"They'll warm to you, especially when you get to Sisters." It's the first voice I've heard in days and I am drunk on it, heady and slow to process. Even the sun is worn from a full day to mount one summit and it drops off early into a canyon of trees. Days of climbing with my head horse bent under a heavy burden have worn into me. I don't unsaddle my pack except to a give a gift then re-harness tossing my head from left to right as I cinch straps snug. This late in the day it is cruel to myself to set down CrowDog, and then once again shut down the lightness racing to my limbs by shouldering weight again. After a few more turns in the road lies a bed on stone and moss waiting on snow, waiting on me. My eyes are already combing the woods for it. Just shy of summit I'm crossing over I meet a couple with new backpacks half the size of mine and hanging far too thin. Its not enough, not here. It is clear that they'll be needing to hike alot on their thumbs if they want to reach their intention of the east coast with a world of winter weather shouldering in. Digging into my pack I find a large size Snickers bar. As I hand it to Rich and Linda, Linda's hand is out like the hungry mouth of a pup. The gift disappears into a magicians pocket I never see as her eyes, embarrassed by their own unknown hunger, come back up to mine in a soft expression of thanks that I except with a softing of my face. Her eyes fall to her hands and then the earth we stand on and rarely rise again. We all carry different scars. Gently I move my attention to Rich. My eyes shake them both down and their lack until I want to share my camp and the food I've pulled over mountains and through miles of uninhabited forest oblivious to weight and distance. Linda appears new to trail sign in the eyes and can't read intention. When her mate asks her if she'd like to set camp with me her vote vetos the thought. In a few minutes her vote has them walking away, plodding into the increasing cold and darkness that is ushering dampness around us fast, chilling sweat into dull knifes held flat against our spines, even a promise of better food fails to seduce her company, her conversation. Without intuition I would never feel safe out here either.
"Yeah, There's hard people to the east of this state but your heading toward people that will get you and dig what your doing. The people only get friendlier heading toward John Day, Prineville, and Sisters, all nice people. After Sisters...," Rich smiles,"No worries." Rich squints over the cigarette he is rolling, spitting a thread of tobacco he has licked free and again licks the thin paper and pinches his bronze fingers against his mouth into a roll. There is a truth about Rich, the scar from his forehead running down over his right eye into his cheek is like a line of red paint washes off with rain. Somehow it makes him regal and intense as if he is a shaman crossing mountains on a pilgrimage and only drinks rain and eats meal cakes cooked with trees hit by lightning. He is an old soul and we speak more with what we don't say than we do with what we do. The last of the day's afterlight showing silver in his long hair is as if inner light leaching out. He is brave wearing his hair lose I think to myself; a pistol in church. My hair is in a knot on the back of my head long unfed and broken after three years of starvation and sunburn, wind and the fraying caused by cracked fingers working a tangle free into wind while sage bush brushs my face with its easy 'everything is alright in the world' smell. I carry this top knot to remember the old ways. I carry it out of habit, and hope. It is a flag I won't be flying, but fold every morning in triangles and release into the wind at night in camp when I am with one with the wild things and hair is hair. Long hair has power in society, in the settlements of the settled. My not understanding this doesn't make it less true. It is a sign that I'm not totally broken, domesticated, an uncertain wildness remains making people nervous like the ink in my skin that is arrows and direction, force and restraint, old and never ageing. Rich and I talk until our feet begin to chain step in place the cold that is pooling beneath us. Linda is silently tucked into herself, hands wrapped in hands, never mouthing more than thanks and goodbye in soft breaths, and even then uses no volume. Rich rolls another thin smoke as I begin to move from their post on the guardrails with the smell of a sulfur match strike still moving toward my head like a thought unopened. Stepping from conversation I am moving from a good fire back to a cold I hadn't noticed before, not like this. I move alone into the mountains toward Rich's truth about kindness coming where little has existed, and hot tea I promised my hands they could cup around as the drapes of the forest closed around me for the night.
It would be a long list to detail all of the reaching out that has happened in the last days, weeks. The concern of the men D.O.T. plowing the mountain from Sisters to Tombstone Summit constantly kept me alive in their mirrors, outside the teeth of the slushy nashing of tire chains moving over mountain ice that once was tar, gifts of hot chicken and eggnog from David as I crawled from my caves of snow and brown nylon, escaped yet again from ice fields of rain over new snow over a foot deep as I descended into a new world of water constantly falling, collecting, adding weight, burden, a saturation no fire could consume. We stood in half circles, these plow drivers and myself, on pull-offs kicking stories with our wet boots until we were all adventures in a better season of bloom, all walking, all hunting elk, or moving through South East Asia, panning gold in Alaska. My pockets collected phone numbers, addresses, future plans to prospect in the fiftieth state, ideas bigger than the now dominant yearning for dry socks and for a sleeping bag that remembers to loft. The mountains gave up great friends and time to begin to ease down into the idea of the walk ending, down through all of the faces that have shown me their personal America and a slow sinking feeling that I soon will not be living this dream, this one wonderful slice of being.
Yesterday a green pick-up found me in the rain by mile marker #35. Two ladies from the Sweet Home School District No. 55 Transportation Dept. had been asked to retrieve me for a big Christmas meal at their main building/motorpool in town. With a comical pair of grins from tow laughing ladies that promise to return me to my location after the feast we headed for the absolute insanity of a room full of platters of steaming hot turkey and ham, all of the fixings, cakes and pies, fudge and sweets, and ...best of all, a literial pool of smiling faces all eager to talk, share, laugh and take me in like the saviors of norishment that they were. From town a reporter came with his pad and questions. Cameras flashed and talked their digital language. A hundred hundred questions were answered while I felt a roundness in my stomach, in my heart that I have not felt in a very long time. If a room can be love then I was in that room swimming from face to face, boyant in the silly joy of signing copies of my picture, and the constant reminder that these steps walked, all of these steps and stories, these faces, these inquisitive bright faces, everything that I had survived and been so blessed with...in this ending of the end to come in northern Washington matter. The Oregon that I saw in my mind's eye has found me and comforts all that has worn thin and is wanting.
With Cherl and Roger I rest for the night, fogged over with more food in my belly that I usually eat in a week. I am stranger but known, warm and dry and held close with every word spoken. The ladies from the transportation motorpool come to visit with excited faces. Walking through Sweet Home two young boys that look like my brother Steve and myself as children approach me as I walk into Sweet Home under my own power after being returned to where I was picked up. "Did you really walk America," a stunned boy asks through a face that tries to take in distance and time. Turning to look at them my heart melts into memory. In esy words I talk about bears and wolves, mountains and deserts, being empty to become full. Three busses go by and hook profusely. A seductive lady pulls up in a car and as for my autograph and the boyss gasp,"Everyone knows You. We have never met anyone famous>"
I sign cards for the boys with a warm face shining in memory, "In a few miles I will be a stranger again."
This is hurried writing, crude poking at words with a stick but I have miles to get back to so I can arrive in Corvalis under my power to see my friends Dave and Jeni. I will lose the trovois there. Many warm clothes will be set aside, their task completed. What was my sword and sheath, bear spray that only sprayed me, a pile of trinkets gathered and prickling with stories will come to rest in Corvalis as I prepare CrowDog (and myself) for the last four or five hundred miles of walking across America.