“Permit Required To Enter Wilderness”
Wilderness is a metaphor; right? On the trail, already steep, set to enter the Desolation Wilderness at Lake Tahoe, I think that wilderness is a metaphor; the “wilderness” of sorrow and fear is unfamiliar, only exiguously explored (though familiar in the cosmic sense). I also consider my preparedness as I stand there, looking up and up; the backpack on my back with hearty lunch, snacks, water. Windbreaker, hat, flashlight. I think about my car at the trailhead with my bike covered with a blanket, with the blanket covered with my camping gear, purposely disarrayed. I am at least ready for the non-metaphorical wilderness, I think.
I remind myself that I know how to pace myself for the long climb ahead of me. I have the discipline to drink and eat enough, to breathe well; long experience - while there had been no planning for the wilderness of sorrow and fear through which I have been wandering for many months, trying to find the way out; I have become proficient at trudging through this state of heart and mind, just like I planned to efficiently trudge up the mountain – slowly becoming aware of beauty and silence. Granite sand and dust drawing my attention as do the wild gardens – blue of Monkshood and Larkspur and Lupine. Orange of Indian Paintbrush and Penstamon. White of Mariposa Lilly and Cornflower. I am awed by colors of green, shades of green, green tinged with amber. I am inspired by the mountain stream flowing over clean cobbles and glittering gravel. I catch my breath at the hugeness of pines and firs, and I suddenly realize (with gratitude) that I am not trudging through the metaphorical wilderness for the moment; I feel happy. I feel freed from the grief of loss. I am excited by fragrance of wild; potpourri of needled trees and herbal Pennyroyal.
“How is this a wilderness?” I ask myself as I trudge. (Three women overtake and pass me. I am glad when they are gone, and I delay so that the aura of contentiousness that they have left in the raised dust can dissipate.) “How is this wilderness?” I ask myself. The sign said, “Permit required to enter wilderness.” Why?
“So that we will know where to look for you if you are reported missing.” Makes sense.
“So that we can gage the impact of visitors on the wilderness.” Even though few leave the narrow, dusty corridors that lead to lake shores and river banks – quite trodden, in fact.
Shall I consider the metaphorical “permit?” (Love, great enough to cause this grief, this sorrow, this sadness, this emptiness, this sense of waste, does not require a permit - since permits are logical and love does not boast logic.)
My attention is drawn down, down into the gorge at my feet. If I were missing, could they find me down there? I wonder. Then, while I am considering that there must be another wilderness, beyond the yearning, I am suddenly fronted by a forested lake and an imposing peak. I sit on a rock, scooped like a lounge chair, and enjoy the loveliness of the place; and there, I abide in the wilderness beyond yearning for a few wonderful minutes.
Along comes a pair of hikers, one old, one young. The older of the two seems disappointed when I tell him that I am just on a day hike, not camping. The young one is studying a map. Then they leave. Along comes another pair of hikers, who stop to greet me, and then say, “See you,” when they leave. I think, what is the likelihood of that? See you. Then again, the expression cheats endings. Anything, anything to cheat endings, but I say, “Take care,” instead.
Eventually, I leave that place - after rinsing my hands and face in the cool lake waters. I enjoy myself; I take a closer look at the miniature Tiger Lillies and try to spot a Towhee in a rangy cedar.
After two hours, I am down on the flat again, back to the sign post. “Does it really say, 'permit required to enter wilderness?'” I reflect that I feel that I have been gone for a long time, and that I feel (inexplicably) happier, happier, not happy when Stu was with me, happy enough to breathe, to sigh, to say, “Ah!”
I meet a woman on the trail who wants to know about “this permit.” I reassure her – briefly – because my bad foot is beginning to hurt, and I must concentrate on favoring it with my hiking poles. I limp to my car. All is well there. I retrieve my swim suit and a towel, stow pack and poles, and head down to the beach.
I feel a little excited as I change my clothes, anticipating the cold water of Lake Tahoe and also the nostalgia of having been here with family; this is the way I am, I think; good memories haunt me sometimes.
Ready to swim, I hobble to the end of the beach where I can enter the water on sand, free of cobbles and gravel - slowly get accustomed to it, inch by inch, gazing out across the blue until I feel like a swimmer. Then I swim, keeping my head dry because it is too late in the day for a wet head.
The cold feels good, feels like it can stir my sorrow into the hodgepodge of other feelings – of wonder, of pending joy. Stir it into an innocuous blend, and give me yet another moment of relief.
“Hey, I saw you on the trail,” calls a young man, the map studier. “I guess we had the same idea!” I say, “A good one,” and I wonder if he said, “See you,” at the lake. He says, “See you,” now, and I think, “Maybe not so euphemistic after all.”
I feel like a fish as I marvel at the clarity of the water in this astounding lake. Below me, I can see the cobbles of multi-colored amber, red, and white; some azure, some sparkling granite, and shiny black. I think that this under water world is a wilderness, eon-rounded, indifferent.