Summer Twilight – Tom Gaffney
Night arrives slowly this time of year. Twilight’s patience outlasted hers and she headed off to the tent. She left the rest of the group sitting, where they passed the flask and savored the setting and some conversation.
How many times here? She knew Matt would have a count of them, a replay of the weather conditions, what the snow had been like. So many other things. Funny, she could almost think of him winsomely at this moment. Her story with Matt, even if it had beginnings here, was long over and well closed. She had not thought of him in a long time and even having his image rise in her mind would have been the catalyst behind some anxiety if she were at home.
Teeth brushed and gear stowed she crawled into her tent. With a heavy sigh she zipped into her sleeping bag. Everything but her nose covered, she savored the warmth of her feather cocoon. Sleep was not far away and her thoughts seemed to swim towards the vast darkness that lay just beyond the thin walls of the tent.
Perched on this ridge, listening to the light breeze passing over she reviewed the sights she had just left behind. Snow clad mountains, trees, ridges, cirques, sights to truly remote places in the distance setting a scene: my little tent, my friends and I so tiny in this mountain landscape, itself so tiny.
Still settling, the words of the boys’ conversation carried to her. Conversation carried on, fire or no. She could hear Tim, relaxed a little more at the sound of his voice, and hoped he would join her soon. Both of them had been here before but this was the first time here, together. This route was no longer a challenge really, but it was good workout in a beautiful place.
I’ve seen bear on one trip, Tim said, when we were on our way up to Cascade Pass. Never here, though it has a reputation as a place for bears. I had a friend out here once on a disaster of a trip. Week-long trip and it rained every day. Just miserable. Relations with his partner had fallen to a low. They were no longer talking much and had even gotten separated that final day as they headed out to the trail-head. The rain is pouring down, Mark is just sick of his life as he heads through Hannegan Pass when he saw them, mother bear on one side of the trail, the cubs on the other. Sick of it all, sick of everything he just keeps steaming on through. Didn’t slow down at all, continued on the trail right between mother and cubs. Shocked or startled they just let him pass.
Crazy, but true, at least as related to the two of them by Mark. Altogether possible, though not advised. And thoroughly believable: a miserable trip with Mark, who would imagine?
Anyway, we were on our way up to Cascade Pass, were going to climb Sahale the next day. It was early in the year so we were just going to camp right at the pass on the snow. We saw the bear across the valley, wandering near the river well before we got to the pass. I assume foraging, wandering, whatever keeps him happy. He was in the distance. It was just a beautiful, gorgeous day. Really warm and clear, a riot of sound form the river and snow coming down off of Johannesburg: really close to the road, but perched so you could hear (and see) avalanches coming down all day while you were safe. Well, the bear was down below and it was amazing to watch how quickly he moved. One minute you could see him in the undergrowth, the next he was gone, and then off in the water and across the other side of the creek. He was all the more enjoyable to watch because he was moving away from us.
This one has two parts, thought Peg. Always has two parts: except I have not heard Tim tell it before. We were new then, sometimes I still feel like we are new, even though we’ve now been together longer than a lot of my relationships, certainly longer than with Matt. We’re fun, but with fewer scars. A lot fewer, less of the wrong kind of fireworks. Her interest grew and the words of the fellows were clearer with her attention. What is he going to tell them?
So, we camped at the pass. You are not allowed to during the summer. But while covered with a lot of snow it’s alright. Amazing place, even prettier than here. Sahale arm on one side, Pelton Basin and the path to Stehekin continuing to the East, and on the other side Mixup, Cascade, and Johannesburg all towering above. Simply gorgeous. We’ve set camp and hid out for a while. But once it is really dark, sometime around midnight I guess, we decide to open up the tent, take in the stars. Gorgeous night, not a cloud in the sky.
He was the one who wanted to get up. All excited – extremely excited. We did not get up out of the tent, but we did have it wide open so we could see the sky. His affection was not unwelcome. And the setting was truly memorable. With the warmth and the clear skies and the setting, our newness. Certainly did not seem like an error in judgment. What is he going to tell them, that we were fooling around when it happened? I know these guys well, and I do not want to listen as he tells some story, with me in earshot. Matt would tell stories about me like that. Tell these crass stories about me, embellished, that involved me, like I was some two dimensional cut out.
Peg was no longer languorous in the tent. Wide awake now, she listened for how Tim would proceed.
The sky was amazing. You could see the Milky Way. Pick out constellations. Then we hear all this rustling down below us. I’m sure it was a little further away than we first thought. But in the darkness, it sure sounded close. Real close. And like it might be moving our way. Talk about scary. Now we’re as secure as we could be – food is tied up and some distance from camp. But boy do you feel exposed as you listen to that.
And I am getting freaked out. The hair is up on the back of my neck. And I don’t know what to do. The urge to just hide in my sleeping bag, just cover my head and pretend none of this is happening, is almost too much to take, even though that would be the most ridiculous choice.
Peg though, she turns around, jumps out of the tent. Just throws her boots on. Leaps out, grabs the pots, starts banging them and yelling. Runs around the campsite making a big old ruckus. Then stops. An eerie stillness. By then I am out of the tent. A clatter in the undergrowth, this time further away. Then we see him on a snow slope, not two hundred yards away. Moving quickly – away from us.
What a relief. Did not sleep much the rest of that night. I was able to doze some with Peg on the watch. She’s always ready.
She smiles and relaxes inside her sleeping bag. Her faith in Tim renewed. She’s always ready. Just throws her boots on, he says. Doesn’t tell them that that is all I had on. I wonder where that bear might be tonight.