Thanks to the Moody Blues, for understanding.
Golden, low-angle sunshine slants from the north corner of Billiard Table. The sun is so low yet that much of Scotchman is still in the shadow of Mike’s Peak. Ox-eye daisies and heavy-headed timothy hay nod under a full load of dew and saturate me from mid thigh down as I cross the field, headed for the trail my grandfather built into the Blue Creek canyon decades ago. A big, beautiful, blond dog noses through the field around me, oblivious to the soaking he’s getting.
It’s chilly in the shaded canyon on this first day of summer. The trail is, as it has always been and always will be, steep and only in fair repair. The soggy clay bank sags into the trail at the top and gravel rolls underfoot near the bottom, promising a slide down a 100% slope into cold, clear, deep water for the clumsy or unlucky.
“Who cares?” says the dog. He jumps in for his first swim of the day.
At the bottom, a rowboat rests bottom up on two wooden rails that disappear into the lake below, held in place by ropes at stem and stern, each threaded through a pulley attached to trees above the rails. It takes practice to flip the boat over and lower it into the lake without sliding in.
The launching proceeds without a soaking, at least until I coax soggy doggy into the boat. He brings a few gallons of Blue Creek’s best with him and gladly shares. I pull across Blue Lake to the mouth of the West Fork, beach the boat and we begin upstream, watching along the east bank of the creek for the old cat road that runs to the top of the point of land between the East and West Forks.
Up the road we go, and then along an ancient trail skirting the east bank of the West Fork to where it intersects a not-near-so-old forest road that runs a half mile north through clear cuts to the edge of the roadless area, where a distinct trail continues into the forest. The dog, in the lead as usual, does not hesitate, differentiate or delineate. He walks off the end of the road and into the wild.
On this longest day of the year, we will be gone for a while, that dog and I. When I flip the boat over this evening, it will be just light enough to see the trail up the bank out of Blue Lake, and damned well dark when I get home. The dog will be asleep when he hits the floor, and I will not be far behind.
Before I drift, though, I recall the white noise of the stream in the West Fork canyon, the layered green and burgundy stone where cliffs squeeze the canyon down north of Wiggletail Creek, sunlight filtered by cedar towers, the sweet smell of Syringa, thimbleberries forming, wild strawberry blooms, green berry clusters on head-high devil’s club, flitting shadows of west-slope cutthroat and the bear the dog didn’t chase when it ran anyway.
We got nowhere important on that now-long-ago day; no peak, no lake, no ridgetop view, no waterfall, not even a really good perspective. Certainly, there was no decent trail. There was something, though, an ineffable thing left over from the past and stored for the future. The dog knew. He became something else when we crossed into the wild, moved closer to the ground and paid less attention to me and more to the planet. He understood that he didn’t need to chase that bear
I knew, too.
The boat is gone, as is that old dog. I have other entrées into and other companions in the wilderness. I hope someday that we will put a sign at the end of that forest road that says “Wilderness Boundary.” But, the sign will never be “how” I know. It will be there because we know. And, because we want others to know, too.
— Sandy Compton