I’m staring at a closed book and watching steam rise from my Americano. My head is aswirl with yesterday. I haven’t backpacked in two years, the longest time I’ve been away from the mountains. My buddy and I set up base camp at Youngs Lake. It’s cupped by green meadows and towering granite peaks. We slept fitfully through a night of gale-force winds. In the morning we hiked off trail in a northeasterly direction through a green valley fed by snowmelt. It looked like a manicured garden with cropped grasses, purple flowers and miniature pines. We encountered a 400-pound black bear, proving that ursine beasts do fine and well thank you very much above 11K feet. Until you’ve startled a bear in the wild, you simply cannot appreciate how fast they are. Like a hairy turbocharged ATV that motors over logs, around trees, through brush. As they gather a head of steam, their body actually becomes more compact, as though optimizing itself for speed in the act of gaining speed. A veritable explosion of muscle. This was a healthy bear, too, judging by the mound of scat that looked as though a cement truck had backed into the wilderness and dumped its load, mixed with hair and berry seeds. Beyond the green valley, we scrambled up slopes of scree and talus. We traversed snow deeply pocked by the sun and drank its runoff. Then we navigated a ridge to the summit of Mt. Conness, one of the highest peaks in Yosemite. In a stunning panorama, we saw Conness glacier and its cobalt blue lakes; we saw the gray basalt of Inyo National Forest and the bright white glaciated stone of Yosemite. Look, my friend said, pointing to a marmot. A beaver. Clearly last night’s whiskey or the thin air had addled his good sense.
Postscript. Because Interpolations is supposed to be about books and reading, let me just say that I thought about John Muir a lot.