I forgot to bring pants. A good sentence to capture attention, assuredly, but, in this case entirely true.
The Purpose of this two-night Excursion is “to see the Fall colors.”
It is unique in another way, in that it involves a night alone, the second night, just a boy and his dog. I was looking forward to this for a variety of reasons, but mainly to see if it would appeal to me. I used to have a Philosophy, of sorts, that involved avoiding people when I went into the high mountains. Most of the treks I did, okay, all of them, were solo affairs.
I “did” the John Muir Trail 40 + years ago, Big Sur, the Machu Picchu Trail, The Cordillera Blanca in Peru, almost as long ago, and some others, all solo. One says, “I did them,” but in reality, they often “do” you. Death was a close friend especially on the JMT and perhaps closer than I realized on some others. My last one, came back to me as I was casting back in mind with that question there, “When did I last do this thing that I considered so important?” It had been the White Mountains of northern California, or is it the Marble Mountains? That was in 1996 and it didn’t go well. Nearly died of thirst and nearly lost my dog to sore feet—he wasn’t ready for all that marble. His name was Storm.
Full circle! In a messy sort of way.
Here I am, nearly 30 years later back on a solo evening with Storm, now a bus and not a dog. Mo is the dog in this story, and quite a dog he is.
First, his feet are a feat of nature. I think he could walk on broken glass and not even notice. Our recently deceased Maya, who was tough as nails in a fight, would limp like she was dying if so much as a nettle got within a foot of her foot. Mo just keeps padding along.
The first night Mikaela, my daughter, joined us, bringing a separate car, because she had work appointments on Monday. Michelle, my wife, is being looked after by my expert caregivers. I have freedom to do something like this for the first time in nearly a decade thanks to their help and love for Michelle. I don’t worry about her at all.
We arrived at the campsite after dark and it was already getting cold. Time to change into… I have NO PANTS! This was an odd moment. I had no context for this pant-less state. I had shorts and, after digging deep in a garment bag… some thermal underwear in a color that literally screams “underwear.” No pretending they are leggings, or “tights” because only underwear are in this particular shade of ashen grey. What was I to DO!?
I slipped them on under my shorts and they were cozy and I realized it didn’t matter. I would just have to set a trend and Mika was encouraging in this regard. If anyone looked at me oddly, I would just give them “the look” which is equal parts pity and scorn. It would say, “Pants?! How 2021!”
We did the long hike with Mo the next day up to Gilbert and Flower Lakes where we did some fishing—we both caught three cute little golden trout each and tossed them back in the lake. It was a lazy and easy hike compared to our giant trek just a couple months ago—no heavy packs weighing us down. The only casualty was Mika’s lovely camera which Mo nudged into and sent cascading down into a pool of crystal water. We believe it’s done for, the camera, but as good fortune would have it, I have one nearly identical that I, well, really don’t want that much so she will inherit that.
We talked about many things but spent a lot of trail time in wonder at how good it is to be away from the reenforcing noise of the modern world. It is as if all the talk shows, news programs and such are just needed to help the desperately uncertain feel certain.
And then we hiked back, and, of course, I napped, and Mikaela awoke me with the pronouncement that she was heading home. And after sleepily walking her to her car I was… alone. With Mo and the Bus, but essentially, alone.
The test had begun.
Mikaela had asked me, “What are you going to do?” I had no idea so I said that I would probably walk, eat and write. And I did. Well, eat and write at any rate.
I also stole firewood. Not really “stealing” exactly but I learned long ago that if you were overnighting at a busy campsite—Onion Valley Campground was full on Saturday—on a Sunday night, Sunday is key, you can walk the campground and get all the free wood you want! Folks just leave what they didn’t use. (Someday I’ll write a book on these survival in the wilderness tips.)
I’m not a build a fire guy though I’m good at it.
But it was still light, too early for a fire, and while I was waiting for some motivation, I wrote.
What I thought about were aesthetics and who we are. My mind went in that direction because I realized recently that function is, or has, an aesthetic. In some cases, it is, perhaps, the highest aesthetic. I have always liked things that are both functional and beautiful, like a sailboat or a kitchen, but I also like things that are functional and may only be beautiful to me. The beauty is entirely subjective and subordinate to the function.
The aesthetics of the Storm bus exist broadly in time, eliciting a nostalgic beauty, a practical one in the moment to moment and a promise of more adventure. But it’s the functionality that is beautiful. If he were rusty and rattling, it would awaken my desire to “fix” that, but I would still enjoy the aesthetics of function. It runs so well and that lone is beautiful.
We exist for many purposes—such as setting out to see Fall colors—but, we glorious beings that we are, always appreciate function in, I believe, all things. It’s not about use, so much, or service, but about potential and delivery so that we can enjoy the thing itself. It’s not the destination or the journey, in this case, but the pleasure in the functioning of the vehicle, or horse, or car, or RV.
It creates a near personality in the object or machine.
I think this is good. Too often others, other people or pets, lose their luster for many when they lose their use. “I’m not getting what I need from this relationship.” I get that. Sometimes it’s time to move on, but perhaps things just need a new set of plugs or tires or just some attention and TLC. Something to make them a bit more functional in their own right.
I know that the nostalgic “function” that the Bus serves is strictly that, but because it is REAL, it’s not entirely nostalgic, it can physically do something, or intrude, or let me down, if I were to laden it with expectation, that is.
I make dinner and realize that I am about to eat more vegetables on these two nights than I have had in two months. I should go camping more often.
And I build the fire and it is fun to look at and get it just right. Function.
And then… the sun sets, and, in the gloaming, I am bored, and I go to sleep before it’s dark and sleep for nearly twelve hours, which I never do.
I think, when I awake, that I could walk up to another lake, but I don’t really feel like it. I feel like French Toast, eggs over medium and bacon and so I hastily pack, and Mo approves, and we head down to the Alabama Hills Café in Lone Pine and I have my wish.
Storm takes me there, as functional as always, and waits for me with Mo in the lot while I overhear movie execs troubleshooting their day.
I have remembered to take off the thermals and so I sit at the counter in shorts, anonymous, and feeling that the experiment went okay.