Odd To Have Chairs
Copyright © 2006 by Richard S. Platz, All rights reserved

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Morris Meadow, Emerald and Sapphire Lakes
Trinity Alps Wilderness
August 27-September 2, 2005
Photos by the Author Except Where Noted

"What is always in motion, but never moves?"

Emerald and Sapphire Lakes, the Crown Jewels of the Trinity Alps, lie a long way from the trailhead. The sign posts and guide books do not agree how far. From the locked gate at Bridge Camp, estimates of the walk to Sapphire Lake vary from 14 to 17 miles. Emerald is maybe a mile closer. The trail climbs the roadless right-hand bank of the Stuarts Fork of the Trinity River, so there is no way to drive a motor vehicle up there and check the odometer.

The distance, elastic as it may be, presents a weight problem for the backpacker. For the elder trekker, the prudent minimum timeline would be three days to hike in, a day at the lakes, and three days out, for a total of six days. We calculate two-and-a-half pounds of food per day per person. So Barbara and I would begin the hike toting at least 30 pounds of food on top of all our other regalia and paraphernalia. We had been to the lakes once before, but more than thirteen years had slipped by since then, and the bell-curve of aging had steepened.

There had to be a better way. Taking a cue from NASA's Saturn moon rocket, we decided that the first stage of our launch vehicle should be comprised of mules, which would pack our gear to Morris Meadow, where we would set up base camp. The second stage boosters should be our own feet, carrying our backpacks to a higher camp somewhere above Portuguese Camp, from which we could dayhike to Emerald and Sapphire Lakes. Two other couples, old backpacking friends Judy and Murray and Mr. Popper and Nancy, were willing to give it a try and share the cost of the mules and a wrangler. Judy located Dee Potter of Trinity Outfitters, Inc., out of Weaverville, and the deal was sealed.

For anyone accustomed to fair-weather backpacking, seventy-five pounds represents an obscene amount of "stuff" for a single week. But that was Dee Potter's per-person weight limit to spot our base camp at Morris Meadow. Even more obscene, Dee found the six of us to be fifty pounds overweight as he loaded his three sturdy mules at the Bridge Camp trailhead on the Saturday morning our expedition began.

This entire horsepacking business was alien to us, each accustomed to toiling up the trail with our gear strapped to our own backs and sweat dripping down our faces. This time we would carry only light daypacks and let three mules do the heavy lifting. True, the hike into base camp at Morris Meadow would be nine or ten miles (again, opinions of trail length differed) with a 1600-foot gain, but unencumbered, we expected it to be child's play.

Barbara and I were the first to arrive at Bridge Camp Friday afternoon. Our favorite campsite at the end by the turnaround was occupied, so we parked the van at one in the middle, across the road from the river. We clipped receipts on campsites on both sides and across the road to reserve them for our comrades.

The horse staging area was full with three big horse trailers and a tent bivouac. The packers, we were told, had been hired by the Forest Service to haul in timbers, materials, and supplies for a work crew redecking the bridge over Deer Creek eight miles up the trail. The bridge was closed, so we would have to cross at the stock bypass.

Popper and Nancy took the stream-side site across the road. The afternoon was hot, so they immediately scrambled down the steep bank for a swim in their favorite river pool. They set up two cots with mosquito netting draped from a line over their bed like some outlandish African safari.

Murray and Judy arrived last and took the campsite just south of us. Then the four of them drove off in Murray's Explorer for dinner at the Bear's Breath restaurant at the Trinity Alps Resort. I built a campfire in Murray and Judy's fire pit (in case we retired before they returned), and Barbara cooked dinner. Tiny mosquitoes began biting us in the cool of evening, so we slathered on repellant. The fire had become embers and we were preparing the bed in the van by the time the Explorer's headlights swept the campground. We went to sleep while they were still fumbling in the darkness.

First to arise Saturday morning, I built a small campfire. Barbara and I drank our tea and coffee in silence. The river burbled below the bank. Perched in a treetop, a robin sang the late summer sunlight. From the time the others arose, however, the campground reverberated with chit-chat on any subject that happened to pop into someone's head. Gregarious by nature, humans have raised conversation to a cherished art form, and Barbara was easily drawn in. Talk of food seemed always to predominate. Endlessly on they prattled about good and bad cholesterol, free-range chickens, trans fatty acids, the proper way to prepare a cup of coffee, long-grained rice, the joy of exotic new restaurants with Namibian or Eskimo cuisine, and much, much more.

"I eat to live," I protested feebly in an attempt at cloture. "I do not live to eat. There's really nothing more to say." But they had heard it before. Dismissing me offhand as an uncultured throwback, the filibuster persisted with the celebration of a particularly fine, but inexpensive wine boasting robust body, fruity bouquet, and overtones of toasted hazelnuts.

The constant chatter I found disheartening, recalling fondly my short stay at the monastery, where monks worked and ate without speaking. Everything there was meditative. And hiking with Barbara for almost twenty years, I had grown accustomed to a large measure of tranquility in the wilderness. Through silence, the magic and wonder of nature never failed to manifest itself. This closed cocoon of endless talk was something I was going to have to deal with.

Dee Potter arrived a little after 9 am. I thought he was early, but my wrist watch had mysteriously fallen 45 minutes slow. Dee parked his rig on the road right above our campsite, because there was no room in the corral area. Lanky, lean, and weathered, with a mane of neatly trimmed gray hair, Dee was spare with his words like the mysterious gunslinger out of a dime-novel western. He obviously pursued the wrangler life more for the love of it than for the money. You couldn't help liking him, and we felt lucky Judy found him.

We hauled all our stuff up for Dee to pack. Moving with an efficient grace, he weighed our possessions on an ancient spring scale, balancing each load evenly on the mules. As he worked, we pestered him with a lot of tenderfoot questions. He figured it would take him three-and-a-half hours to lead the stock up the 10 miles to Morris Meadow, and three hours to ride out downhill the following Friday. Even unburdened, we thought it would take us longer than that to hike in, so we proposed leaving before the loading was complete. That was fine with him.

Murray and Judy set out first, and Barbara and I followed a few minutes later, but soon lost sight of them. Mr. Popper and Nancy were still packing up and would bring up the rear. Where the canyon allowed, we kept in touch by radio. Dee tuned to our channel as well. Less than an hour into the hike, Popper's broken radio message informed us that Dee had passed them on the trail.

At the Deep Creek bridge, we caught up to Murray and Judy, who were admiring the water cascade down the narrow, rocky gorge beneath the bridge. Dee and the pack stock passed us at the bridge, the bulging load of each mule barely clearing the insides of the railings. Murray and Judy hurried on to try and be there when Dee arrived. We did not see them again until Morris Meadow three hours later.

Popper and Nancy caught up to us, and we hiked together for a while. Nancy was able to identify many of the plants along the trail. We stopped for lunch on the rocky river bar of the Alpine Lake trail crossing, then filtered water into our bottles where Stuarts Fork tumbled through great boulders of rounded granite. The bright sun, breeze, and thunder of the river were pleasant, and perhaps we dawdled too long. Barbara and I managed to break the spell and pressed on while Popper and Nancy continued to dream by the rushing water.

From the Alpine Lake junction the trail climbed steeply until it reached the remains of the old La Grange Ditch and followed its gentler embankment. Built in the 1890's, the ditch transported water from Sapphire and Emerald Lakes through ditches, tunnels, and an inverted siphon that crossed the river at Bridge Camp to the La Grange Mine located just east of Junction City on Oregon Mountain. Financed by Baron de La Grange, it was the largest hydraulic mine in the world in its day.

Soon the ditch grew indistinct, and the trail climbed relentlessly up the moraine above it. Signs informed us that the Deer Creek bridge was closed, so we wound down the stock trail and changed into our water shoes to splash across. Popper and Nancy caught us there, but stayed to enjoy the water while we pushed on. The long hike had worn us down, and the final climb up the shadeless moraine just before Morris Meadow sapped the last of our reserves.

Near the first Deer Creek trail junction, about a mile shy of our destination, we met Dee leading his string of empty mules back down. We had been hiking for almost six hours, with maybe an hour for lunch and rest stops, and were tired. At Morris Meadow, Dee told us, he had unloaded our stuff, then sat and drank coffee waiting for someone to show up and take possession. An hour passed, and he had mounted up and started back, just as Murray and Judy entered the meadow. He led them back to the large horse camp at the southwest corner of the meadow where he had deposited our possessions, then turned around and headed back out.

The three couples straggled into Morris Meadow in descending order of age. We all found this curious and couldn't understand why. Perhaps it had something to do with motivation and world-view. Nearly a quarter of a century separated the oldest from the youngest. The healthy work ethic of the Eisenhower years appeared to be eroding. The younger generations were straying down the road to hell. So be it.

In the deep shade of towering Douglas fir, incense cedar, and Ponderosa pine, our backpacks, food bags, duffles, tables, tents, cooking gear, sleeping bags, and lawn chairs ringed the trunk of a massive fir like unwrapped Christmas presents. Around them the extensive campground spread through the trees, housing two huge fire rings and plenty of level tent sites. A hundred yards down a spur trail through a meadow, Stuarts Fork sparkled in the sun as it meandered through a channel cut deep into the sand and gravel of an ancient lake bed. We were home.

Since our last excursion there three years earlier, Barbara and I had dreamed of the campsite in a younger mix-conifer grove we had passed just up the spur trail (N 40 58' 10.8", W 122 57' 08.6"). With its long, majestic, open view across the meadow to the steep, spired wall of Sawtooth Ridge straight ahead, and Bear Gulch and Sawtooth Mountain looming on the left, we had hoped to camp there all along. The campsite lay a long stone's throw shy of the main camp and, miraculously, was unoccupied. A little distance between us and the social center of the main fire pit would be welcome. "Let there be spaces in your togetherness," Kahlil Gibran had put it. We felt extremely fortunate as we hauled our gear back up the trail and pitched our new tent, free-standing and roomy, but too heavy for a horseless backpack.

The others set up their tents at the edge of the large camp, peeking out on the meadow. Odd it seemed to have chairs and tables. After a leisurely dinner we hoisted our ponderous food bags into the lower branches, out of bear reach. Mr. Popper strung up hammocks. Nearby to the southeast a helicopter droned annoyingly. Since there was no smoke to indicate a forest fire, we wondered if someone had been hurt. As it grew dark, the helicopter swept the rugged terrain with a blinding searchlight that made us feel like fugitives from a weird, low-budget prison escape movie. Mr. Popper speculated that the search was focused on the Siligo Peak area. A few young deer circled in the meadow, but none came into our camp. The day had been hot, but by evening we each dug out our down jackets. Eventually the helicopter flew away.

As the meadow disappeared into the gloaming, we sat around a crackling fire in the main camp and shared bottles and stories. In the flickering light, Murray recounted the privations of his early hunting trips, when in levis and a thin jacket he would sleep the night on bare ground beneath a bush, waiting for deer to emerge in the first light of morning. Then he told a bizarre account of fighting off a snarling coyote in the door of their tent while Judy slumbered peacefully by his side. We laughed and shivered and passed the bottle in the relative luxury of our abundant gear. Finally Barbara and I stumbled back through the dark to our campsite as the cold night air enveloped the star-domed meadow. Despite a few remnant visions of snapping coyotes, we slept well in our new tent.

Sunday was a lazy day. The helicopter returned for a while as it grew light, then was gone. Murray and I had been concerned about what we would find to do for a whole week at the same campsite. It turned out not to be a problem. By wriggling free of the mantle of civilization, we also tossed off the obsessive-compulsive need to be constantly busy. We became men of leisure. As if reading the morning news, we watched the sunlight move across the landscape, drying the dew from the meadow grass. Following the movement of changing shadows across the face of the Bear Gulch, Sawtooth Mountain, and the Sawtooth Ridge became a full-time avocation.

Beyond the Sawtooth Ridge divide to the northeast 3 impassable miles away lay Ward and Horseshoe Lakes, where Barbara and I had backpacked less than a month earlier (see Paying Our Respects to Granite). Beyond the divide to the northwest lay Caribou Lakes, five trail miles and 3600-feet elevation change away. We had been there too. Small world.

Two young men who had been camped at the Morris Meadow campsite a quarter mile away hiked past our camp on their way out. We strolled around the meadow comparing Ponderosa and Jeffery pine cones, then explored their campsite, where Barbara and I had spent two nights in the Spring of 2002 (see Deer Ate My Hat).

In the afternoon Bob and Nancy discovered two fine swimming holes in the river at each end of a sunny gravel bar. We set up our chairs on the bar, swam naked in the cold water, and dried ourselves in the sun.

Murray and Judy found a cozy campsite beside the river at the lower end of the main camp and moved their tent and belongings there. We were spread out in three adjacent campsites on the southwest corner of the meadow. All the other campers had left. In the afternoon it grew windy, but we were sheltered by the trees. We again convened around the blazing campfire and slept well in the big tent. How swiftly the day went by!

Monday morning Barbara and I loaded our spare tent and gear into our backpacks for a hike further up the canyon toward Emerald and Sapphire Lakes. Mr. Popper and Nancy would follow in their own good time. Judy and Murray had not brought backpacks nor an extra tent. Instead, they would stay at the base camp, fish Deer Creek, and dayhike up to the lakes the following morning, where we would meet them. It would be a long dayhike of between ten or fifteen miles, depending on who you asked.

Midmorning Barbara and I set out up the canyon in the direction of Portuguese Camp to look for a place to spend the night. Nancy and Bob dawdled at the main camp, promising to meet us there. Across the meadow to the west blazed the white granite of Bear Gulch, at the top of which perched Smith Lake. No trail led there, and the climb was said to be a blend of strenuous bush-whack and dangerous rock-climb. At the north end of the meadow near a giant, two-trunked Ponderosa pine the main trail entered the forest. A half mile into the towering trees we found several nice campsites on the bank of the rushing river. As we climbed out of the forest on the brushy eastern slope, the views grew ever more spectacular. After a couple of miles we stopped for lunch opposite a sheer rock face of Sawtooth Mountain. Gazing back down the canyon, we could not see Morris Meadow because the trail had already begun its gradual westward loop into the upper canyon. Bob and Nancy radioed that they were on their way.

As we approached the base of the Sawtooth Ridge, we entered an open area where Mother Nature had not played nice. Here at the mouth of the stark upper canyon we crossed a rugged battleground where floodwater, rock slides, and avalanches had scoured away the forest trees and soil. Squeezed together by the steep rock walls, the trail, river, and several washes converged in a open boulder field of rock and brush. Bright red and blue berries clung in profusion to the thick bushes. Piles of bear scat studded with berry seeds littered the trail. We had entered serious bear territory.

The trail cut through alternating patches of forest and rough, open slopes of thick brush as it climbed above the creek on the steepening moraine and rockfall at the base of Sawtooth Ridge. As we began to tire, we entered a wide red fir forest that stood on steep benches above the river. Fallen trees littered the ground. A cracked stone Forest Service fire stove sat beside the trail, but level tent sites lay beneath fallen limbs and brush. Wind gusted relentlessly down the canyon. The only good campsite was in a rocky clearing down beside the river, unprotected from the wind.

Portuguese Camp was not as we remembered. We leaned our backpacks against the trunks of a massive fir and looked around, remembering. In June of 1988 Barbara and I had hiked this far through increasingly stormy weather. On our third day out, beneath a relentless drizzle, with the mountains shrouded by low clouds and fog, we had spent the night in this place, as the rain grew heavier until rivulets became waterfalls and clearings puddles. By morning our tent sat in an inch of water. That morning we had surrendered and begun a long hike all the way out, never making it to the lakes.

I left my backpack to explore the trail ahead. Forty-five pounds lighter, I danced up the trail as buoyant as a ping-pong ball. After cresting a rocky promontory above Portuguese Camp, the trail settled into a moderately steady grade. Tall thickets of berry bushes, huckleberry oak, and manzanita crowded the path on both sides. A hundred feet downslope the river, hidden by groves of willow, alder, and maple, crashed unseen down the rocky canyon.

A quarter of a mile above Portuguese Camp I arrived at the signed junction with Caribou Lakes Trail. In about a mile the trail ascended twenty-four-hundred feet up the brushy, shadeless, south-facing slope of Sawtooth Ridge to a gap in the spired pinnacles. Beyond the pass lay big Caribou Lake. The view back from the summit into the Stuart Fork Canyon, from Morris Meadow in the south to Sapphire and Emerald Lakes and Thompson Peak in the west, is perhaps the most spectacular in all the Trinity Alps. In August of 1991 Barbara and I had descended the countless switchbacks to this same trail junction on a week-long through-hike from Big Flat on the Salmon River to Bridge Camp.

A use trail dropped through the hundred feet of brush and tangles to a small, rough campsite beside the water. The spur trail was probably used more for thirsty pilgrims descending the merciless Caribou Lakes trail than for campers. I felt sure we could do better. But after twenty more minutes of brisk hiking up the trail, I was about to turn back, when I found an excellent campsite in a tall grove by the river (N 41 00' 08.5", W 122 58' 49.8"). The site was sheltered from the wind, with two level tent sites right above the tumbling water, a private beach, and thick rough-cut planks set on rocks and logs for benches by the fire pit. The planks made me think it was the same campsite we had found so charming thirteen years earlier.

Hiking back along the main trail, I was startled by a loud crash in the thick brush just above the path. It was something big. I froze, heart pounding, adrenaline rushing, and fumbled for the paltry little lock-back blade I call my "bear knife." I didn't see what had made the sound, but several fresh piles of bear scat insinuated the worst. As I tip-toed past the spot, little knife trembling, another crashing came from a little farther away. Whatever it was seemed even more frightened of me.

I made it back to Portuguese Camp skittish and exhausted. The wind still gusted down the canyon. I described to Barbara my close encounter. We agreed to press on to the sheltered campsite further up the trail and thus awaken the next day that much closer to the lakes. Bob and Nancy had not yet arrived, but a call on the radio assured us that they were closing in. We hoisted our packs and hurried up the trail so we could have the pick of the tent sites.

Mr. Popper and Nancy arrived at Camp One as we were setting up our tent. We took an invigorating dip in the river, poured cocktails, built a small fire, ate dinner, and whiled away a pleasant evening in our hammocks beside the musical stream. As night fell, Barbara was startled to see two eyes in the brush reflecting back the light of her headlamp. She thought the wide-set, dipping eyes were those of a bear about to charge, but Mr. Popper's flashlight revealed it to be a deer, dropping its head to graze. That night the roar of the rushing river eased our cares as it spun its chrysalis of dreamless sleep.

When we awoke on Tuesday morning, the temperature at Camp One had dropped to a chilly thirty-seven degrees. The first to arise, I built a small fire and put the pot on for coffee and tea. One by one Barbara, Nancy, and Bob arose and began an incessant chatter around the fire. Morning meditation was spurned. So I dropped down the bank to listen to the river and watch the dappled sun spread over the water. Along the river, rolling over rounded granite rock, grew maple, alder, and willow, with an overstory of white and red fir, cottonwood, aspen, and pine. From the glacial till emerged half-buried granite boulders and a varied puzzle of river-rounded metasedimentary rocks. A brown creeper piped up a tree trunk. Just so. All was just so, and not otherwise. I began to grasp an inkling of the Heart Sutra's meaning. Here all things are empty. They are what they are. They mean nothing. Solipsism of the present moment.

Mr. Popper hopped down the bank with his coffee mug, watched the water for awhile, then posed the question, "What is always in motion, but never moves?"

I pondered the koan for a while, but had no ready answer. "What?"

"A river hole."


Midmorning, while we were still eating breakfast, I spotted Judy and Murray skipping past on the trail above the camp. We called to them, and they joined us by the fire. Fit and energetic in their shorts, tee-shirts, and small daypacks, they glowed with health and vigor. Excitedly they described their own close encounter with a big black bear they had startled, serenely munching berries, just down the trail. On seeing them, the bear had scampered off into the brush. They had gotten an early start, had already hiked four miles from Morris Meadow camp, and had intended to join us on the hike up to Emerald and Sapphire Lakes. But we were hopelessly behind their timeline. They were in full stride and had no patience for fools and dawdlers. Murray and Judy struck out ahead while we finished breakfast. They would see us up at the lakes.

The trail to Emerald and Sapphire Lakes was built through metasedimentary bedrock and granitic scree as it climbed the steepening north slope of the canyon. White granite capped the rough, black schist across the river to the south. We were ascending through an interface of massive geological structures. In places the tread was wet and muddy and the forest floor moist with ferns, thimbleberry, and shrubs bearing blue and red berries. Piles of berry-seeded bear scat marked the way. We rose onto the open glacier-polished bedrock among scattered patches of Brewer spruce and western white pine. The trail crossing the slickrock was outlined with rocks tediously placed by trail crews. Near the top we entered a restricted area, where campfires were not permitted, and a little beyond found the last small campsite in a grove of trees to the right of the trail. Ahead the canyon widened into the cirque that cradled Emerald Lake.

From his teens Mr. Popper had vacationed with his parents at Trinity Alps Resort below Bridge Camp. On the wall of the store had hung two photographs that seized his imagination and planted seeds of passion for the wilderness. But though he had backpacked far and wide for more than forty years, somehow he had never managed to arrive at that magical starting place portrayed in those yellowing photos: Emerald and Sapphire Lakes. Until now. As if foreshadowing Mr. Popper's euphoric climb over the slickrock lip that held back Emerald Lake, John Denver had written, "Comin' home to a place he'd never been before." Mr. Popper had at last come home.

The trail reached Emerald Lake on the glacier-smoothed fault line dividing white granite from intruded and multicolored metasedimentary rock. Squeezed on both sides by towering granite walls, the blue-green water sparkled in its stone bowl. At an elevation of 5,500 feet, a dam built of massive granite blocks once raised the water level another twenty feet, but a jagged "V" had been dynamited in the wall after the La Grange hydraulic mine closed. Here and there lay rusting remnants of steam winches, gears, flywheels, pipes, and equipment left behind by miners and dam builders and ditch tenders long dead. The winches had been used to drag the rock into place. This once-brutal incursion into one of the most pristine wildernesses on the planet had long ago lost its teeth. The menace had eroded along with the sharp edges of the stone blocks. Their builders dead for almost a century, these monuments of rusting metal, decayed wood, and weathered rock had become archeological ruins, as quaint and mysterious as the pyramids of Teotehuacan or the Temple of Inscriptions at Palenque.

We explored the eastern shore of Emerald Lake and scrambled over the dam's huge granite blocks, taking photos of the lake, the dam, the mining equipment. The trail continued around the north side of the lake, winding precariously through huge granite boulders on sharp, loose talus as it climbed toward the glacier-smoothed headwall. Sapphire Lake lay just beyond. Although only a mile long, the trail was slow going as it switched-back and climbed 600 feet above Emerald Lake. Near the top Mr. Popper photographed the remains of a rusting steam winch anchored to the slickrock between the trail and the stream.

Sapphire Lake seemed freshly carved by the glaciers. The steep granite walls towered 1600 feet above the steel-blue surface and plunged 200 feet below, making it the deepest lake in the Trinity Alps. At 43 acres, it was twice the size of Emerald Lake. Sparse patches of mountain hemlock, white pine, and an impenetrable beard of manzanita climbed the tumbled rock falls and sprouted from cracks in the glacier-polished cliffs and ledges. Here too the La Grange miners had begun to build a dam, but the stone and timber monument was never completed. Rusting steam winches and decaying timbers of long-abandoned buildings added a haunting quality to a place where man would never feel securely at home.

As we arrived at the water's edge, Judy and Murray were just preparing for their long hike back to Morris Meadow. They had explored, taken pictures, eaten lunch, swam, and imbibed the starkly beautiful isolation. Now it was time to return. Hunkered down in the sparse shade of a hemlock that grew from a fissure in the slick finger of granite sloping into the water, we discussed a hike around the north slope and a scramble up the granite ledges to Mirror Lake 700 feet above the western headwall of Sapphire Lake. There would be no trail, and the bushwack would be an all-day struggle. That would be an adventure, but better undertaken another day when we could start from a camp at Emerald or Sapphire Lake.

After Judy and Murray left, we swam in the lake and wandered about in the spectacularly austere beauty. It was difficult to leave, but Mr. Popper and Nancy intended to return to Morris Meadow camp for the night, so they had to get back to Camp One, take down their tent, and pack up their belongings. They did not want to be hiking after dark. Satisfaction intertwined with regret as we descended the rugged trail to Emerald Lake, where Barbara and I swam while Mr. Popper and Nancy continued on their way. The water was refreshing.

We arrived back at Camp One just as Mr. Popper and Nancy were strapping on their backpacks. We accompanied them up to the main trail, where we bid them farewell, then returned to our stream-side camp for another night. The solitude was not unwelcome.

Wednesday morning we sat silent beside the moving water with our tea and mocha. Sunlight advanced down the opposite bank. I pondered Mr. Popper's koan of the previous morning, which I had shared with Barbara. The mind never stops trying to freeze reality into a photograph, a writing, a meaning. But the motion never ceases. At last I spoke out loud, "The mind."

Barbara looked up.

"That's the answer to Mr. Popper's question."

Barbara remained silent.

"What is always in motion, but never moves? Popper's 'river hole' is just a metaphor for 'the mind.'"

Barbara was silent for a long time, then murmured, "And for what is 'the mind' a metaphor?"


The hike down to Morris Meadow was tiring. Along the tumbling creek lay the thick groves of willow, alder, and maple, and along the trail a thicket of oak, manzanita, and berry bushes. We kept up a loud and trivial conversation to alert any feasting bears of our approach. Still fatigued from the previous day's hike to the lakes, we arrived back at camp just after noon to learn that a young couple had ridden horses in the previous afternoon and were camped just upstream from our swimming hole. Their three horses grazed stupidly in the soft, wet meadow beside the river.

After lunch, we prepared to go for a swim and wash off the trail dust. The two young neighbors, however, decided it was time to wash their horses in the middle of the river. I grew surly and loud, decrying the inconsiderate fouling of the stream, until they sheepishly removed their livestock from our water supply. After a while we proceeded to the river anyway, swam in the still murky water, and sunbathed on the gravel bar near a fresh pile of fly-infested horse manure. Mr. Popper picked up a sparkling piece of quartz from the gravel bar and examined it with a magnifying lens. He convinced himself that the bright specks buried in the rock were pure gold. James Marshall could not have been more thrilled when he plucked a few nuggets of yellow metal out of the gravels of the South Fork of the American River at Coloma in 1848. Life for Mr. Popper was about to get a whole lot easier. He gathered more specimens to pack out.

After dinner Barbara and I visited Judy and Murray at their camp beside a calm pool in the river. Murray had been busy while we were away, gathering, snapping to length, and stacking in neat, obsessive piles enough firewood to host a National Boy Scout Jamboree. He clearly had no trouble filling his time. Relaxed in her chair, Judy appeared entirely at home in the wilderness. We all returned to the main camp and spent the evening telling more stories around the fire. As soon as night began to fall, we crawled wearily into our tent.

Thursday morning we awoke early. Some little creature clicking near our packs had awakened us. I arose to investigate, found nothing, and built a crackling fire in the 43-degrees cold of early morning. At 7:00 a.m. the sun just brushed the highest peaks beyond the meadow. Peacefully Barbara and I crowded beside the campfire and drank our tea and coffee, I in my chair, Barbara in her Thermarester, watching the sun melt its way down the granite faces and into the trees ringing the meadow. We saw no deer.

Shouts and whinnying emanated from the camp next door. The couple seemed to be having trouble corralling their horses. But before long the young man and woman, amount, with the woman behind, struggling to lead the pack horse, passed our camp on their way out. We waved, and they tipped their hats. We ate breakfast in the hammocks as the sun spread over the meadow. A Stellar's Jay chattered at nothing in the surrounding trees. Another party camped over at Morris Camp also left that morning, leaving to us the entire meadow.

Toward afternoon Murray and Mr. Popper decided they wanted to hike into Bear Gulch to see if they could find the trail up to Morris Lake. All six of us bushwhacked through the thick, choked timber until we found where Bear Gulch Creek merged with Stuarts Fork. The ground was soft and boggy near the confluence, and Barbara wanted to turn back, so she and I left the intrepid explorers and returned to camp for a peaceful swim. We had the swimming hole to ourselves. Late in the afternoon the others returned scratched and bedraggled from their search. They had found nothing. We joined them for a final swim.

After dinner on our last evening we gathered our chairs into front-row seats at the edge of the meadow near our campsite and watched the sun crawl up the eastern slopes of the Sawtooth Ridge until it kissed the highest pinnacles with an orange-red fire. Deer browsed in the crepusculum. For a final act, the twilight painted the lush green meadow a cold blue until night enveloped the landscape and we could no longer make out distinct trees and spires. The first stars twinkled overhead.

On our last morning, Friday, we arose and sat solemnly by our individual fires feeling that tug of remorse that always attends the end of something fine. As usual, Judy and Murray were the first on the trail at 10 am so they could get to the trailhead and meet Dee when he returned with our gear. By midmorning Barbara and I had packed and returned our ample belongings to the central camp where Dee had unloaded them a week earlier. We followed around 11:30. Mr. Popper and Nancy were still leisurely packing up their things and wondering why everyone seemed to be in such a big hurry. Why not take a morning swim?

Around noon we met Dee on the trail zig-zagging up the open moraine below Deer Creek junction. It was good to see him. When we asked, he told us that the helicopters a week earlier had been rescuing a friend of his up at Summit Lake. He believed the fellow would be all right. He rode on to load up his mules and meet us back at Bridge Camp.

It was Labor Day weekend, and the workers were all gone, so we crossed Deer Creek on the bridge, ignoring the signs that said it was still under construction. Mr. Popper and Nancy caught up with us as we ate lunch at the Alpine Lake crossing. The hike down the river was long and tiring. Dee arrived at the trailhead at the same time we did. It had taken us five hours to hike out in the warm and muggy weather. On the way we counted 28 backpackers hiking in, and more arrived that evening as we spent another night at Bridge Camp with Mr. Popper and Nancy. We had gotten out just in time. The weekend was going to be a zoo in there.

Driving home on Saturday, we found the historical steam-powered stamp mill in full operation at the museum in Weaverville. Mr. Popper and Nancy joined us, and Popper allowed the mill operators a surreptitious peek at his gold-bearing quartz rock. They laughed. The flakes were iron pyrites. Fool's gold.

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