The retread skin from the semi tire is cut into heals fastened to my shoes with screws from cart tires, screws that held the retreads on my two wheeled work horse. Two lodge pole pines, water tank, food and a honed and chopped down game cart I ordered back in southern OK still tug behind me in addition to the 60- 70 pounds on my back. Insurance. No, out here,need. On a park bench I find a green fleece L.L. Bean sweater that takes off the growing chill. Down a steep embankment I spy a camp sleeping pad to add to the two I carry. I'm headed for Stanley. The coldest town in the lower 48, located on the spine of the Saw Tooth Mountains. Mountains? I have been in mountains for weeks again with no memory of coming down. Coming down is always subtle; little turns that don't pan out into valleys, I then rise again with the white chapped sheep as everything runs thin, food, clothing, shoes,knees and the conversation of self confiding in self. I don't remember looking up in days so I yank my Tilley hat up on my head like a bewildered cowpoke and take a bead at the snow caps that have come down to make my boots wet, a wet that won't dry. One snow storm has already shoved me off the road into a camp under bowed branches. No longer do I worry it out. Wood is gathered silently for the morning fire then set within the tent like an offering. At the Salmon river I look for tacks out of habit. Nothing comes this way. An owl tells me that I'm not alone and that with the wood that I have collected is enough.
Below the Rattlesnake Creek I am told about Dugout Dick,a man that began living in the mountains in the late forties. In 1948 Dick Zimmerman had completed his first cave home into the base of the riverside mountains. Without much of an internal discussion I was walking back up into the mountains to meet Dick. I hate walking miles in reverse. I hate missing important parts of America more.
For a couple of days I live in the caves of Dugout. It would take more than a library spot to fill in the pictures that are more mental than physical. The camera did flash many times, each time I looked at the picture screen it was tin, cold, nothing with warmth remained. I set down the camera and decided to just listen with my eyes, my nose, my gut. I walked away with a better understanding of everything I didn't want my life to lead to. I have slept in a thousand camps alone and never felt as lonely, raped in my heart to where I could taste sorrow coming up from under my tongue the way sickness does. There are places we go that our inner voice detests. It pleads with us when we arrive to turn around and leave. I sat in the wood stove warmed cave of stacked boulder walls, in where the chiseled walls began to hatch me inward. Deeper. I bent under the 12 volt light and talked to Dick about where all his years had brought him. Dick is 91 now and draped over a cane or walker when he moves. When he sits at his table of tin can meals, some open,and pill bottles. He taps his cane as he talks to keep my eyes on him. My eyes stray. All the pictures on his walls, the letters that have been framed, and memories that lean down just for him have all turned a flat black of soot; the same soot that makes Dick look like an elderly chimney sweeper with long white hair and beard caught in a wind no one can feel. Fourteen caves in all. Some of these caves go into the mountains more than a hundred yards all dug with out power tools. Timbers Dick cut from trees miles away and pulled to location with his horse and wagon. I tried to listen. I really did. 25 dollars a month to rent. A dollar for all the pictures you want to take.
I was watching starving children tell me stories,and already knowing the ending and trying to smile. There in tattered jeans, the once red coat and the red construction helmet oiled by fingers tared to perfection, black ankles, no socks, and knotted hands that can no longer play the guitar I fell down inside.