It's our second night here. We're staying at the Trees Motel — no doubt named for the two spindly Cottonwoods on the front lawn whose trunks are scarred with initials. It's the holiday. We were lucky to find a any place. The Trees is perfect for me, but it is not Lilalee's cup of tea. I was relieved that our room didn't reek of stale cigarettes and lavender air fresher. The best thing is that the air conditioning actually keeps us cool. I've grateful she seems comfortable here.
|Bristle Cone Pine|
After getting back to Bishop, we cleaned up and grabbed dinner at Las Palmas. I ate too much: albodigas, the double-chicken-mole-enchilada platter,3 bowls of chips and two Bohemias. The second one was free. Lilalee charmed the owner and he comped me a second. I got pretty buzzed.
When we got back to the room, Lila sprawled out with all the pillows and one of her 19th century novels. I dumped my pack wanting to make another check against my equipment list while we are in Bishop; replacement is a lot cheaper here than Mammoth. But I was too loopy and miserably full to concentrate. I kept going over the same items. Meanwhile, Lilalee wanted to share some passages from her book. We used to read to one another all the time.
"Tell me who this reminds you of." She cleared her throat and affected a marmmish pitch. "He's like the rooster that thinks the sun comes up because he wants to hear him crow."
"Not close," she replied. "But here's the one that does... 'College mostly makes people like bladders — just good for nothing but to hold the stuff as is poured into them.' Fits, right?" She laughed.
Of course I agreed, but my mind was on stretching my legs. Of course she didn't mind. She almost never does. That's how I ended up here with the ducks.
A trio of hikers wander over. They sit not 50 feet away. A woman and two guys in their twenties. Probably freshly bathed thru hikers taking a zero. Stained clothes, baseball caps, trail runners, deeply tanned skinny-unshaven bodies, smooth muscular arms and legs. They crack open a six pack and bag of chips. One lights a joint. They laugh and lean into each other in fellowship. They must be southbound PCTers. You don't see them every day, but the Northbound PCT herd is long gone and JMTers seldom land in Bishop.
They evoke thoughts of lost friends and real places that now only exist in memory. I'm tempted to wander over and hear their stories. Maybe recapture the old feelings. One of the guys catches my glance and holds up a can in offering. I decline. The gap between us far exceeds 50 feet. I take sad pride in knowing twenty is long gone. Where they have hope, I have advice. Where they have plans, I have cautionary tales. I remember doing just as well without. As much as I'd like, it's foolish to reach back in time. So I gather myself with a grunt and head towards the crowds parading up Main street. As I leave the woman waves and the guys signal. It is sweet.
A holiday spirit is in the air. The sidewalks are crowed with circles of drinkers and folds of waiting families and friends that overflow from the restaurants. I pass a busking couple. Lesbians I figure. One sings beautifully. The other plays a fine fiddle. I drop a five in their hat, but don't hang around. I pass an older couple dressed in matching peach-colored out fits. They hurry along as best they can. Further up, five teenage boys are seated on a stone planter secretly sharing a cigarette and eyeing every girl that passes. A block later a group of teenage girls are gathered outside the movie theater.
At the south end of town, I turn up a side street and come across a bar called the Mountain Rambler. Based on the name, I decide to check it out. Most of the clientele seem to be locals. The food looks tasty. The tables are bright with fresh vanish. The servers are rushing about. A band is setting up on a low stage by the far wall. I take a seat at the end of a long table near some old timers. A dark-haired woman with a lip piercing and tattooed arms puts a cold pitcher between them and comes my way.
"If you stay for the music, there's a twelve dollar cover," she says. "No exceptions."
"Is it OK to just have a beer?"
"The band starts in an hour. What kind?"
I order a glass of pale ale even though I don't really want a beer or like being in bars — especially alone. I don't suppose most people do. I try not to fidget while I wait, but I can't help but overhear the men near me.
A heavy fellow with a deeply-weathered face and a bushy mustache is talking. "I was sixteen first time I scramble up Mount Humphreys. Did it with Bobby Hammond. Remember Bobby?"
"He was crazy," says the wiry, bald-headed fellow across the table. "We did some wild shit. Remember that time we caught that porcupine at North Lake. We were on our way to Darwin Bench. We figured it was lost; so, Bobby decided we should take it with us to Piute Lake. We rolled it up in a canvass tarp, tied the ends and carried it up suspended by a rope. No way we were carrying that thing in our arms. Damn it was mad."
The man sitting closest to me grabs their pitcher and says, "You fellas were pretty clever," as he refills the teller's mug.
"Don't know why we did it," continues the wiry fellow. "We just did. Anyways, we dropped the little critter off and ran like crazy, but not before he shot a couple quills in my pack. Should have kept them."
"Tell the rest of it," says the man with the bushy mustache.
"Anyways," continues the wiry fellow, "it snowed like sonofabitch while we were there. Froze our tails off. We hardly left the tent. A couple days later we came out and wanted to celebrate. We went to Rusty's and bought ourselves burgers and shakes. We were chowing down at the bar when this guy walks in with porcupine quills in his hat." The wiry guy starts to chuckling to himself and takes a few chugs from his mug.
"You're not supposed to be laughing at your own stories," taunts the mustachioed fellow. "Get to the punch-line."
"I'm getting there," says the wiry man. "So happens the bartender was from around these parts. He knew this guy with the quill hat and said, 'where'd you get those quills?' The guy with the quill hat answered, 'We found a porcupine up at Piute Lake.' "Piute Lake?!" said the bartender.' 'That's right." replied the fellow with the quill hat. 'What the hell was it doing up there?" asked the bar tender. "Heck if I know," said Mr. Quill Hat. The bar tender thought about that a bit and said, 'Must been some dog carried him up.' 'Must have been,' replied Mr. Quill Hat.' You know what? We just sat there and didn't say a word."
All three men then nodded and raised their mugs in a silent toast.
"I can only hope all those kids hiking up there are smarter than we were," says the mustachioed man.
"I doubt it," says the guy closest to me.
For the most part those fellows didn't say much more until I left my unfinished beer on top a $10 bill. I thought the dark-haired server could use a little cheering up. As I walked out I heard the wiry fellow say, "Did you hear the Gene gone and had his knees replaced?"
The lights are on when I get back to the Trees Motel. Lila is snuffling peacefully with the book lying flat on her breast. I make a special note to fix this image in my mind in the off-chance it's needed in the future.