A group of two British couples had set up camp on the other side of the Lakes of the Clouds Hut. Earlier I had chatted with them as they slowly trudged down from the summit. They whined about pack weight but reassured themselves that it was right to prepare themselves for their next adventure. One man had 6 liters of water on his back. It was sloppy, it was pitiful. They had no experience, no knowledge of what they were doing. They stumbled down the mountain, tripping on stones, trampling exotic arctic plants that could only be found on this small patch of elevation in this beautiful area in New Hampshire.
Once I had set up camp, which consisted of my sleeping pad rolled out onto the rocky soil, and my sleeping bag on top of that, I began cooking dinner. The two men came around the Hut that was closed for the winter and saw me sitting, legs crossed, on a piece of foam cut from another pad. I hovered over my cooking food, ready and excited for the energy the days first warm meal would bring me. My legs, arms, and neck were roasted from the day’s blazing hot sun. My thoughts hovered over the dehydration that had set in and my mid day nap in a crevice underneath a boulder.
They asked me what I was doing.
“What do you mean?” I replied, oblivious to the purpose of their interrogation.
“Do you not have a tent?”
“I checked the weather. There’s not a storm cloud within hundreds of miles of here,” I responded. “Have you all never cowboy camped?” I questioned in shock.
They returned to their camp probably still thinking I was crazy. I ate my first meal, but with the pit in my stomach unsatisfied, I prepped for round 2.
I ran to the spring, jumping across gaps in the bedrock, checking for a small fall in the spring where I could let the water spill into my bottle. I crouched, one leg on one side of the carved bedrock, and another leg on the other side. My bottle filled quickly and when I turned to return to my sleeping arrangements, I saw their camp. I could survive for years in their set-up. Two four man tents resting hidden from the breeze and from the sunset, cluttered the landscape, crushing any struggling brush and flowers.
I cooked my second meal, broccoli and cheddar rice. I ate it slowly, just as I always do, but with different emotion then in the past. A meal is energy. I am taking the life of several plants so that I can survive. They are donating their lives so that I can survive. I eat with this feeling, with this attachment to the earth and all its energy.
As I am reaching the scrapings on the base of my pot, an unfamiliar visitor scurries up looking for the source of the cheesy smell. He scrambles out of the bushes just like any other skunk does, spine twisting like an awkward snake, tail dragging, legs clumsily translating across the difficult landscape. I am quickly in position to run.
Disappointed and surprised, however, the skunk stares at me with the same fear I do him. He wonders where the hell I came from. He is ready to run.
I say aloud “Ohhhh crap. OOOhhhhhh crap. Please don’t.”
I can see it in his eyes. He is thinking “Ohhhh crap. OOOhhhhhh crap. Please don’t.”
We both come to a truce, both of us have a power over each other but neither of us wants the punishment the other can inflict.
He about faces and scrambles back to where he came. I watch an amazing sunset from the open air slopes on Mount Washington.
The next day I recount the story to a few employees at a hut that remains open throughout the winter. They, in shock, inform me of a similar encounter which had occurred a mere few days earlier that had turned out much different. A skunk had come looking for the source of the brilliant smells of human cooking. But while the hut had closed only a couple days before I arrived, this visitor had found a hut full of residents. He strutted his awkward stride right up the stairs and through the front door, unnoticed by anyone until he had become cornered well into the structure. Screams and sprays resulted and finally a swift shot to the head ended the ordeal.
I am glad the brother and I had a truce which involved none of that.