the graywolf

In the northeast part of the range on Saturday, Oliver Fern and I descended into the canyon through which the Graywolf flows, far too early for the Rhododendron show yet the oft-gnarled, skeletal form of the wild rhodie holds its own charm for the connoisseur. Altogether with side-trips we journeyed seven miles, enjoying a long lunch at the river. Oliver whittled a branch into an arrow, blanketing himself with fragrant curlicues. We explored downstream on the other side of the river until it got too dangerous for him, the disused path is carpeted with fine grasses of the understory but traverses a vertiginously steep slope which crumbles away in places, far down into the river.

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One day after school earlier this week a stressed but unpanicked August urgently summoned Oliver and I to stay with young Selestino because she needed to be at the hospital after overdoing it (tearing) and she took the baby with her, in a cab. Selestino’s father, Ernesto, got stuck down south all morning getting his documents updated, having wanted to get this off the to-do list for some time, for fear of that certain xenophobic mania. Doggone it, he hung around for the rest of the day and got sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America! Part of me wanted to be delirious when he walked in the door as I’m a sentimental fool but pardon the dampened enthusiasm seeming as how the country is swirling down the drain a bit, of late. Misty relief, certainly.  Ernesto, who left Lima at seventeen and also holds Italian citizenship (his grandfather) brought Selestino across the street to our place before dinner, I called upon him regarding an urgent matter as I felt a little sheepish not taking him up on that drink back at his house (no boozing until all the kids are off the bus) and so I poured us something potent, probably only the second time I’ve imbibed this year and it was good. We chatted on the back porch while the boys guided Selestino through the rusty toy truck graveyard. Forgot but should’ve told Ernesto about this winter when the boys, their mother and I waited in a dreadfully long line at the State Department. We turned around and saw Donald Trump’s portrait on the wall and the boys burst out laughing so hard I thought they were gonna pee their pants.

postscript: For what it’s worth, in the case of my beloved neighbors I’ve utilized pseudonyms. So if for some reason you found the name “Selestino” to not seem believable, your hunch was right.

Acer circinatum

Last summer is when I took this, we were getting ready for a walk back to the trailhead several miles through cool, upland forest, having spent the entire day on the beach. My original goal here was comic relief- pictures of the boys’ mother climbing over the labyrinth of driftwood which required various crazy gymnastic maneuvers and as she’s a bit uncoordinated, three feet tall and carries a rope ladder everywhere she goes, it was gonna be pretty good but then I was distracted by the beauty of layers here, the sea stack concealed as it were by vine maple (some ferns and maybe alder, too) and fog and also I had to dodge mysterious rocks hurtling my way, out of the veil.

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But on a serious note, that pile of driftwood really was formidable. Which means the boys loved it. This was a fascinating day on the coast in that the fog seemed on the verge of burning off at any moment yet the most tantalizingly thin curtain held for eight or nine hours, right up to the very end. We certainly didn’t mind the air conditioning for it was a brutally hot, dry month back in the city (furthermore, the fog is wonderful for photography). Speaking of which, it’s quite a warm weekend for Seattle.  Adam has a baseball game and the boys’ mother could use some kind of break from foolishness so Oliver Fern and I will catch the boat right after school, maybe you’ll find us in the woods dipping our toes in a cold mountain stream.

motorcycle guise

After we had been walking for a couple hours, the sagebrush was getting taller and the views broader.  Riparian lushness of those Yakima and Umtanum Canyons below transformed higher up into the arid watercolor of springtime steppe but the going grew far steeper until even the sagebrush petered out, the wind was gusting so we buttoned back up and then we were climbing through wavy, flaxen bunchgrass and finally we stumbled onto a high plateau with distant views to all points of the compass and it felt eons from civilization though paradoxically it became less difficult to visualize recruits pumping dollars per bullets into berms at the Yakima Firing Range. We walked west for a time on primitive road for what appeared to be the final rise to the highest of ho-hum highs. So what’s more, imagine the horror at that distant rumbling, columnar cyclone of dust as the local gang of fifty bouncing, revving dirt bike motorcyclers headed in our direction, on the verge of overtaking us to Highpoint City.

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We stepped off that rugged two-track which follows the crest of Umtanum Ridge for miles, one-by-one the motorcycles rumbled past like a funeral procession (rest in peace, quiet). Buzz cuts, camouflage-trimmed sportswear and concealed firearms, many of the riders eyed us with such disdain did I momentarily consider tying up that long, tattered Saturday hair underneath my cap so as to appear less unkempt, socialist, animal-loving or whatever but gee as Grandpa himself inexplicably packs heat for protection from, er, the rest of the gun-toting crazies, I decided there had to be one amiable soul in the bunch and sure enough a half dozen wheels before the back of the menacing train, a stubby, happier fellow, returning our wave with such an exaggerated Mickey Mouse salute as to leave us chuckling, set our hearts to less sinking but our legs continued churning because now you’ll have to imagine Adam and I veering off the two-track on motorcycle feet, determinedly cutting through grass in the quest to reach the burned-out fire lookout before the gang of noisy motorcycles attained the holy grail.

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Being that he’s in the fifth grade, Adam’s more firmly in charge of such lunchroom-and-recess nonsense, I told him leave me behind for the vultures and good luck with those guys (or something like that). A hundred dusty feet later I found him at the top of the rise with a grin on his face, standing on the highest point anywhere for a million miles around and furthermore, miracle layered-upon-miracles, the motorcycle guys had vanished!  Delicate birdsong replaced the ringing in our ears. On the south side of the windswept knoll was a spur track dropping off the side of the ridge into who-the-heck-knows-where (the binoculars could not reach) and so after the dust settled we relaxed at the prize USGS marker and ate lunch. Two snowy volcanoes on the horizons! A rusty old spark plug in the trash pit was dedicated to Adam because if only you could have seen him dashing through ticks on Heartbreak Hill! Nearby, a very dead coyote lay at the base of the rickety earthquake early monitoring antennae which truth be told would’ve looked at home atop Grandma and Grandpa’s trailer. Billions of broken, tiny shards of beer bottle glass glittered the ground around us. Good old boys know how to get transcendental.  Scenic clouds drifted over the snowy Stuart Range, to the north.

postscript: The boys’ mother has been in the real desert (saguaro cacti and everything), this week. When the cat’s away the mice will watch baseball during dinner, not take baths and what’smore tuck themselves into bed at night with giant books that take a long time to read. This morning as Oliver and I hurried into the schoolyard before the final bell he opined wouldn’t it be a rather funny thing if instead of zits, people got barnacles? That doesn’t really have something to do with anything. On a less unrelated note, in case you’re wondering, that’s a different spool of rusty barbed wire. Didn’t want to leave the impression I went around the steppe posing barbed wire on every dilapidated fencepost to be found. Oh, don’t get me wrong…..occasionally I’ll take artistic license in the rearranging of a leaf or two. Splash some water on scenic, bank-side cobbles. Shoo a pesky fly out of the flowers……

balsamorhiza sagittata

There wasn’t a lot of that springtime mainstay balsamorhiza sagittata along the path last Saturday except for one particular draw which I must say was exceptionally pretty in the evening, owing to the emerald green grass. There’s an underground spring hereabouts which is the source of that tinkling creek which seeps out of the ground like a miracle. Beavered in vain to capture these flowers with uplands in the distance for a background characteristic of the local scenery but I was foiled- damn that wonderful bracing air swooping into the canyon! This was one of my last attempts to outwit the wind and have I mentioned the ticks, yet? No booby prize for me!

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Adam had journeyed ahead by this time. He was a wonderful companion all the day long but waiting around for your dad while he’s stumbling around taking pictures gets to be a little like watching paint dry when you’re eleven years old and besides maybe he just wanted to lose himself in the imagining of his latest space opera concerto, oftentimes I’ll catch him conducting furiously and it’s the cutest thing but I have to act as though I haven’t noticed because he takes great offense to being observed like some kind of zoo animal. Ultimately he would end up patiently waiting for me down at the river, for the better part of an hour. When I found him he was luxuriating with his shoes off although he dashed under the railroad bridge to wait like some kind of troll so he could feel the evening freight train as it thundered through. Before we headed home, he and I found that lonesome willow a mile or two down the canyon. Our hopes for a short stroll up to it were dashed by barbed wire and cows with sharp horns.