Craig Wisner

Archive for May, 2017

A Long Day. (3/10/17)

Gabrielino 1

Loose rock, heat, thorns, and ceaseless ups and downs; I do not believe the San Gabriel mountains are given due credit for how rough the backcountry can be.  Proximity to Los Angeles and its crowds likely dulls that appreciation- and yet I find myself alone, running out of water, pants shredded from seemingly endless stretches of blowdowns.

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If you’ve never seen it for yourself, perhaps you’ll believe me if I quote John Muir:

In the mountains of San Gabriel, overlooking the lowland vines and fruit groves, Mother Nature is most ruggedly, thornily savage. Not even in the Sierra have I ever made the acquaintance of mountains more rigidly inaccessible. The slopes are exceptionally steep and insecure to the foot of the explorer, however great his strength or skill may be, but thorny chaparral constitutes their chief defense. With the exception of little park and garden spots not visible in comprehensive views, the entire surface is covered with it, from the highest peaks to the plain. It swoops into every hollow and swells over every ridge, gracefully complying with the varied topography, in shaggy, ungovernable exuberance, fairly dwarfing the utmost efforts of human culture out of sight and mind.

But in the very heart of this thorny wilderness, down in the dells, you may find gardens filled with the fairest flowers, that any child would love, and unapproachable linns lined with lilies and ferns, where the ousel builds its mossy hut and sings in chorus with the white falling water. Bears, also, and panthers, wolves, wildcats; wood rats, squirrels, foxes, snakes, and innumerable birds, all find grateful homes here, adding wildness to wildness in glorious profusion and variety.

It is still wild enough, apparently, to ward off the hordes below.  I saw nobody.

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I was lost out there for a day, not literally, at least not for long, but lost nonetheless.  It was a training hike; I carried a 20# dumbell wrapped in a sleeping bag in my pack to simulate a typical backcountry load.  Crawling, scraping, shimmying, sliding- this land does not go easy.  Eventually coughed out by a canyon, I shuffled home by moonlight, at first on trail and then on streets, 37 miles and 15 hours later.  Waiting at a streetlight with a bag of Doritos in one hand, a quart of cold Gatorade in the other, lost in a new strange world.  The Saturday night malt liquor and lottery ticket crowd didn’t quite know what to think when I walked through the liquor store doors, trekking poles poking skyward from a filthy pack.

Within hours and then days and then weeks the dehydration and madness of it all gave way to nothing but memories of seemingly endless canyons stretching out in front of me, pools and tiny Edens hidden in their nooks.  Writing this, I remember no pain.

Just a long day.  A good day.

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Pure.

It’s tempting to liken distance running to asceticism, especially when temps are over 90 degrees and climbs are approaching 1000 feet per mile.  The Desert Fathers parched their tongues under a Middle Eastern sun; I’m in the San Gabriel mountains with my head low, dizzy and grinding out the grade.

Rim Trail 1

Somewhere beneath the heat and sweat a silence takes over, a purity of being.  My body doing what it was built to do; blood pumping, muscles contracting, lungs filling and expelling air.  This is right.  And it’s not always a struggle; I had miles and miles of smooth, quiet running yesterday, everything clicking, everything steady.  No turbulence, just a mirror-like mind reflecting the world around me.  Silence and solitude and breath.

Rim Trail 2

I want to see the world before I’m gone.  I want fresh trails rolling out before me, new vistas around each bend.


Mountain Fragments. (Remnants from recent overnights).

Dry leaves

dance in an eddy

as stones are worn

to dust

lost in a sheet of water

sliding down the rocks

-attention broken

by an ant exploring

my ear

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my daughter asleep in the tent

lit by a crystal moon

-I’m left at the fire

with frogs

and dreams

searching, always searching

the woodpeckers mock

my zen

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smiling at birds

whispering to a fox

touching peace

in the cool skin

of a salamander

-sitting in darkness

I’m filling with light

-remembering

(hands cupped together)

a gesture of gratitude

beneath twilight oaks

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I heard death this morning

just beyond the amber light

-soft footsteps dampened

with bracken fern

and birdsong

-it will be here soon enough

walk slowly, friends

dispel haste

and lift your heads

put on another pot of tea

—it will be here soon enough.

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24 hours,

2 packages of ramen,

1 bag of instant coffee.

This shit doesn’t have to be complicated.