HIKING WITH THE OLD MAN

When you find a guide, follow.

This time, on what snowpack there is, the Old Man leads me away from the highway, past Thunder Creek, and upward past spiraling andesite columns that spilled far below. Over a spine to jut along the Wildcat, a streambed snaking through snow and a soft mud paste, ponderosa, lodge pine, sagebrush and shoots of dried flowers, freshly chewed trunks beside beaver ponds, thousands of elk drippings until the Old Man, Kokopelli, and I open out on the organ pipes of Ironstone itself, where dark clouds gyrate about and spill snow somewhere below us to the west. From the pinnacle, we view a circle of ridges and peaks dissolving in racing clouds: Goose Egg. Pinegrass. Shellrock. McNeil. Russell Ridge. Bear Mountain. Roundtop. Or was that Round Mountain? Aix, pronounced “aches,” Greek for “goat” rather than French for “peace,” as the Old Man informs us. Goat Rocks. Rainier. Adams. St. Helens hides her glacial face. And then it’s down through an April snow shower between sunbursts as Kokopelli laughs at the Old Man’s Zurich accent from his long-ago youth and as migrant flocks whirl in flight. The Old Man names flowers that should rise here in a week a two with an early spring, when the Wildcat rages.

A snow shower chases the mountain’s low sun.

Two weeks later, in rain on Mount Cleman, sage and conifers become cloud wisps treading updrafts. Black talus glistens. The mountain’s so quiet that what seemed important hardly matters any more. Boulders float past the relics of the lookout, elevation 4,884. Step away. Over the edge, where black scree cascades, the carbon rods and oxidizing metal loops and plates of electrical batteries from some previous decade are now scattered among elk and deer scats. On downed trees and furry branches, too. A battered coyote skull stares up between shellrock. The mountains gasp repeatedly in their wrinkled embrace of limbs stretching out from the forest. Cupping vistas of orchards and rivers, the desert yawns.

For more insights from the American Far West and Kokopelli, click here.

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