Mt Lassen, 1995
These were my boys and I was one of them. We were all each other’s best friends. We shattered each other, building confidences and telling one another the stories we believed about ourselves and the world, then inevitably re-formed. A unit that was unbreakable and also already fracturing along the lines of life.
We were delightedly foolish together. We built ludicrously large bonfires on the beach of the South Jetty, hiked with outdated maps deep into the Trinity Alps, trespassing on Hoopa tribal lands while we crisscrossed ridges and gulches that didn’t have names, ending up–miraculously–back on a road only minutes (not miles) from our car. We carried heavy, secret beer for miles and miles and drank it warm and fizzy. We slept in a row on the beach underneath all the stars in the universe, listening to the waves rolling from the across the entire sea and woke to find our car drifted to the axles in soft heavy sand. We were safe and free in the outdoors–the rivers and beaches and sprawling redwood forest. We recognized them and they remembered us. We marked time–the time we had no way of knowing was exquisite and irreplaceable–waiting to become grown-ups, to leave.We smoked weak joints and sang loud songs and flirted and talked and held on to each other when it became clear that everything was starting to drift apart.
One Time: driving down a twisting road (a highway only in name) that nominally follows the river until we find that one secret turn-off. Parking precarious and bold under the NO PARKING sign. Half walking, half sliding down the steep bank to a weedy, sandy beach. A rock–20 feet? more?–requires a 10 minute scramble through even more brush. But the jump–high and far and twisting and screaming until we smack the cool green water of the Eel River and disappear into its slow summer embrace before reemerging with a spray of water and a holler of triumph–during that second we are invincible. Until a friend drowns at that spot. He was pulled quiet and heavy to the very bottom among the smooth rocks and waving green moss. Those places recognize us too. After that we never return. But we were almost gone by then anyway.
One Time: The mouth of Fern Canyon at Patrick’s Point and the streams are rushing straight out of the hills and canyons into the ocean, the sand covered in a wide fan, rivulets and tiny streams and slightly bigger streams digging deep creases in the sand, all eager to become the sea. We had spent the day hiking as far up the canyon as it would let us and ranging far along the canyon rim, back to the beach. Now we walk out into the crisscrossed map of water, tired feet sinking into the soft cold sand. The water runs across our feet and then reverses, pulled by the eternal urging of the moon. We collide with one another like pinballs, giddy from exertion and feeling that inexplicable tidal pull, that tug outward and forward. There isn’t any way that we aren’t all going to end up tumbled into the icy water. We finally lay back in that liminal space, the rush of water from both directions baptizing us in a strange mix of salty and sweet.
Later, going home in my parent’s van, we take off our soaked shorts and wrap a large beach blanket over our laps. This amuses us endlessly. There is much giggling and shoving as we sit, bare leg to bare leg, on the soggy ride home. We tell loud stories to crack up my parents and make up ever goofier nicknames for one another. I can still taste the high briny excitement of that ride. A frisson of joy at being the best joke we knew.
One Time: Maybe, the last time. Three days in the backcountry of Lassen Volcanic National Park. We swim in cold cold lakes. Scramble unnessecarily up boulders just for the strength of it. We urge my parents to hike faster, see more. We meet a father and son with large packs and deep tans.
“Where are you headed?” we ask.
“We’re hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to Canada,” they reply.
“Well,” I think. And that was the first I heard of that.
The last day we return to the trailhead filthy and footsore. Ready for home and showers and beds. But there’s this mountain, see? This epic cone rising over 10,000 feet. This challenge. And who are we, if not the accepters of challenges? We bomb up the mountain, leaving packs and parents far in the dust. There is only us and this mountain that towers over us. We summit in triumph and swoop down in
to the crater, scattering snow and scree as we descend. We are joy that is like lightening–moving so fast you only know it after. It reverberates in your chest long after the fact, filling all the spaces you didn’t know you had.
I don’t remember everything about how well we loved each other. But I remember the summit of Lassen, the sky scoured clean by a sharp wind, making us shiver in our sweaty t-shirts and huddle together on the highest bit of rock we could find. I remember the gritty smell of lava rock and the tepid tang of a shared water bottle. I remember making tiny hard snowballs to chuck at each other. I remember being safe and also terrified and not alone.