Raindrops began falling and gray came in all around the pushed out the morning’s blue sky. So the three of us put on rain gear—my dad and I in matching rain pants and thin-shelled jackets, Jackson in his red coat. We set out for Hidden Lake with no notion of the distance or difficulty but free from the car and content to venture out until half way ‘til dark.
The path moved between forests of conifers, bushy firs and sweet sugar pines with trunks that smelled of roasting caramels. Underfoot the thickness of fallen needles cushioned our steps. Jackson raced at a fast gallop back and forth over the path and into the forest on one side before zig-zagging back and leaping into the forest and underbrush on the other side, his white tail held out like a flag, his nose down, his red coat flashing through the greens and browns of the forest. The chartreuse moss that coats the branches and trunks of the trees, also lay scattered upon the ground, some still attached to broken branches, casualties of high winds along the ridgeline. Jackson ran up to one large, rounded clump with particular excitement and purpose, then turned away from it with disgusted disinterest, realizing it was not the tennis ball he’d hoped for. He leaped over a fallen log, decomposing quietly, and bounded out of sight.
The raindrops fell steadily and pattered on our coats and caught in the needles of the trees. As the path rose the cushioned needles gave way to shards of rock, dark slate and a rich red with scattered chunks of white quartz vein, shining slightly and slick with water. We climbed as the trail paralleled the ridge, just below the crest. The forest opened and offered views to Scott valley below, so far down that we could see directly over the triangular tops of the trees at the bottom. Above us cracked peaks rose against a gray skyline. Across the valley, wisping fog flirted with the overlapping ridgeline, its ever changing shape constantly dissipating and reforming along the contours of the land.
We pushed on and entered a forest again, summiting a section of the mountain and then, through the trees I could see water. Jackson ran a head of the waters edge and I had to call him back. He obeyed immediately and looked up at me. In turn, I looked down at him and considered putting his leash back on to keep him away from the lake. Instead I pulled off his raincoat, smiled at him and said softly go play, his release cue. He smiled up at me and ran back to the waters edge and slid in, paddling out into the lake in great circles of glory, happiness shining through his face. We stood on the shore and shook our heads in amusement, the great water dog.
On the decent I carried Jack’s raincoat over one arm, the dry side facing inwards. Underfoot the scree path, threatened to give way at any point, but it held. From between the loose rocks delicate purple flowers came to be, their petals hanging heavy with collected raindrops. In the open areas the deep red trunks and greenery of twisting Manzanita stood proud and gnarled. Under the trees the skeletons of Manzanita lay stark, reminders of the successional nature of forests and the life and death competition for light. The gray forms held true the outlines of their past and snapped bitterly as Jackson leapt and ran through their midst.
The grayness of the storm lifted and a pale blue took its place. The lowering sun filled the valley below; not from above, but instead from the very mouth of the valley it shined up and bathed the ridges in gold.
We were the only people in the campground and we indulged in this luxury by pulling into four different campsites, each time watching the levels I installed in the beast, until we found one that was flat enough to have the propane work. I crawled out of the cold into Anita’s cozy interior and set to work chopping onions and peppers, heating beans and tortillas and preparing our sundowner feast. With the last gray light of dusk I flipped on the light switch. They didn’t go on, neither of them.
“Battery’s dead” I called out.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” my Dad responded in his Christ al-mighty tone reserved for moments of disbelieving frustration.
“Well the lights aren’t working.”
We considered the facts—the fridge had been running on propane until we hit the road around 11:30 when we had switched it to 12volt. We had driven for most of the afternoon with the exceptions of a few roadside pull-outs and lunch. We had hiked for two hours but the rest of the time the truck should have been charging the battery. Yesterday we had driven for most of the day; this morning we had the solar panel plugged in. No matter our inability to figure it out, the battery was dead.