While writing a letter to Curtis I went back and looked at earlier stuff I’d written to or about him. I came across one of the times I’d avoided an aside by saying, “that’s a story for another time“. It is most definitely another time, so here is one of those stories.
I was visiting in L.A., a place I had tried to live briefly while I pretended to be a college student. I quickly learned that I was cut out for neither L.A. nor college. I will admit to enjoying college 20 years later.
I was staying at David‘s house and I went for a walk in Griffith Park, just down the street from the former campus of Immaculate Heart College, where I had tried to be a student and which was definitely not my alma mater (“nourishing mother” in Latin).
I sat quietly in the woods. I heard a slight rustling and looked up. A deer was staring at me. I said, “We don’t belong here.” The deer seemed to agree and walked away. I left L.A. the next morning, hitchhiking to Yosemite National Park.
I found myself stuck in Fresno; no rides for hours. Fresno’s city motto is “The Agribusiness Capital of the World”, or at least it was then, and it was emblazoned on the side of all city vehicles. I misread it as “The Armpit of the World.” Darkness was falling and I found a cheap motel on the edge of town. The TV news warned of an approaching storm. I hoped to beat it to Yosemite. April in Los Angeles is not the same as April in Yosemite. I had my tent and a warm sleeping bag but I lacked a few other essentials.
I made it to Yosemite Valley the next day under overcast skies. I walked through the valley and out to the edge of the campground. I pitched my tent far from anyone else; not that that was hard, as there were few people even in the valley – a valley that is known for its ethereal beauty and its summertime air pollution.
I found a picnic table and dragged it to a tree. I stood on the table, tossed a rope over the highest branch I could reach, and tied it off. I dragged the table to another tree and did the same with the other end of the rope. I hung my food from the midpoint of the rope and dragged the table far away.
While I had pitched my tent far from any one, I didn’t pitch it far from any thing. I awoke in the middle of the night with an eerie feeling. I raised my hand in front of my face and felt nylon. I crawled out and found that the tent had collapsed. There was a heavy, wet, spring snow falling and the bough above me had sagged enough to drop its load of snow on the tent all at once; a weight the tent couldn’t handle. I cleared away snow and went back to sleep. I had to do the same again later in the night.
I awoke to snuffling sounds near my head. There being no light, I saw no shadows. I just heard snuffling. The snuffler slowly made its way around the tent and left. I awoke in the morning to a winter wonderland. Lacking mittens, I used a pair of wool socks. Looking forward to pancakes with maple syrup, I went over to my food and found the bag on the ground. Claw holes in the plastic bottle of oil had caused all of the oil the bear didn’t drink to leak out into the snow; the same was true of the maple syrup (though, truth be told, I didn’t see much syrup in the snow). I had nothing left except a shredded nylon stuffsack and various plastic containers with clawed holes in them. I looked back up to my rope and concluded it was a very large or very talented bear. I was also hungry.
Yosemite Valley contains a town of sorts. I thought I could find food there so started walking. I came across another camper who called out to me. I told him my story and he shared his bacon bar with me for breakfast. I continued into”town” and did some grocery shopping. I would have food for the weekend and the bear did not drink my stove fuel.
In the middle of the afternoon I was reading in my tent. I heard The Grateful Dead coming through the woods. I opened the tent flap and my breakfast benefactor was trudging through three feet of new wet snow. He had a wineskin filled with a beverage from his home in Sonoma County and some dried herbs from the county to the north, as well as a boombox with Grateful Dead cassettes. The afternoon passed quickly.
Sunday morning I decided it was time to end my winter mountain adventure. I packed up and walked into town and chatted up a few people. I found room in a car headed back to LA and got a ride all the way home.