I go to sleep with the music still loud, but it’s ok because I’m so tired—the kind of bone tired that makes it hard to keep your eyes open, especially when you’re sitting around a campfire, tucked into a down vest and surrounded by the particular brand of cold mountains make. We drove up here after finishing the climb at Fisher Towers, following the bumping taillight of John’s truck, climbing higher and higher along dirt roads and leaving all that red rock behind. We stop once, pulling over to the side of the road—I think we’re here already, or there I guess—but really we’re looking at a dinosaur print. John leads the way with a headlamp towards the edge of a little cliff, beating through low underbrush until he stops short suddenly, and bizarrely, there it is, a three-toed print that could easily hold two of my feet pressed into stone. We think it was maybe running and then took off flying from the cliff, but then the landscape could’ve changed since then, probably did. But it’s a cool image, to think of that prehistoric monster screeching over the valley we’re looking at now. It’s hard to imagine a body that big, but here’s proof, isn’t it? Staring back at us in the dead of night—here I was, a legacy left behind in one step. The campsite is another twenty minutes of winding forest road, to a place that John’s been camping out. It too is on the edge of a cliff, a cliff that John’s been working on ascending, putting up routes on. It’s quiet—we must be the only people around for miles I think, but then I remember my Dad saying once that if you ever think you’re far away from other people, chances are, you’re not. I walk towards the edge of this cliff though and sit down, legs over the edge. The boys have gone to get wood for the fire and for a minute I think to hell with parental advice, I really believe it—it could only be me here. I could be the only person left, staring into the bowl of this Utah sky. Stars have appeared now, flung wildly across the black fabric of night, twinkling millions of years away. Quiet presses in on all sides, so quiet that it hurts, until my brain can’t take it and starts making up noise. The stars start humming for me, sitting here on this ledge, so many and so bright they blur together. For a minute I fit in easily into the weaving of the world, though the entirety of my life is a flash in the pan to these stars and dinosaurs. Do they scoff at the mere minutes I’ll live? Will anyone know I’ve been here, will I leave a footprint in stone? Probably not. Even the words I treasure so much are a futile attempt at immortality. But sitting here—it doesn’t feel futile, to be a part of something as large and grand as this vista out here in front of me, swimming through these singing stars, however briefly.
I have to get up now, feel my stiffened limbs groan and protest against any more movement, I have to ground myself —you can get lost in those stars, you know. You can’t stay in that weaving for too long, you’ll never come back.
Every night here is a revelation—packed full days lead to exhausted, starry cold nights of putting up the tent in the dark, eating whatever we can make fast, and then waking up to something new every morning, because it’s always too dark to see where we are really when we settle in for the night. But that air of mystery, of being in a foreign place, navigating through the peace of a pitch black landscape is intoxicating.
The fire gets built up into a roaring, magnificent thing—alive, even, a fourth presence in our midst. Darren and I do dinner, peppers and onions, Otto’s sausage, rice and hot sauce, and only the crackle and pop of the fire can be heard when we start eating because we’re all intent on consuming as much food as quickly as possible. Hunger roots deep when you’re outside all day and all night, day after day and night after night. Music plays from John’s truck, more of The Devil Makes Three—it’s very fitting background music as Darren and John start swapping stories, some remembering the climbs they did and the friends they had, until the sound of their voices and Do Wrong Right get so intermixed I’m not sure who’s raising a ruckus and who’s giving advice.
I know when to surrender. My sleeping bag is calling my name and I throw the white flag, leaving them to that art we all learn as we keep getting older, reminiscing. So that’s why I go to sleep with the music still loud, the fire still alive and crackling. But it’s worth it, because sleep comes quick and easy and I go down hard until light, when an elk comes nosing through the woods near our tent, making plenty of noise—until we wake up and start making noise, and then he thinks better of this area. Did you see that! Darren exclaims, but actually I didn’t really, because I didn’t have my glasses on. But you can smell them, musty beasty things.
Outside we discover where we are for the first time since we got here last night—my star ledge overlooks a valley of pine trees, an undulating landscape of green, dotted with the yellow of changing Aspen trees. The leaves whisper in the breeze, the sun already hot, even this far up. Beyond the green lies the desert, mesas jutting up so red they almost look purple. There’s some green out there too, someone (Kerry maybe?) tells me they had a wetter spring than normal so things are still alive. But it’s a startling contrast, life in the desert, sand in the mountains, people out here at all. We leave John at the cliff he’s working on—sad to go, but happy we got to delight in this little world he made up here and that he shared with us, and then it’s on to the next thing. Another bright day, another starry night, another paradise to discover.