HIGH CAMP, JUST BEFORE NOON
WEDNESDAY, 18 DECEMBER 2019
For lunch I've packed an English,
aged, white cheddar, and two Italian antipastos,
a peppered salami, and for the first time
in my 74 years, prosciutto. Antipasto,
What is it? I asked Karen leaving home.
It's the food before the pasta, she says.
I might have asked earlier. In addition,
I have two Satsuma oranges, one of which
I've already eaten, one for later. Oranges
are packed in a small plastic container,
thin, rectangular, conforming to my pack,
containing saltines and three wrapped-
in-foil, Chocolates from the World.
Instant espresso in a baggie. I'm drinking
it now from a mug I carried here last winter,
Medagglio de Oro from Mexico,
on any grocery shelves. There's an apple
from Johnson's Orchards named Envy,
so-called because of it crispness
snapping sweet between your teeth
releasing a high sugar content.
A glass of water in a Pepsi cup
from the cooler downstairs
on the first floor. I'm sitting at a window
table, 8-foot long, varnished pine,
that can seat 10 people in ski gear.
I'm by myself. The mountain is out--
Mt. Rainier, but it's partially obscured
by a stand of high altitude alpine fir.
Nevertheless, it's quite stunning.
The cheese, the cheese is spectacular.
As I've said, in the title, this is High Camp
in the Cascade Mountains, Washington State,
and the table is one of 24 tables upstairs,
like a loft, yes. Most of the small crowd
of skiers are young, seated downstairs
with friends, drinking beer from the kitchen.
College kids, mid-week, December 18,
on break from classes. High Camp
sits at 6,000 feet elevation, and the area
carved from the Goat Rocks Wilderness Area
through an agreement between Congress
and the Forest Service. I should say,
I'm not entirely alone upstairs--
a father-son combination share a table
directly in front of me. They are not dressed
in high-tech gear, dressed out for others,
and I like that. The father acknowledges me
when I look up, saying, You look
like you're working too hard.
They're from Centralia. The son studies
geology at the university. I read the last
few lines of my notes to them.
The young man smiles, I'm outside,
when I ask him about his ball-peen hammer.
The two of them stretch out on the pine benches,
leaning against the window, backs to the Mountain,
father wearing lime green ski boots reaching
two-thirds of the way down the bench.
The son wears snow-board boots. I began
this notebook on the 30th of October
of this year, 80 days from today,
December 18, 2019. I have been devoting
most of my time writing in smaller notebooks,
less noticeable, but today, for High Camp,
I've brought the larger one. I call the smaller ones,
Bread and Water, and tonight, when I return
home, I will finish Notebook #5. Bread and Water
notebooks explore food, spirituality, Eucharist.
I carry notebooks in my pack wrapped in plastic.
Today I have brought two volumes of poetry,
both carrying specific dates: Walt Whitman's
Leaves of Grass, 1855, and Leaves of Grass,1860.
Before leaving for the mountain this morning
I spent some time re-connecting with the 1860
edition. It has been two years since Barry and I
drove to Coeur d'Alene to read the 1855
edition at Wes Hanson's, spending two days
reading and discussing Whitman. Father and son
pack up to go back out. The father asks me
if I snow-shoed or skied to High Camp.
He couldn't see my boots. They will
remember this day together. Skiing with the other.
I unwrap a truffle in purple foil. It calls itself,
Spiced Merlot, Brockmann's Trufine Dark Chocolate.
I have the rest of the afternoon to open Whitman,
to see what might be left in me to receive
his great heart. I fall like a child into the words
of Harold Bloom celebrating the greatest
of our poets: This movement of the Real Me,
or Me Myself, is Whitman's also, Bloom says,
Whitman's evocation of Emerson that great,
'a getting out' into the wilderness,
away from all bondage--this, Whitman calls
a rejection of the unfit, '…the attitude of great poets
is to cheer up slaves and horrify despots.'
I lose myself reading Harold Bloom's Introduction.
Lose myself reading Whitman.
O what is it in me
that makes me tremble so at voices?
When I close the book, body cooling, I need
to layer up in this winter office, warmed
by Whitman's, How beautiful is candor…
no one has ever hated the truth.
Proto leaf. Fresh free savage--solitary,
singing in the west…I have stood up for the crazy.
We convince by our presence. But what?
But who? Did I intend to ski?
What would be sacrificed for this page?
I allow my boots to radicalize my feet,
struck again by mountain time. I have not
rushed myself, giving myself to the great poem,
the news I needed most, carried into weather,
on skis. An hour lifting and being lifted,
rising and falling, weightless on shifting edges.
Back at High Camp, out of wind and news,
a young woman in the kitchen greets me
an old man, as I pour hot water in a mug,
she's dancing, smiling, I kick a heel back,
salsa-like hearing Panamanian cumbia
in my head, I'm going to dance with you
at the Prom, she says. Where's Jim Harrison,
I ask myself, blushing. High Camp
is located about two miles from main lodge
at Highway 12. Skiers ride two lifts skiing
between each one to get here. It takes
just under an hour. After an hour on skis,
new ones from my son, a bit shorter,
172 cm from what I've ridden, settle me down.
When you haven't read Whitman in a while
it doesn't matter where you've been.
The elder Zosima in Brothers Karamazov
last week tells me to love everything.
Myshkin, in The Idiot gives me someone
to emulate, holding my hand in elder-innocence.
Whitman takes America by generosity and virtue.
Leaving High Camp after lunch I ski
through trees tracking back around the mountain,
Rainier fully out, and some sun. Balanced
over skis, letting them run, remembering Rexroth
in the Sierras at sunset, snow for this day, holding,
dropping now through Waterfall
where Dheezus screamed at me--she was 8,
and missed the last mogul, cliff coming at her
before the trail where she could run it out.
Three, four runs with memories, Tyler's Run
renamed by me the day he died
after delivering his daughter, Cascades
of emotions falling from me, much of the time
thinking of Kevin's poems starting up
the mountain this morning still with me,
this day, this day, our minds one
with the other this day, mirroring
images in different settings. Should
I send him a photo from this table
with his name on the page, these
exact lines confirming solidarity,
there's a word Whitman didn't need.
Enough to say I am one of the many,
one of the roughs, barbaric. What
a blessing to find Bloom saying
he loves the 1860 edition. Brenda
has the vacuum going upstairs
in the loft, where I ate lunch earlier.
Will she connect cracker crumbs on floor
to my practice in the notebook?
High Camp closes at 3 to get people
off the mountain, so Ski Patrol can sweep
the area looking for lost and injured.
Dylan's singing now. It will be dark
when I click off my skis, I'll close it too,
I say to myself, it's solstice week.
Lift operators permit me to access
the last lift. Rising, a young boy,
my grandkids' age under the chair
between cliff and cliff, crawling
backwards, descending waist-deep
between cliff and cliff under the chair,
still unafraid. Noting his location
I enter Patrol office at summit,
tell Patrolmen where he's at.
German Shepherd wearing Patrol Cross
apron, knows it's quitting time, too.
They'll get him. I watch them empty
from the office, Patrol dog joyous.
He'll run down, not ride the sled.
It's this quiet being last one on skis.
24 degrees. Temperature dropping,
weather coming in. So quiet.
The mountain, too, falls asleep.
18 December 2019