Animist Trekking Diary: the Lost Coast [Fall 2014]
March 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
We departed from the Black Sands Beach in Shelter Cove at mid-afternoon, J______ and I, hiking the Lost Coast trail, with packs heavy and eyes wide. A treachery of sand and stone greeted us. Grasping waves inspired our vigilant attention. With steady pace along difficult terrain, we walked beside forested hills, as miniature waterfalls trickled down to meet the beach. Tracks in the sand: hume, canid, ursus…others perhaps? With two days in and two days back, we would spot many.
Early on we met a runner, confident and chiseled. She chatted with us as she and her curious dog ran the beach. With my eyes off the tide for but a moment, a side-sweeping wave snuck around the outcropping of rocks. I leapt upon a boulder to dodge the wave. Mutual laughter. The lady took the wave in stride, enduring, continuing on her admirable regimen. We pushed on too. High and low tides, timed and navigated precisely, respecting both possibility and impassibility alike.
Approaching the Buck Creek trail, we sat amongst the rotted logs and found rest. We ate well this trip. Sustenance this trip would arise from roadkill deer jerky, dehydrated soups and veggies, homemade trail mix, and many other delicious foodstuffs tucked away from ursine detection. The cove held so many little secluded nooks, tucked safely away from the salted flurry. The first night we broke camp in one such, a small pocket covered in pungent mints, nestled up against a tangle of trees with dry ground beneath, and more hideaways behind. This nook had a fire-ring and candles, and I felt a sense of belonging. We summoned fire from damp wood. Nightfall came and brought a spectacular view of the autumn starscape, with stars and galaxies glimmering vibrantly across the whole of the clear sky. Densely packed and jaw-droppingly vivid. Nightfall also brought strange sounds. A visitor? A loud trampling down the hill behind us had startled me. Eerily bright eyes shone to the light. Next: a scampering noise. We had warded off a foraging black bear! Greetings, makwa, please leave us to our lonesome for the night, willya? Thankye kindly.
I tucked the stranger’s candles into a bag to keep them dry. Later, we set off. The second day promised an ordeal. The King Crest trail, beside and above the valley stream, entailed an arduous climb up 3200 feet over roughly 3.5 miles. The first section, an 800 foot climb steep as flight, simply pummeled me. I grew dispirited and despairing, having passed the comforting leaf litter and green bulbs, then mired down in a sunless stretch with pounding heart. I had lost my emotional anchor recently, and so grappled with the full weight of that absence. Sluggish, incremental upward progress, with many breaks to catch my breath, rest my heart, and continue my painful introspection. Negative self-talk. Why push on?
I emerged from the consuming void finding resolve in gratitude. Mint, an antiviral, offered aid by cleansing water. Pine sap for wounds and needles for vitamins, little herbs here-and-there I knew for ailments and appetites. My favorite weather, overcast but above freezing, predominated. Birdsong trilled down from the canopy. All the potable dew around me. This vital seaside rainforest offered much support—offered life, really. I regained my will, and challenged myself to honor the providence of this wooded sanctuary. I pressed my feet onward and upward, as my hands clutched a sacred implement. Earlier I had collected some unknown creature’s single limb bone, talisman and tool both. A bit further along the climb: relief. Refreshing greenery, level, with expansive vistas surveying the ocean, from hillside to horizon. Supportive words exchanged, with delicate truths unfolded carefully. Snacks shared and waters rationed. And then yet more hours of ascension, moments at times seeming to span eternities. Pushing through thickets of manzanita shrubs, legs straining. Along the trail I came across a massive manzanita berry mound. Makwa had feasted after all, preparing for cold. The trek had re-lit my internal warmth; as winterfalleth, heartfire awakens. I scaled the heights further, feeling a second wind.
Later that day we finally ascended to the trailhead atop the ridge, weary. We walked parallel to the ridge, along sylvan gravelways hosting trees both impressively stout and imposingly tall. Overcast forests reminiscent of ancient European imagery, dark and brooding. A single crow flew atop the crest. Whether welcoming or warning, I could not tell, but heralding arrival either way. We scouted a campsite, sharing lore along the way, with packs aside for the time being. Tangles of moss hugged pine and oak along wide, walkable flats. We broke camp that eve on soft green grass beside a woodlands refuse pile, and tried to gather rainwater with a poncho, as the crest yielded no standing water. Soggy sticks and rotting logs would feed a frail fire, so blade and bone batoned the woodfall. With that bit of earthen alchemy, we conjured a dryness of woodlets that took the flame. Nourishing meals and tender stories around the campfire. Having scarce few moments of light at that long day’s end, moist clothes and dampened gear accompanied us into our slumber.
The next day we began to retrace our path back down, with meager water to drink. The rainfall had not come after all. Dew offered itself, but we shouldered on. That day we descended the 3200 feet, marching down from the clouds to the sea. From hillside height to valley stream. We hiked from copse and glade to glen and fen: yesterday in reverse, but traversing anew the same trails and thickets. Exhaustion had begun to set in, but the downward journey proved far easier for me than the climb. I trekked downhill in serene reverie, without pause or strain, my bone now pocketed. Clouds dispersed, and sunlight crept through the canopy. Pine boughs bounced softly on the breeze. I noticed myself smiling. We tracked beastly footfalls down the path. Deer and bear. Drinking water gone, but our destination not much further yet. Toward the bottom, I felt the vapors coalesce. I tip-toed around the black-spotted banana slugs meandering every whichway, heavy but careful not to injure. Again I saw the bulbs, smelled the mint, heard the crashing of the waves upon the rocks. The air thickened on the tongue as we neared the surf. We had made it back down.
And at long last, the merciful stream! It quenched our thirst nicely, as it had the day before. We voiced congratulations, then I played with a wasp, who sometimes perched on my shoulder. We had set down at a well-established fire pit, with firewood stocked and crude-but-functional seats. The benevolence of strangers. Our perch overlooked the stream and sea, on the flat beside the hillside edge of the treeline. Not ones to merely drawdown, we set off to salvage driftwood at the shoreline. Bundles carried, and then an orchestra of bone on metal on wood, wedging apart and piling dry kindling and fuelwood for the night. Visitors came, with generosities offered, but affinities not found. They departed soon. And so we made our fire lay, and instigated a conspiracy of dead grass, dried moss, and charred cloth. Firesteel struck. Nest raised above the chin with steady breath. Then ember, and evocation.
The evening proved ripe for collaborative story-telling. As the campfire burnt down to ash, as the rainfall beat down upon us, we told a tale of the margins, a tale of barbarians, learning to thwart or flee empires. Or else, to perish. Together we wove the story of the Clan of the Climbing Goat, a goat-herding people. We explored their looming scarcities and lingering skirmishes, playing out the saga of a scouting party finding the massacres done by the Wagon People, and the fate of the refugees. The Wagon People, with their accursed lances and scalemail, who fell whole woods to build fortresses, who exterminate their way forward each year. And we told a tale of the emissaries and uprisings to come, of savage forager bands resisting together with barbarian hordes, against the approaching doom. I went to bed content, yet knowing the accursed Wagon People have all but won beyond that fantasy.
The final morning, we set out upon the wet rocks and difficult sands, with the strong sun shining fiercely upon us. Seagulls sat solitary and stoic atop the ocean’s waters, or else, clustered together along the sandscape. Those feathered gossips. We saw many tracks, footprints of deer, and bear, and raccoon, and birds of all sort. They had all come down to the shoreline. Perhaps for salt, or the lucky wash ups scattered along the coast? I watched a black lizard creep along a log at the top of the bank, sunbathing, head bobbing so preciously. We crossed the pebblepaths, burdened by fatigue more than load then. Along the beach I could see little sand holes from which storms of gnats arose and scattered, or at times, hovered and circled. Remnants of crab: shells and claws, smelling of brine. Flies found the remaining flesh. Near a tiny cavern beneath the hillside, I collected a sea shell, carried with me as a trinket. The bright hot sunrays eased a bit, til amber light shown on my bare arms, a surreal coloration.
I stumbled several times contending with the sand and stone and sea, all of whom seemed rather undeterred by my presence, as anticipated. A few bumps and scrapes and blisters peppered the pace. I passed again the waterfalls and the hidey-holes, once more forded the little estuaries feeding into the sea. Wet feet. The tide swallowed up many of our footsteps*, reminding me that just as I have the fortitude, reflexes, and will to climb from shore to cloud and back again, I am at once still so small, so vulnerable, and so temporary, compared to the Earth’s elemental forces. I can accept that balance.
I passed the boulder I had leapt upon days earlier to escape the tripping, trapping tide. Thank you boulder. Farther along, we saw a guy with a pair of hairy, imminently cuddle-able dogs. Close now. Back at the trailhead, I saw a garter snake dart into a knot of fennel. What-doin’, snake? We spoke with an anxious man seeking a young couple overdue for a ride. Had not seen ’em. We wished him well. I hope if they had gotten lost, that they had at least meant to. Wanderlust, rather than peril. I ate some of the fennel, its licorice taste a nice treat.
A few steps later, and our strenuous trek along the Lost Coast had concluded, much appreciated by tired legs and backs. The heart however…
* * *
I awoke the next day, the final morning of my travel, having slept well on the floor of an open barn. I awoke early to the call of a goose, preparing for its northward voyage. For its returning.
I, too, shall return.
* * *
I have felt an ancestral world.
I have heard the animist’s call.
I have glimpsed my kin.
As said by Thoreau, in Walking: “Give me a Wildness whose glance no civilization can endure”.
*The word “passage” glittered in my mind’s eye as I walked that last stretch. “Passage”, a word denoting at once a portion of writing or music, or the act of passing across a place or condition, or to voyage, or the right and freedom to pass or travel, or a route or corridor itself. A word that can mean both process and pathway, and hinting at impermanence. Fleeting movement, ephemeral routes, vanishing marks, temporary permissions. I write this passage about my passage, and the passage of our passages across the passage for which I had passage. A very peculiar word.
The tide swallowed up many of our footsteps, reminding me that just as I have the fortitude, reflexes, and will to climb from shore to cloud and back again, compared to the Earth’s elemental forces, I remain at once still so small, so vulnerable, and so temporary. I can accept that balance.