You Can’t fall off a Mountain
by Attila Gyenis
It’s not the mountain that was wearing the sunglasses. It was me. I wore them on the way up, and I had them at the start of the downhill climb, off the Desolation Peak. And I didn’t fall off the mountain either, though I almost didn’t make it up the mountain. And not because of the mountain lions or the bears. It was just a demanding five mile hike, all uphill, with a big heavy knapsack. Where is the artistic whimsy in that? And why would I want to do that after I said I would never go trekking into the wilderness again after quitting the Boy Scouts back in 1972?
This was the plan. Drive up to Seattle, head east on Route 20 to the Cascades, and climb Desolation Peak, a mountain where Jack Kerouac spent the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout… Spend the night watching for shooting stars and hooting at owls (at least that was our intent but we fell asleep as soon the misty clouds rolled in around us)... Then greet the next morning, pounding our chests as we stood on top of the mountain, and proclaim that all is well in the universe. Ho!
We would hike back down the following day, five miles (surprisingly as painful as the uphill trek) to be picked up by the boat that would deliver us back to the Ross Lake Resort where it all started, and from where we still had another mile to hike up to where the car was parked (all in reverse order from the day before).
My friend Dan and I packed our knapsacks with camping gear– tent, sleeping bag, trail mix, some salami, bread, and cheese, and a bag of baby carrots. My backpack was crammed with camping gear, a change of clothes, lots of water (which is heavy), the Bear canister (which was heavy but thankfully unnecessary) and my sunglasses.
I apparently lost my sunglasses the next day at one of my many infrequent rest stops on the way down; the one where I leaned against a big rock and had my sunglasses hanging on the outside of my pocket. I had kept my backpack on, not wanting to take off because then I would only have had to lift it up to put it back on. But that is not part of the story, it is just my complaining.
Okay, this is where I skip over the fantastic experience of actually going up to the lookout, being invited inside by the Ranger, sitting in the same wood lookout and seeing the view that Kerouac captured in his book Desolation Angel. The fog had moved in by this time so that Hozomeen was hidden beyond the great void. Went back the next morning, and there among the morning sun and parting fog, Hozomeen making its grand appearance.
Okay, back to the sunglass story that I was trying to tell. I noticed my sunglasses were missing when I got to the bottom of the mountain. I remarked to my travelling companion that for the first time in my life, I knew exactly where I ‘lost’ a pair of my sunglasses.
My travel compansion then replied that they weren’t lost, all I would have to do is climb back up the mountain again to get them.
I then went on to tell him about my idea for a movie. The movie would follow a character through his or her life and observe under what circumstances they had lost their sunglasses. What was the cause of distraction that caused them to put down their glasses and not remember to pick them back up. Was it a girl (or a boy), senility, liquor, conversation, a fast car, or some other unknown?
Then the strangest thing occurred. Ten days after I returned home, I received a large padded envelope with a typed return address– J. Kerouac, Desolation Peak, Washington. It was empty inside except for my sunglasses that I had left on the mountain. No letter, no explanation, just the sunglasses.
I confronted my friend Dan and he denied any role in the return of the sunglasses, and in fact his alibi is pretty airtight. He had started down from the rest spot before I did and wasn’t aware of my fascination with losing sunglasses.
So now I am left with two dilemmas. First, how is this going to affect the screenplay that I still plan on eventually writing? Do I have to change it to be a movie about how people find their sunglasses again through some unexplainable event?
But more importantly, who was it that mailed my sunglasses back. How did they know they were mine and where I live? I recognize that the universe works in mysterious ways, like the evening mist that weaves itself onto the cascading mountains like giant desolate angels that sit perched on the peaks, but there can only be one explanation.
So I give thanks to Jack Kerouac’s ghost who is somewhere up there in the great void enjoying a great belly laugh and a bottle of port.
So it goes...