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For the sake of polite society, I spent this morning at the EZ-Snooze performing the complete shower and shave. I traveled up the road a ways before stopping for breakfast at a steel-skin trailer in Sierraville, featuring placemats of the world’s great mountains. Inspired, I drive a hundred miles north to Mount Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The trail to the peak is only two miles long, but I’m surprised halfway up when I begin to hit snow, which makes the traveling a little slippery. What’s more, I can see a storm approaching in the distance. But I am definitely heading for the top. I begin to feel a little dehydrated, but just in time I reach the primary ridge, and a long oval flapjack of white draped over the top. There’s something I must do with this, I think, but I can’t think straight because I’m not yet to the top.
The peak is a crow’s nest of sturdy lava boulders, but alas, you cannot see the gypsy soul of Shasta. The eastern view is a forever spread of green, broken up by the occasional lake. I take a candy bar from my pocket and am startled by a rustling sound from a bristlecone pine. A chipmunk pops his black nose from the branches and scurries through the dust right to my feet. He perches at my toes and puts his front paws together, a fair impression of prayer.
I rip a chunk from my Butterfinger and toss it his way. He picks it up like a linebacker going for a fumble and carries it back to the shade of the bristlecone, nibbling the chocolate like a high-speed drill. I watch him for a couple minutes, which allows the previously delayed idea to finally find purchase on my cerebellum. I wander back downhill to the center of the snowy flapjack and begin scooping with my bare hands, keeping an eye out for rocks that might represent eyes, nose and mouth. This may not have anything to do with anything, but this is surely universal, children of northern habitats have done this for millennia with no urging. Someone will come here tomorrow to feed the chipmunk, and they will find this man built of frozen water, and they will know what I look like.
I cruise downhill, take a rag to my shoes and proceed on 89 to the north and west, looking for Mount Shasta. Alas, the clouds are keeping it hidden, but I find its small companion, a spooky next-door cinder cone named Black Butte. I take a leftward cut and head for Lake Siskiyou, and arrive at a waterside lot for Earl’s Bait Shop. Sandwiches and Cold Beer. An old man is asleep on his stool, his long legs perched over the counter. I nudge him awake.
“Uh-umm? Yeah. Yep. Yep, well! How you doin’?”
I stand there for a second, clearing my throat. “Mmm-hummm! Just fine. How’re you?”
“Little slow. Weather’s a little dreary.” He looks at me. I guess he expects me to ask for something.
“Want to rent a boat?”
I stare at the prices for nightcrawlers.
“Well do ya?” he asks.
“Uh, yeah. I shore do. Um, rowboat?”
“Eight dollars an hour, plus a driver’s license for deposit.”
“Fine. That’s good.”
“Here’s your life jacket. Pick a boat off the pier and have at it. I’d be in pretty soon, though. It’s gettin’ dark and these clouds are lookin’ a little ponderous. Fishin’?”
“Oh, uh, no.”
“Reck-ree-ational. Well, have a good pull.”
“Thanks,” I say. I take the life jacket and flip my license onto the counter, then I pick out an aluminum model on the end of the dock, unlatch its chain, and hop in.
I row toward the center of the lake and begin to feel something. The rhythm of my muscles against the oarlocks, the evergreen mountains, patches of snow against the gray ceiling. I have been here before, but not precisely here. Some ancestor oaring his way across the lochs of Scotland, fetching trout flesh from the depths, pulling his boat back to the docks with the muscles of his shoulders and back: stroke, wait, set, stroke, wait, set, stroke, 6/8 measures, dotted quarter followed by an eighth, a full quarter, then back to the dotted quarter, wait, set, stroke, tick tick tick, a steady minuet across the slate mirror of an icy lake. And where the hell is Shasta?
I awake the next morning in the back seat of my car, body bent awkwardly, shoulders aching. A stab of pure sunlight comes through the windshield, morning sun off of a chiseled ivory giant, right on top of me like the biggest snowy thing in the world. It must have been there all along.
Photo by MJV