July Fourth

I passed along Twin Lakes and stopped at its shores to fill my water bottles. The water's edge proved too shallow to submerge my bottles and so I waded out to where it grew deeper. After the lakes my surroundings changed drastically as I entered a flat and endless expanse of burnt forest. The trees had been warped by the heat of the fire and they curved over the trail forming an arched promenade of charred wood. Some were so distorted and bent their tops almost touched the earth, as if they were attempting to return to the ground from which they grew. Tiny woodpeckers shuffled up and down the singed trees. They had black bodies and white heads, as if they aimed not to disrupt the dead landscape with any hint of color. Their appearance was grim and somber and they seemed out of place, like I had discovered life on some distant and inhospitable planet. It felt oddly difficult to hike along the nearly flat trail. It seemed I was unable to ever truly gain any momentum and so time dragged on. A helicopter flew low overhead. I wondered if anyone had been looking down, if they had seen me and if they knew about the PCT. I imagined them spotting me and wondering to themselves if I would make it to Canada or not, echoing a question that bounced around in my own mind. Lassen Peak revealed itself from behind the partition of burnt trees. I reached a trail register and smiled as I read a haiku penned by another hiker:

The Cascades are here

Lassen has many flavors

Try a cinder cone.

I dropped down into a sparse pine forest and found myself passing alongside Hat Creek. Hikers were spread out among the trees. Some of them I recognized and some I had never met before. The forest floor was flat, soft and inviting with its thick layer of pine needles. I made my way to the creek and sat upon a flat shelf of volcanic rock at the water's edge, where I washed my feet and socks and began to prepare dinner. A deer emerged from the trees and waded through the creek, stopping midway and turning back to look at me, posing the way animals do only when your camera is just out of reach. I imagined all of the fireworks and celebrations going on throughout the country, out of sight and out of ear shot. I thought of July Fourth the previous year when I had walked a block from my Seattle apartment down to Lake Union to watch the fireworks erupt above the Space Needle. Some careless bystander had sent a bottle rocket reeling into the air and it landed atop a boat in the nearby marina, setting it afire. The conflagration spread and enveloped the surrounding boats, creating a glowing inferno. The backdrop of fireworks became almost an afterthought as the crowd stared mesmerized at the fire before us. This year I sat alone staring out at the creek and Lassen as it glowed pink in the sunset. I wondered if I had missed out by not hitching into Chester with Whitewater to see the July Fourth parade, but nonetheless felt at peace sitting there in the calm stillness of dusk.

"... they know what will be in the parade. They will know that the Mayor will ride first in an automobile with bunting streaming back from the hood. Next will come Long Bob on his white horse with the flag. Then the city council, then two companies of soldiers from the Presidio, next the Elks with purple umbrellas, then the Knights of Templar in white ostrich feathers and carrying swords. Next the Knights of Columbus with red ostrich feathers and carrying swords. Mack and the boys know that. The band will play. They've seen it all. They don't have to look again."

Steinbeck, Cannery Row


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