This summer I'm working on a novel that's set in the Crazy Mountains. The Crazies are a small but gorgeous range famous for impossibly blue lakes surrounded by rugged peaks, and meadows filled with every color and shape of wildflower imaginable: monkey flowers that mimic snapdragons, an orchid called "ladies' tresses" that looks like braided hair, even a spiked lousewort whose twenty to thirty flowers each resembles the head of a minute pink elephant. And of course there are the "normal" flowers -- death camas and geraniums and spring beauties and buttercups and glacier lilies and bluebells and forget-me-nots -- that don't look like anything except flowers. The Crazy Mountains in midsummer are awash in color and pattern, all framed by the blue sky of a dream.
But the Crazies are known for something besides their beauty: mosquitoes. The voracious swarms lie in wait around those lovely cirque lakes and hanging meadows, then ambush the unprepared camper. On a typical morning in the Crazies, I'll ingest more mosquitoes than oatmeal during my breakfast. So that's why I packed my gear and hit the trail that leads to Campfire Lake last week, before the explosion of wildflowers in July, before the runoff from snowmelt slacks and the streams run clear, before the snow drifts evaporate in the high country, and (I hoped) before the mosquitoes hatched.
My strategy didn't work. The mosquitoes were as bad as I've ever seen them, but at least the weather was cool so I didn't sweat too much while I was swathed head to toe in heavy clothing and draped over a smokey fire trying to prevent those thirsty suckers from bleeding me dry.
I'd set up my camp -- bivy sack, sleeping bag, and pad -- in a rocky opening near the outlet stream, a location blessed with a spectacular view of the ridge that encloses this high lake. About forty years ago, a forest fire roared through the drainage and there still are standing dead trees around Campfire Lake. Since the strongest winds in these mountains typically arrive with first light, I chose an open spot: nothing ruins a day more than being pinned under deadfall at dawn. After savoring the nightly display of alpenglow as it darkened from yellow to gold to pink and slid up Crazy Peak, I crawled into my sleeping bag as the first stars freckled the dome of the night sky.
I soon discovered that, although the ground underneath my camp appeared to be solid, there apparently was a cave or some other cavity nearby, a cavity that acted as a resonating chamber to amplify the slightest sound from the surface. All night long I was jarred by impossibly loud thumps, jolts, and whaps -- not to mention a particularly loud series of clumps. Every one of these sounds jerked me roughly back into consciousness, where I remained until I was again soothed to sleep by the moonless sky through which the Milky Way flowed like an icy river of light.
At dawn, I was wakened with a thump that rattled the very ground that I lay on. I gritted my teeth. My head ached from my disturbed night. I'd planned on sleeping in, hunkering behind the mosquito netting in my bivy until the sun had warmed the air enough to burn some of the blood-lust out of those mosquitoes. But after that ground-shaking stomp, I knew that I'd never get back to sleep. And besides, I really wanted to confront the creature that had brought me to this red-eyed, cranky, sleepless state.
I proceeded to squirm out of my bed. This is a Houdini-esque procedure: although my sleeping bag is equipped with a generous zipper, neither its liner nor my bivy have anything so commodious: their openings are roughly the size of a doggie door. So I was squirming out of my sleeping bag -- did I mention that when I'm camping I always sleep in the nude? It's because clothes hold moisture that can cause hypothermia -- or maybe it's just because I want to. Anyway, I squirm out of my sleeping arrangement determined to confront the rude animal that had kept me up all night with its violently stomped antics. When I finally extricated myself from the folds of nylon, I stood up, then bent over to collect my clothes from the pack on the ground and -- there it was again: a ground-shaking stomp! Directly behind me. Which meant that the stomper had a perfect, unimpeded view of ----
I spun around and found myself face to face with a full grown, male mountain goat. I haven't seen enough mountain goat billies to feel qualified to interpret the expression that this one wore on his long, white face, but I presume that it was either astonishment or annoyance. I'm almost positive that it wasn't lust.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources