecting berries in the empty bottle.  I waded through the sea of bushes picking the small fruits for about half an hour before I finally walked the last half mile back to Pam and the boys.

I arrived around noon, and they were just sitting down to eat a skimpy lunch.  I handed them the bottle half full of berries, and the boys shouted.

“Blueberries!”

“How did you get them?”

“These are so good!”

We finally left camp around one o’clock in the afternoon and walked a couple miles before taking a short break in McClure Meadow.  We hadn’t walked far, but the views in the meadow were stunning, Evolution Creek meandering through the field of bunchgrasses, Mount Mendel, Mount Darwin and a great knob of rock called The Hermit rising up like giants at the creek’s headwaters.

And we found more berries—first strawberries, a great cluster of them on a hillside that edged the meadow.  We walked back and forth through the pine duff picking handfuls and eating them.  Afterwards we found another cluster of blueberry bushes closer to the stream, and we spent a while feasting on them also.

We stopped to camp around five o’clock, tucking our tent into a jumble of great rocks above a rapid section of the creek.  I bathed in a pool, cold water rushing wildly past, and I howled at the cold and sheer fun of it.  The boys played in the water, and Kai actually managed to catch a fish in a bear bucket we’d emptied for him to play with.

As the sun set we let the boys build and tend a small campfire.  A waxing moon rose above The Hermit, and the world once again mellowed into that purplish hour when I’ve always felt real magic could happen.

Just before bed Kai pulled out a second front tooth that had loosened, and we walked away from the campfire so he could bury it like the first one, adding yet another small piece of himself to the wild Sierras.  It was chilly out in the darkness away from the fire, but Kai had his jacket.  He smiled at me like a jack-o-lantern, and I reached out to scuff his nappy hair.

Read the full series by clicking on the links below:
Day 1 – Day2 – Day 3 – Day 4 – Day 5 – Day 6 – Day 7 – Day 8 – Day 9 – Day 10 – Day 11 – Day 12 – Day 13 – Day 14 – Day 15 – Day 16 – Day 17 – Day 18 – Day 19 – Day 20 – Day 21 – Day 22 – Day 23 – Day 24 – Day 25 – Day 26 – Day 27 – Day 28 – Day 29 – Day 30 – Day 31 – Day 32 – Day 33 – Day 34

J.S. Kapchinske is the author of Coyote Summer.