Woke up 545 a.m. had a phone meeting with 3F cofounder, Bill Donnelly. I was on the road by 6:30 a.m. No traffic. Open road and I was feeling good. Love talking to Bill. Love doing the work we do.
Arrived in Early Winters camp at 9:30 a.m. Only one site open and, hey, it’s one fronting the Early Winters Creek.
Life is good.
I unpacked my gear and set up my tent. Next I went down to the river’s edge and set up my sun umbrella – Winthrop, WA average summer day is 90-100 degrees plus.
Sitting by the river that sweet feeling of euphoria was slowly replaced by dread. Yes, I confirmed looking through my tent and truck, Captain Cool has forgotten his sleeping bag. Even after nearly 40 years camping I still manage to forget things. No worries, I thought, it won’t get that cold. Flash forward to three a.m same night. Our weary traveler is shivering and cursing in the dark. Waiting for it to get light enough to break camp. Let’s not do that, I think.
I drive into Mazama and check out sleeping bags. I’m shown a $600 sleeping bag. I stammer a no thanks and then am shown a $300 bag. The store owner has seen this look before. “I could always rent you one,” he says, “$30 for the weekend.” I choose option three and its back to the camp with me and my new friend.
By now it’s lunch time. I have a great selection of cured meats, cheeses, olives and crackers. I open a Freemont Summer ale and watch the storm clouds roll in.
After lunch I go for a hike. It’s an incredible trail following the river and mountains of the Methow Vally. A few scattered drops hit me as I make my way back to camp.
I look out at my neighbors. They are hiding under a rainfly. They look like college kids or 20-something olds. As I’m aging I can’t tell the difference any more.
The first real rain drops bounce off of my rain fly. I head into the tent and meditate until the sound of falling rain takes me to the other side of consciousness.
I wake up and it’s darker outside than it should be. I don’t mind it much. I come out of the tent and take a look around. The college kids are still under the rain tarp. I hear thunder in the distance. It’s slowly getting louder. The rain is constant by now.
I grab some meat for a sandwich and instantly feel a slow, warm sense of peace wash all over me. I’m getting drowsy again.
Back into the tent, this time meditating for hours. I drift in and out of sleep the entire night. The thunder gradually becomes louder and then again, as the storm passes, it softens until it’s gone.
I wake early enough to see the sky bloom with sunlight. I turn on my stove and make some coffee. I sit by the river and read and think and sometimes I do nothing at all.
By early afternoon I rise up out of my riparian post and head out for another hike. I repeat what I did yesterday. This time I’m walking slower, taking in each crag of rock. I listen to the wind sawing through tall grass. Eagles scream in the distance. I must be close to water. There it is now. A sliver of the afternoon sky snaking out across the land. I see them now, a couple of bald eagles playing in the updrafts. I sit by the side of the river and hear faintly the sound of rocks clunking into each other as they pass me by.
Heading back to the camp, again, the sky darkens.
The college crowd is back under their tarp. They look miserable. They are arguing now a little. It’s hard to hear them against the backdrop of the river but I’ve been here before. Specifically I’ve been them before.
I climb back in my tent and meditate. A few hours later I come back out. In the back of my mind I had a plan to ride my mountain bike the 8 miles to Kelly’s pub and get some dinner. The rain clouds blacken as if to say, yeah, buddy why don’t you try it?
I hop in my truck, avoiding the dark looks my bike is giving me.
Passing the college crowd I stop, unroll my window, and say, “It’s going to pour tonight. Why don’t you guys head into town?” One of them replies, “we’re camping. We will stay here.” A few somber and damp heads nod in agreement. They are to a person darker than any cloud I can see in the sky.
I arrive at Kelly’s Pub. The owner Steven, never remembers me. I’ve been coming to this restaurant since he was the co-owner of its former incarnation, a Spanish Tapas restaurant. We talk a bit. It’s obvious I know him. He’s used to not remembering people. He can however, read the social cues. He invites me to sit up in the front section of the restaurant and watch the rugby match. He’s not happy that only one of the world’s top ten players is from his home country, Ireland. He asks me about it several times. I smile and say, you know as well as I do Ireland never gets its due. He smiles, possibly remembering that I lived in Cork for a beautiful spell. Then that flash of recognition is gone.
I have never watched a rugby game in my life. I now do so and am yelling with him at the television. He brings me a margarita. The sky turns from dark grey to black.
I’m happy to see the rain. Last year fire’s ravaged much of the Methow Valley. This year we are at less than 10% annual snow pack. It’s been a warm summer. The entire valley is suffering a group Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Everyone is waiting for the first fires to take their homes. Last year, people lost land by the thousands of acres and homes by the dozens.
Steven is obviously agitated. I ask him what’s the matter? He told me with all the fires last year business was slow. Last night’s rain also brought lightning which set to blaze three different fires. “So now I got two worries,” he says, “rain keeping everyone away.” He leaves me with an Icicle Creek Indian Pale Ale beer. He also doesn’t even say the name of his other worry, fire.
As the sky cracks open it starts to rain, hard. Two people make their way from their car to the restaurant. They are seated a few tables down from me, in the main dining room. Their conversation is tense, muted. Nobody is laughing. The television went silent a few minutes ago. I order, improbably enough, posole, which is a traditional authentic Mexican dish made with dried corn, chilis and meat.
“Steven,” I say, “How in the hell does an Irishman end up with posole on his menu.”
“That, my brother,” he says, “Is soul food. It has no nationality.”
“Count me in, I reply.”
The rain is really coming down now. It’s raining harder than I have ever seen rain fall. As the rain strikes the ground it’s bouncing back several feet skyward.
All around me the rain pounds the old metal roof. Another car pulls up. A man and a woman get out of the car and head for the front part of the restaurant, the one with outside seating.
They hug each other in the rain. The rain keeps coming. Now they are dancing. It’s a soft and slow dance. They take their time. Everyone in the restaurant is looking outside at them. There isn’t a sound in the place except for that chorus of rain drops falling. They hold onto each other like it matters. They hold onto each other in a way that reminds me why we risk everything for love.
Their dance finishes and they walk into the side door of the restaurant. They are soaking wet. The couple that had come earlier are already standing, waiting for them.
The woman who was dancing grabs the other lady in a fierce hug. Her face buried deep into the neck of her friend. There is a slow sound. It builds up in layers through the restaurant. She’s crying now. The sound mirroring the rain. Layer upon layer of sound cascading through the restaurant and out into the world. Her knees give out. The men circle the two of them, supporting each other, suspended between this world and another.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she says not looking at us at all. “But that fire that started last night was making a run for our house. This rain today put it out. I don’t have to worry about where we will sleep this year. I don’t have to. . .”
The rain impossibly so, increases in volume, drowning out the rest of what she is saying. I turn away from the dining room and look back out into the world. It’s gone liquid at this point. The line between us breaks apart like broken glass.
I come back to myself a few minutes later. Steven is looking at me. His eyes are wet too.
“Now it’s about time we got to that dinner service. Proper like.”
I nod my head and head back to my campsite. I pass the kids under the tarp. They look more miserable than I can deal with at the moment.
I go directly into my tent. As the rain beats against the fly I am reminded of a dance I saw. A dance of fire and water.
Photo courtesy of favim.com