Kennedy Stockholm Meadows Syndrome
Burgundy faded wood siding, fissured and grey in sun-bleached spots, card tables with stacks of smashed sharpied USPS flat rates, buckets and boxes of shredded and half-broken gear that alternate between organized and miasmic, power bricks and garmins lined along the wall. The grill everyone hopes will be open but rarely is, because its operators have, again, something to take care of, and will ostensibly be back later. And so everyone hits the microwave in the store hard, and it gets stretched well beyond capacity, and the hum of the microwave’s little fan gets progressively more agonized. Memories of people at certain tables, from last year or earlier this, the ghosts that don’t really howl, but do sometimes murmur, in search of only peripheral attention, remembering that time is not as fixed and flat as it feels, isn’t just a continual replacement of faces carrying on the same actions and events, the ones that swirl around you without much mutation. All framed by the corny types of signs with jokes about fishing and marriage that seem to grow like moss on the walls of mountain resorts.
Some old timers at Grumpy’s talk about all the people they’ve known in Kennedy Meadows over the years. How the ranches up here were purchased with gold nuggets, they say from the Paiutes, though whether any of that’s true is dubious, since fair trades and cultural respect weren’t really what dudes back then were known for. There’s a real estate agent who they say owns most of the plateau now, whose newly constructed Craftsman halfway between the two hiker outposts towers over the road and projects fancy. The granite of the ridges around us is at first glance similar to what’s around San Jacinto, oblong boulders that look like a child’s attempt to draw a circle. But one of the old timers is a petrogeologist who works in fracking and says that those, the SJ rocks, are paler and less afflicted with fault activity. Up here the granite is darker with an element called serpentine that begins with iron and magnesium under pressure creating a kind of lengthened curving scaling that travels through the rock and goes from emerald to black, snaking through monoliths and creating the sudden jagged cracks that form the Spanish word for their shape, serrated. The granite around us does look deeper hued, though whether the ominous feeling is from the color or the snowpack above is hard to tell.
The porch of the Kennedy Meadows General Store wraps around the store and closet-sized grill to face the dirt road that hikers trudge in on. There are five miniature Australian shepherds that look, disconcertingly, both very young and very old. They plod around the porch with something that resembles hiker hobble, their gorgeous eyes semi-vacant and their fur like sandpaper, which isn’t as much of a problem as you’d think, since they don’t want pets: they ignore any attention that isn’t food. it gets gradually more plausible that they’re cursed hikers who stayed too long and had a spell cast on them. A rusted yellow and red Shell Oil sign from the seventies stands above the words “gasoline 7.49”, as if a set director were attempting to portray a semi-apocalypse but also kind of mailing it in on that.
Grumpy’s is two miles down the road but has better food. To get there, we wait for a minivan in the driveway under the blazing clacking Shell sign, then smash ourselves in, and suffocate for a couple miles. When we arrive, the main room is packed and loud already, at 9:00 a.m. People are saying they’re going back to San Francisco or to Costa Rica for a week or a month or renting a car to go see some national parks or to Germany to let their ankle heal or to Africa, incredibly. And the ones going into the Sierra call the forest service to get hazy answers about roads, permits, bear cans, wag bags. They say maybe they’ll be miserable and bounce at Cottonwood Pass or definitely by Kearsarge or actually maybe Bishop Pass, near where a woman drowned in a creek last week. There’s squeals and gasps at pancakes that spill over the edges of their plates, everyone’s eyes fixed on each dish as it sails out of the kitchen in the server’s lofted hand and flies to a table where another rapturous hiker gazes longingly as it nears, like a lovesick and yearning teenager. The floor thick with layers of the grit and dirt we expel as a new byproduct of our being, our adaptations and growing hiker biology. The endless sagebrush out the windows so still, whispering about the titanic snow that looms ahead of and above us.
Everyone encountering and grappling again with the scale of a problem there’s really no solution to, how to cope in conditions we’re physiologically and adaptively not meant for, our hot and tender bodies made for tropics and sub-Saharan plains. Bodies that have spent their lives in the suburbs but are now fleeing the suffocating, perpetual comfort for the towering and unknown cold. Like chains of single celled organisms that communicate to survive, we flow in gelatinous blobs off of and back on to trail, break apart and recombine, whine, walk, eat, and sleep. There’s a pink algae that grows on alpine snow and is found in separate ranges with thousands of miles of desert between them, having been blown there by the wind, its microscopic particles finding their way across a proportionally infinite distance, as if we could be likewise blown to the moon on the dumb whim of chance and somehow live. It’s not really the physical or chemical impossibilities the algae have figured out, the why or the how, that are so astounding, because they don’t answer the what: the fact that it does happen, that for as fathomless as that emptiness may be, this other force, the one we are and that everything we care about is too, that this other force is also, in an ever frail and quivering tone, nevertheless refusing to yield; can wait anything out or fly any distance in search of itself. We are made of the kind of energy that doesn’t care how many times it has to falter, to face futility’s hiss and say only that it loves so well and desires so deeply that it will grow around and through anything before it. The miracle isn’t what it’s capable of but that it is so relentlessly devoted.
We are that, like the lupines and mariposas that seem inevitably to find one another, deep indigo bells that float above the ridges they’re tied to like tiny balloons, hiding their thin and tightly coiled friends who will someday dawn into blindingly florescent pinks and oranges, lit chalices with flaming stamens, each singular and stationary as it hovers under the angled evening light, feeling the sun bake their petals again with the promise of more warmth beyond the temporary and tolerable cold of night.
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