At Alta Peak, Mister Marmot reads me the signs

24 Aug 1996 - by Aaron Schuman

The crag, the cascade, the gale, the lightning bolt. Sierra essences, to each its totem. Mister Marmot gives his voice to the granite. He sings of permanence and hints of change. "Those who know ...", he mocks. It is dawn at the Wolverton trailhead. I left my home while the stars shivered, and drove all night through the valley of grass.

He shrieks as I approach, and scurries away. I carry a headlamp, three water bottles, a fifty year old map of the Marble Fork of the Kaweah. I wear all the clothing I brought with me, but I will peel it soon. They don't tell, I finish his sentence, and those who tell don't know. I break off a piece of my granola bar and toss it to him. "Better!", he chirps. Nearby, a squirrel fights a bluejay over an acorn.

Panther Meadow. A rattlesnake pretends to ignore me. I am already down to my boots, my shorts, and my cap. I refill a water bottle; it could be my last chance. The trail switchbacks up to Panther Gap. He is here too, on a rock, chanting, "The smoke, the mud, the gravel bar! Which of these three is false?" I bounce a pine cone off his rock. The riddle making rodent hops down, laughs at himself for running, and laughs at me for thinking I could change his unbending mind.

The trail follows the ridge. It gives unending views of the North Fork. The pictures in Mister Marmot's book. I feel his eyes on me, but I don't see or hear him. Mehrten Meadow. A few muddy seeps. I could drink if I had to, but I still have water in my bottles. There are coyote footprints. I come upon a doe and a fawn; they bound away. The mountain top stands before me, and the sun stands above me.

Brief nap at Tharp Rock. He invades my dream.

Below the summit, in a shady hole, there is a small patch of last year's snow. I pull off my rucksack and lay down in it. I roll over twice. Ice crystals scratch my cheek. I get up and walk over to the summit. He is there. He waddles up to me and whispers. He tells what I came to Alta Peak to find out. He tells the history of the Range of Light, its future, Man's fate and Marmot's too. He tells about the structure of the world, the forces that bind it together and guide its course. He tells where the next clue is hidden. He steals my gorp.

I return to Wolverton. I bring back Mister Marmot's favorite song, the funniest joke he's ever heard, and the address of his post office box.

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