On the second day, Balboa, Packer, Ronnie and I hiked for hours up a rugged ravine to a narrow waterfall that pours directly from a glacier high on the mountain. We cupped our hands and leaned into the stream, sucking the icy cold water from our palms, delicious and teeth-numbing. I of course was completely soaked afterwards, but the hot September sun soon dried my hair and tunic.
Wild geraniums bloomed in the underbrush on the edge of the forest. We found and ate a few bland thimbleberries direct from the vines. I like their cousin raspberries so much more. I did try a couple of huckleberries, but they were not quite ripe and made my mouth pucker. Unlike home, it’s already too cold here for them to ripen this time of year.
Packer lived up to his name and girth and carried me across the rushing mountain stream on his broad back, his equally broad feet, in their thick-soled boots finding purchase I could not have done in that heavily rushing stream with my much lighter-weight walking shoes. We climbed a little further, next to the stream, above the first waterfall, and across a golden meadow full of Mariposa lilies. There the stream meandered gently. Deer nibbled at the tender plants under the heavier grasses.
Across the meadow, and round a huge outcrop of granite, we heard the upper falls before we saw them–two high ribbons, one far above the other, glistening water cascading down a sharp escarpment.
There we picnicked and Packer told of his childhood growing up in these mountains. His father and mother both loved the wilderness more than company and built their cabin at the edge of a meadow similar to this one, he said, where game was plentiful and the soil and sun rich enough to grow a few herbs and vegetables during the short summer season.
He told of an early winter storm that caught his father unaware, and how he had taken shelter in a cave, so exhausted and blinded by snow that he didn’t realize until he woke hours later that he shared space with a sleeping bear.
Packer is a wonderful young man. It is clear he loves Balboa dearly, and she him. They’ve been together too long to have that moon-eyed look of new lovers. Theirs is a sense of intimate awareness each of the other, an awareness that is neither invasive nor demanding.
After lunch, Balboa lazed on her elbows in the sun, head thrown back, listening to the trill of a meadowlark. Packer, who had just cleared our picnic and tucked it neatly away in the backpack he carried, rubbed the back of his neck slightly, turning his head side to side as one does to loosen a crick.
Balboa’s eyes were closed at the time, but she must have known somehow that Packer was uncomfortable, for she rose languidly, rubbed her hands together as if to heat them a bit, and laid them gently on Packer’s neck, just where he had been kneading a knot moments before.
While she massaged Packer’s neck, Balboa answered the meadowlark’s call, and did it so well, the meadowlark sang back to her.
“Packer taught me,” she said, glancing toward me with an uncharacteristically shy smile, and trilled the call again.