This is the final Part IV of a four part story. (See Part I for Index). It is a story about relationships between and among teenagers. This includes intimate relationships between young males. If you don't approve or are offended, then how come you're reading this? Find a different story. Or perhaps read on; you may be persuaded to think differently.
If, for some legal reason, you are not allowed to read this in your area of the world because of illogical laws, again I will not condone (publicly) anyone breaking the law, so either move or read sentence six. I definitely don't want the thought police after either of our butts.
Please, this story is sort of my property, so if you ever want to quote some of it, please e-mail me and also give proper attribution.
Note that an author welcomes any feedback. Constructive criticism is appreciated, and all e-mails will be answered.
PLEASE NOTE: This story is finally coming to a conclusion. The entire story, including the last Chapter 104, plus the Epilogue, is now hosted at http://crackerwriter.us and at http://storylover.us . I hope you enjoy it.
Chapter 100a -- Life As It Was Meant to Be (part a)
Rocco can still surprise me. It was at the end of the school year and exams were all but over. A few students had one last exam tomorrow but most of us were packing for the Summer break -- except for those few taking some Summer session classes. But our dorm was being vacated until Fall Quarter. Fortunately there was a huge storeroom in the basement where the students were allowed to store things they did not want to lug around. Rocco was boxing up most of our books and a goodly amount of our clothes. As he was stuffing one of our big down coats into a big box he said without looking up: "Oh I forgot to mention, Tom Acula is coming too."
I instantly realized that my White-boy's brain must have jumped the track again. We HAD been talking about our plans for the Summer. I suspect his seeing the coat reminded him of some of our close friends. I connected the dots and replied. "How come Tom? When did this suddenly happen?"
Rocco was now talking about the farewell dinner we had invited a few of our close friends to. This was to take place tomorrow and originally included Mike & Pat, with whom we still joined on many of our Friday `wind-down' nights. Although recently we did quite a few things besides play cards. And also included was Xia to whom Rocco formally introduced me (as his roommate) right before the Christmas holidays. They had surprisingly gotten pretty close since then in spite of Rocco trying his best to convince her that he was a closet racist. Perhaps introducing me was one more way he was trying to convince her that this was not true. (That instead he was merely a social klutz).
Rocco and Xia get together a lot working on their `Dif-EQ' (Differential Equations). Rocco lamented the fact that he finally had a math course that he had to work at. He also said with even some awe: "Damn Jade, I think Xia is even smarter than Jerry Price. I'm pretty lucky to have her to study with."
We had also invited Rob from LA to our small get together but he begged off at the last minute. He would instead now be leaving campus this evening. Just last evening he caught up with me and explained.
"Have to take a rain-check Jade. Sorry. But I need to get home and straighten out my younger brother."
"Not quite sure. He and a good friend had been avid followers of Malcolm X, but ever since Malcolm X split from the Black Muslims, my brother's got involved with other much more extreme groups. Two days ago he was arrested and was found carrying a gun. I'm sick with worry."
"That's pretty far from what Malcolm X preaches."
"Well, this is personal. I got to help."
As Rob walked away I noted the grim look on his face. I sure hoped he could fix things with his brother. But I was so wrapped up with studying for my last final that it wasn't until that evening that I told Rocco.
Rocco replied: "Not coming hah. Too bad. I got to really like him even if he tried to take you away from me too often."
Rocco was referring to those few times I opted to do things either for the Black Student Union or when Rob and I would just hang out together. Then I explained why he wasn`t coming.
Rocco replied in his usual oblique fashion. "Well, I was starting to almost admire Malcolm X until his speech last December. Besides trying to re-write history by stating that all social ills starting from forever were entirely due to the institution of slavery. Not only did I think he was quite overstating the issue, but I think he actually had that backwards."
Now for once my ears perked up. "Had what backwards?"
"I think slavery was a continuing symptom of something even more basically wrong with many human societies. It speaks of basic human nature. And it doesn't put the nature of people in a very good light. And what Malcolm X seemed not to understand was that the mores of our society ARE changing. Just too slowly for him and a lot of his followers." And then the REAL reason for Rocco's new animosity towards Malcolm X he revealed: "And he was also pretty mean with his words about Kennedy."
Rocco looked up from the box after stuffing our second coat inside, as I said: "So it will be six people again. So how come Tom?"
"Tom's been trying all year to get Xia just to notice him. I guess she finally has. We had asked Xia to bring someone if she wanted and yesterday she and Tom came up to me after the math final and Tom boldly said that he was coming with Xia."
"So Xia has finally given up on you?" I jokingly replied.
That was when I got this strange look from my White-boy. "I need your help on something Jade."
His tone and demeanor shouted to me to pay close attention. This was serious. And then I had one of my own intuitive leaps. "You want to tell Xia don't you?"
"Jade, Xia is possibly the most intelligent person I've ever met. She sees you and me together all the time and I never mention my `wife.' I can't believe that she hasn't suspected something. She probably thinks by now that my `wife' is pure fiction. She's just too polite to mention anything. And I just hate lying to her."
I found it amazing that since that deal with his paper last Fall, I haven't heard anything at all rumored about us. Of course it might be so far behind our backs that it's out of our hearing range. And my first impulse now was to let sleeping dogs lie.
"Why invite possible trouble White-boy?"
Rocco smiled. He knew me almost as well as I knew him, "Now that we have your automatic response out of the way, what do you really think?"
I saw how this was so important to him. I was trying to weigh the possible ramifications.
"You've thought about this a lot?"
"You know me. I've thought about it so much I've totally confused myself. My big worry of course is you."
I knew what Rocco's somewhat cryptic reply really meant. It had several layers of meaning. He didn't want me caught in any fallout first of all, but probably more importantly he didn't want to do something which could hurt me. And there was an all important subtle distinction between these. What he was really asking, since he had already decided he wanted to tell her, was that he'd only do so with my OK.
"Your best evaluation. Not wishful thinking. Will she tell anyone else?"
Rocco sighed. That meant he decided not to try equivocating. "About 90% is my best guess."
"Why not a hundred?"
"Her natural impulse would be always to keep a confidence. But about something like this, I can't be sure."
"OK White-boy. Let me think on this. But you haven't given me much time. The dinner is tomorrow."
We were all going to a Chinese Restaurant in Medical Lake, a small town just northwest of the college. It had the advantage of not having to worry about Spokane's traffic. It was quite a pretty area with several small lakes in the vicinity.
"Thanks Jade." He knew he'd get his answer. And I also knew that he only wanted my REAL opinion.
Then I asked about cars since I wondered if Tom would want to bring Xia himself.
Rocco replied: "Coincidentally Tom lives in Medical Lake. In spite of that he was almost insistent that he drive back to campus to pick up Xia. But we will be taking Xia. Mike and Pat will come in their own car." We will take ours.
Rocco and I had recently purchased a 1961 Plymouth Valiant. It was an ugly car, only six cylinders, and smaller than most but the price was right. Some student needed more money for next year's tuition. Of course insurance was outrageous. Almost $90 dollars. Toward the end of the year our ideas of what a summer vacation consisted of had evolved. And we also decided that our first stop was going to be Glacier Park. From there we would decide as the spirit moved us. Of course included somewhere (or more correctly `somewhen') was Yellowstone Park. We thoroughly looked at our finances and decided that a `real vacation' was quite affordable. Even if the next year had to see us working for his uncle again. We were both quite excited.
Our ensuing conversation that evening to an outsider would have sounded strange. And even looked strange as we couldn't keep from touching each other. Just a few words here and there but we spoke full paragraphs of meaning. One of my questions was how come it was not until now that he was so concerned about `not lying' any more to Xia. The reason was typical Rocco. He didn't have the emotional `energy' to consider it until school was done. And now that school work was completed successfully I greatly liked this relaxed version of my White-boy. Although now that I think on it, he seemed a little better this quarter than the first two. We had already pre-registered for next year. It had taken all of five minutes. Rocco was correct about the lack of `red-tape' at this school. And for many other reasons I was quite happy with our choice of schools. The atmosphere on campus was quite relaxed. With very few exceptions the students and teachers (and especially the administration) were all quite tolerant.
Rocco had been a bit puzzled way near the beginning of the school year when he saw what he thought was a surprising number of black male students with non-black girls. That particular day we had been up on the lawn overlooking the football field watching the team practice. It was an unusually beautiful day for October and we were taking advantage of it.
Looking partway across campus Rocco asked: "Jade, is it my imagination or am I seeing that an awful lot lately?" He was looking specifically towards a black and white couple.
"See what?" I decided to teach my White-boy a lesson.
"That guy and girl over there."
"What about them? There's a lot of that going around.""I know. How come?"
"OK, White-boy let me teach you about the birds and the bees. What usually . . ."
"Jaaaade! You know exactly what I mean."
"OH! You mean the girl being white. Or Asian I think. It's pretty hard to tell from this distance. You know Rocco, I dream of the day when nobody is any longer making the distinction between black and white. Or any other color skin for that matter."
After a long pause where I could almost hear the gears revving up in Rocco's brain he finally remarked. "Jade, you know very well I have very few prejudiced bones left in my body. You've been quite diligent in routing them out. Now whenever you feel like it perhaps you can answer my original question."
"Rocco, sometimes you are not very perceptive. I should let you figure this out on your own. But in the interest of preserving my sanity, I would ask you a question. Remember when Rob was over here last and we were spouting off statistics concerning the demographics of the student body here?"
"Well, were you actually paying attention?"
"What has that. . . (Pause) Oh. How bad is it?"
"About two to one. It's been a major concern of Rob and the Black Student Union." Two to one was the ratio of black male students to black female students at EWSC. And for the most part the main grievances on the part of the black student population probably stemmed from that one fact. A far second was the faction who wanted the history courses here to include more black history.
Rocco and I finally agreed that it could possibly be the reason why, with rare exceptions, the student population doesn't seem to mind seeing mixed couples. Perhaps they too realized the disparity of numbers. Whatever the reason, as I said, I LIKED the atmosphere on this campus.
The next day -- the day of the dinner -- Rocco said he would pack the car when he got back from driving a few students to the airport that afternoon. The next time I saw the car is was pretty well filled for our upcoming trip. Suitcases, camping gear, packs, and even an ice chest filled the entire trunk and half of the back seat. We had even bought a regular tent plus a smaller one for back packing. It was a good thing that Xia was small. A few remaining items were still in our room which we had to vacate the next day.
And that same afternoon I had done something that I wondered if I'd done right to do it. I got the idea after seeing a couple girls on campus have it done. Although he had not said anything specific for quite some time, I knew that Rocco had always liked the feel of my hair. We both knew it and I sure didn't mind. In fact I liked it usually when he was caressing my head. (But NOT when I was trying to study). Well anyway, more out of just never getting the ambition to get a haircut over the past year or so, I had a pretty bushy mop. Now I personally hated the word `napy,' especially when used in conjunction with describing my hair. But to be completely honest that is exactly the most accurate word you could use. I looked it up once. `Nap' is defined as `the soft fibers that stickup slightly from the surface of a fabric such as velvet." And when I have my hair short that is as close a description as you could want. And although I've never seen the word in a dictionary, the word `napy' has been used forever to describe the exceptionally fine soft bushy hair of a Negro. But I hated it because it has taken on a negative connotation over the years. You might just start to wonder why I'm talking about this at such length. Well, probably to justify exactly why I have done what I have done. And I am about 50% certain that my White-boy will not like it. (Fortunately it is undoable if he totally hates it). Well anyway, by the end of the school year my hair was pretty darn long -- especially for me who usually gets it cut whenever I can start to grasp it. Well, I didn`t seem to get any motivation to get it cut especially as I found out that my White-boy not only liked the feel of my `napy' hair, but the longer it got, the more he liked the feel. Now you might remark "but you just said he`d not talked about it for months." Just take my word for it. I KNOW he liked it that way. That is why I am now 50% worried. Seeing really long hair on a black man is not very common. Only just recently some of the more militant factions have started the trend of wearing their hair longer, perhaps as a mark of defiance -- I'm not sure. But I do NOT desire nor wish to be considered within that group so I decided to get my hair cut. Until I saw the hair cutter's hair. I REALLY liked it! Even if it was on a girl. She had an entire series of narrow cornrows marching from front to back with a part down the middle. And interwoven into the two to three inch lengths of bound hair on the side of her head were these tiny beads. I LIKED it a lot! So I had her do my hair the same. It took forever and I gave her an entire 5 dollars. And it turned out quite well. Only my beads were all mixed colors instead of white. But now I know exactly how my White-boy felt when he did something he thought I'd not like but did it anyway!
As I said earlier Rocco can sometimes still surprise me. And he surprised me on this.
Rocco picked me up at Cecil Hall where I was sitting in the Student Union getting stares. I was watching for our ugly car. As I got in the passenger's side of the car to go the entire three blocks to Xia's dorm Rocco noticed right away that I was wearing my wedding ring. AND my hair. As for the ring it was now a rare thing for me to have it on because it invited too many questions especially since Rocco was wearing his now. This had been a sort of silent agreement between us for almost the entire school year.
The very first thing Rocco said, with only a tiny pause looking at my hair, was: "Does that mean what I think it does?" And the question we both knew was about the ring.
"Provisionally. I'd like to start that part of the conversation."
And that DEFINITELY was NOT ANY kind of reaction -- or lack of reaction -- I expected. We drove the three blocks to Xia's dorm and still not a word. We both got out of the parked car and still not a single word. We got into the lobby of her dorm and still not a single word in spite of several people there also staring at me. Finally one of the kids said: "Shit man, what the hell you do to yourself?" He was obviously commenting on my hair as he was even reaching out and almost started fingering the beads. That was when Rocco spoke up.
"Can't you let anyone be different? I think his hair looks great. And Jade`s proving that a hair style can be very different yet look very good."
I was thinking lot of mixed thoughts as we had picked Xia up and were driving to Medical Lake. Rocco still hadn't talked to me directly about my hair and this was quite a departure for him who usually has to talk and comment about everything. We did talk about the usual, final grades and Summer plans when Xia finally made a comment about my hair. But it was pretty tame -- something like "that's really different." Comments from the other people that night were just as guarded. Only Rocco stated that he positively liked it, but his reply could be suspect since he would be prone to defend me in the situation in which he said it.
Well anyway, we filled Xia in with our plans to camp and hike for a good part of the summer. She herself was visiting relatives in Vancouver for the first few weeks.
We were just parking outside the restaurant when I asked Xia if it were all right if we took a very short walk first. We had timed it to make sure we were early. We walked to a nearby park and sat at a bench.
"This seems quite mysterious boys." Xia said with a smile. She seemed never to be without one except when she was intently thinking. Then she was in her own world and could be hardly reached. "I know that this is important so I will listen."
"Xia, remember when Rocco told you several months ago that he was married?"
"Yes. I finally realized that he did so to spare my feelings. And maybe to save face." She gave Rocco a nice smile.
"Well. What he said was true."
Before I could say more Xia seemed to get upset and exclaimed to Rocco. "But how can this be so? There is no girl in your life. Is that not true?" She was looking at Rocco now.
Rocco replied: "No, you are correct. There is definitely no girl in my life. But if there were she'd be very much like you." Rocco saw my expression and hastily added: "And what Jade said is also true."
Xia was now looking at both of us as if we were deliberately trying to confuse her. Rocco continued: "Xia, I hope we will always be good friends. But I want to tell you something I did not have the courage to say several months ago. It is Jade to whom I am married."
Xia started to say a few things but finally settled for: "But how can that be possible?"
I answered. "Here is my ring. It's like Rocco's. We were married before a minister almost two years ago. We intend to live our lives together. I hope you can understand."
Then Xia surprised Rocco (and myself). She leaned over and kissed his cheek. "You are a good friend and I am happy for you. And I had already suspected about Jade." Then she smiled again. "When are we going to eat? I hear that this place is supposed to have good Chinese food. I doubt it but we shall see."
The food according to Xia was passable. She also surprised us when she mentioned that Vancouver had a China Town as big as the one in San Francisco. "And if you two ever visit there, my aunt and uncle run a small restaurant there where the food is marvelous. There you will be shown true Cantonese cooking."
Mike, Pat, and Tom also kept talking about their summer plans. (When they stopped commenting about my hair). Tom I could tell was hoping that some of his might just involve Xia. Rocco and I paid for the meal which I also thought was merely `adequate.'
While we were still in the restaurant I finally caught Rocco when he'd gone to the rest room and pulled him outside the side door. "OK White-boy. What do you really think?"
He had the audacity to smile. "OK, at first I was too shocked to say anything. But you know how automatically conservative I am about such things. Look how I reacted to Jimmy's long hair right before we left. But by the time we got to Xia's dorm I was starting to really like it. And what that guy said galvanized me. I think people are going to stare at you a lot because of it but as I said I like it. I think it suits you."
"How about when you like to touch my hair. You always said you liked its feel."
"Well, maybe that is one negative thing about it, but so long as you don't kill me swinging your head around, I'll get used to it. It's your hair after all. But I got one question. Do you think it will be comfortable enough to sleep on? And how do you keep it that way?"
That was a whole `nother matter we'd discuss later. And that was two questions, and Rocco was supposed to be a math major.
When we got back to the table Xia was looking quite a few questions at us but voiced none of them. We brought her back to campus but just before she left the car she said: "I was wondering. You two say you are married. I have trouble understanding that. You also say you will be together for life. You really believe that?"
Rocco looked at me and answered: "Definitely. We are as married to each other and as committed as you can get."
"So strange. But I see and have watched you Rocco all year. You are a good person. So I will then say I am happy for you."
I added: "Saying you couldn't live without someone might just be a bit melodramatic. But I know one thing for certain. I would not want to live without Rocco in my life."
Rocco looked exactly like a rag doll as he bounced or actually flipped end over end three times over the rocks below. I could barely see his body as tears flooded my eyes. I eschewed the ice axe and climbed down on the rocks beside the couloir as fast as I could make my legs go. The two other people we were hiking with actually got down about the same time but they somehow used their ice axes and sort of slid down on their feet on the snow. They called it glissading. Later I wondered how I made that run without clobbering my own self. I was pleading with the universe over and over again. "Please let him be OK." Well, I knew full well that my White-boy had to be hurt badly but still I was hoping. I was about one third the way down when I saw the body of my White-boy seemingly levitate upward, swing his arms over his head and shout: "I'm OK! I'm OK!"
I knew he had to be lying but at the same time I was so relieved to know that he possibly wasn't hurt too seriously after all. Of course I kept thinking about all the internal injuries he could have. Then I saw Rocco walking upwards toward us but couldn't understand why he seemed intent on looking along the rocks at the side of the couloir.
When we met I grabbed him and could not let go.
Rocco spoke though I barely registered his words: "Ow! I think I have quite a bruise there. Be careful. And I'm surprised myself, but I don't think I'm any more than bruised bad in a few places."
I couldn't help it. I just stood there with my White-boy in my arms and cried. "I thought I'd lost you." I was finally able to say. At that instant it was only myself and my White-boy that made up the entire universe. "I kept thinking about what I'd said to Xia just before we left. I didn't want to live if you were not with me."
Rocco by this time was hugging me back and was now also crying. "I'm sorry Jade. That was pretty stupid stepping out on that snow without my ice axe."
We had taken the easy route kicking easy steps into the soft snow filling one of the many broad snow-filled gullies or couloirs that run down the rocky mountainside. The ice axes were a precaution so you could stop your movement if you fell or lost your step. It was about a 50 degree slope or more. The two experienced hikers we teamed up with for this hike taught us how to use the things. Even with my hooks it was relatively easy. We had all just arrived at the top of the couloir looking for a flat rock to eat our lunch on, when Rocco decided that a rock on the other side looked more comfortable.
We had been spending our time in the absolutely magnificent country southwest of Glacier Park since most of the high country trails in the park itself were not open yet due to so much snow over the Winter. We were presently hiking in a small range of mountains called the Cabinet Mountains, and today we had planned on climbing to the top of its highest peak, Snowshoe Mountain. Yesterday afternoon we had hiked in the five miles or so from the trailhead and camped at Leigh Lake last night. You could use all the language you wanted but still could not describe the beauty of the place.
Snowshoe Mountain and Leigh Lake
Last night, with my White-boy in my arms, I mentioned to him that this was life as it was meant to be. And how strange it was how we wound up there. Just that morning we had stopped at a small truck stop just outside of Libby, Montana. We had been camping in an area of virgin forest where we had left about an hour before. It was an area called the Ross Creek Giant Cedars. The huge trees were amazing to hike through. Now we were just driving around looking at the scenery with some vague idea of taking another hike in the Cabinet Mountains that spread out south of here.
Several days before, we had hiked to the top of Scotchman Peak -- just a moderate hike except for the last uphill pitch. The very top of the peak was a huge cliff. And we had fun throwing snowballs in the middle of summer. We had good maps of the area and found the trailhead early in the morning for a leisurely day outing. Of course Rocco had to make it exciting right from the outset. Just after we turned onto a dirt road we came to an old wooden bridge.
"Stop." I was quite leery about the bridge. It looked ancient.
"What's wrong?" Rocco asked. "It's a car bridge. See, the road continues. Why walk when you can drive?"
We crossed the bridge and heard quite a few creaking boards and then a powerfully loud crack. Rocco floored it and we zoomed across the rest of the way.
"See we made it!"
"Yes, but we have to go back to get out of here."
We had saved walking an entire fifty yards we discovered when we soon came to a second crossing where there WAS NO bridge.
Before I had a chance to say anything Rocco spoke up. "You know one of your better qualities Jade? You will never take advantage of this situation and say something sarcastic."
I didn't have to. Rocco could read my mind. He then immediately turned the car around and pushed the gas peddle to the floor. We had to have hit 40 miles an hour by the time we got back to the bridge. A whole lot of creaking and two more snapped boards and we were across. Of course at that exact moment in my life I suspect I started growing grey hairs. There were also two deep holes were my hooks had dug into the seat cushion.
"Damn Rocco! I can't believe you just did that!"
"Well, you said it. We had to get back across." And then he gave me a crooked smile adding: "And you know how I can't tolerate suspense."
When we walked back across the bridge with our small day packs I was startled to see a gap of almost a foot where a couple boards had snapped. Even Rocco was a little startled. He said: "I'm starting to better understand the phrase, `Ignorance is bliss'."
I was thinking of the same but in a much different context. Rocco saw my expression and laughed. "Look at the bright side. We made it. And we have a glorious day and a great hike ahead of us."
That we did. And right away on the second creek crossing we discovered a beaver dam and for the first time in my life I saw a beaver. Wow, were they big.
Of course it was while watching that absolutely bigger-than-you'd-ever-expect beaver -- it was at this very exact moment -- when something happened which led to the series of events which had me devising just HOW I might torture and execute my White-boy. For a goodly period of time I was convinced that I would have been perfectly justified. And no jury in the land would have convicted me.
The problem started with the fact that I simple can not abide mosquitoes. No, that's not true. The problem started with the fact that God just HAD to create the mosquito in the first place! Their existence I considered adequate proof that God has His capricious moments. Here we were starting on an absolutely glorious hike in absolutely glorious weather in absolutely glorious mountains, and I with the one person who can make just an ordinary occasion be absolutely glorious because he is there with me. Get the picture? Then suddenly there comes this insidious eeeeeeen, eeeeeeen sound of a mosquito whose sole purpose is to make an otherwise PERFECT moment of joy into a VERY perfect moment of trepidation. And drive one totally bonkers!
I HATE MOSQUITOS!
NOW do you have the picture? And of course there are more than a half dozen insect repellants on the market -- I counted them in that backpacking store in Spokane -- AND NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THEM REALLY WORKS! I know! I've tried -- well three. (All the rest had the same ineffectual ingredients). So I finally chose the only option left -- I put on a hat with a bill -- something I'd never worn before in my life -- and then covered my head and neck with the mosquito netting that I brought with me as a last resort.
And for the next five minutes Rocco couldn't stop laughing!
Every time I tried making a perfectly normal and rational observation about the mosquitoes, he'd just come up with some sarcastic reply and start laughing all over again. But that still wasn't what had me contemplating his torture-filled demise. No. It was that final remark that was totally unforgivable.
"Look Jade. The mosquitoes around here are so few and far between just do what I do." And then it took him almost 10 seconds to stop laughing enough to make his next sentence understandable. "Just swat them!"
And just so you might think he did not realize just what he'd said he added: "Of course you might need to have a lot of bandages for all the hook wounds you'd have to fix up."
Of course, being the forgiving sort that I am I contented myself with merely resorted to making sure he got his morning ablutions in the absolutely glorious and absolutely icy creek!
After Rocco wrung out his clothing as best he could we again finally started out. It was getting to be a very warm sunny day -- he would eventually dry out. During this process, by the time he was almost naked, now with me making the comments, we had been both laughing so much that any passerby would have immediately assumed we were either drunk or got a hold of that new drug hitting the streets. And good thing we had plenty of time. (And possibly a good thing that that beaver never mistook my White-boy's leg for a log).
But at long last we finally got underway. We marched upward and upward. Or rather I hiked upward, and Rocco ran around with abandon traveling 2 miles for every mile of trail. It was also during this hike that I first started making up what I decided were the Laws of the Uphill Trail Gods. Law #1: Every time you are enjoying going downhill, you must go back uphill -- only twice as far. Rocco thought it was quite imaginative. As my muscles started protesting all the uphill, I was thinking it more as a revelation.
We could have done the entire hike in half a day but we were enjoying it too much to hurry. On the way Rocco keyed out a strange flower not in the Peterson wildflower guide and was called Pinesap or Yellow Bird's Nest, or as Rocco said: "Monotropa hypopitys." "See Jade. Simple. Should have recognized right away that it was a member of the Monotropaceae* Family."
Rocco was at his `most smuggest.' He was quite proud that he'd finally been able to use the Hitchcock key successfully. I also for the first time learned some new words like `glabrous` and `bifurcate.'
Pinesap -- Monotropa hypopitys
[ * Today, taxonomic changes due to genetic research now combine this family with the Ericaceae.]
As I mentioned it was a couple days later when we found ourselves in a small truck stop just outside of Libby, Montana. There was a large wooden plaque on one wall which listed all the makings of what they called the Montanan's Breakfast. It was absolutely humongous and if one person could eat it all it was then free. Around the perimeter of the plaque in the shape of a horseshoe were about seven photos of people who had apparently succeeded in winning their free meal. Just about all of them looked like they had easily more bulk than Rocco and I combined. And as soon as I saw the gleam in Rocco's eye I knew exactly what he would be ordering. It created quite a fuss when three very large plates of food and one large bowl were brought to this small (somewhat "slender") of a fellow. Several other patrons were quite amused. And then interested as a ton of bacon and eggs quickly disappeared. And amazed when an equally high mound of hash browns went inside my White-boy. Quite an interest developed when the bowl of oatmeal slowly emptied. (And my White-boy doesn't really care for oatmeal). There was one final plate. A full stack of plate-sized pancakes. Even the cook came out to see what all the commotion was about. The waitress pointed. Rocco started tunneling through the mound and finally reached the other side. But he was slowing appreciably. During all this I could not believe that he had barely said a word. He was quite fully intent on the task at hand. Nor did he put any syrup on the pancakes. He just kept sipping the very large glass of milk. One side of the stack then gradually disappeared -- but I could see it was with great difficulty. A small burp and he resumed. But finally had to admit defeat. A few customers groaned but when he stood up and took a bow they all clapped. A moment later the waitress came out with a Polaroid camera.
"Listen hon, that was a noble effort. I was rootin' for ya. As far as I'm concerned your picture deserves to be up there. At least as an honorary member." And she took a snap. The picture showed a (quite slender) small boy -- with belt open and quite a bulge at his waist line -- sitting next to all those empty plates with about 1/3 of the pancakes left behind. I think Rocco was at least as proud of that achievement, and seeing his picture up on that wall, as all the A's on his last transcript.
And during that extravagant attempt at notoriety we met and talked (or rather I met and talked) to many of the other customers. Two such were Dr. and Mrs. Street from Spokane, Washington, who were here for the weekend intent on climbing the highest point in the Cabinet Mountains. We quickly became more than just acquaintances and eventually they were happy to welcome both of us on their quest. They were quite intrigued when we said that we both had ice axes and had practiced some when we were in Glacier Park. The route they were taking they said the axes might come in handy to have them "just in case." And later during our hike, they even gave us some additional instruction when a good hillside of snow presented itself.
We had splurged on more than just the axes at a store in Spokane (which sold the ineffectual bug repellant). We also had a backpacking tent and all the gear for backpacking. Including for both of us a pair of lightweight hiking shoes. (And as I tried to lace them I was wondering how about using Velcro instead of laces). Rocco drove the poor store clerk to distraction as he went from one part of the store to another. He had to see everything. The one thing we did not get was raingear. Theirs was entirely too expensive. We eventually purchased a couple relatively inexpensive rain ponchos elsewhere.
Well that brings us to the glacier covered side of Snowshoe Mountain and my hugging my still alive and almost sound White-boy. Sometime during all that Dr. Street and his wife had shown up. I'm not actually sure how long they were there. But Dr. Street took over.
"Rocco. I want you to sit down right now and I'm going to look you over." His tone and authority seemed to brook no dissent. Rocco took off his jacket and shirt and Dr. Street started poking and prodding at him while asking questions. He seemed especially intent on his stomach area.
All I could see was a big bruise starting to show on Rocco's hip, plus nasty tears on his hands and forearms. Blood had run down his hands and forearms. Later I found out he also had a big bruise on one of his knees. That was what finally caused him the worst problem. But the doctor was quite worried about internal injuries not yet showing up.
Rocco was wanting to go on. "Look, we've only lost about a half hour. We can still easily get to the top of the peak. I just wish I could have found my sun glasses."
So that's what he was doing when I first caught up with him.
But Dr. Street was adamant. We were not only turning back, but he insisted that we drive to the nearest hospital. Fortunately, by the time we got back to the trailhead several hours later it was quite apparent that Rocco was all right. Not even the slightest bit of tenderness or pain where Dr. Street didn't want to find it. His wife and he also insisted on carrying all of Rocco's things. When we got to where we left our Kelty packs Dr. Street picked up Rocco's and exclaimed.
"What the hell? What do you have in here?"
Rocco smiled: "Well just the usual. Sleeping bag, air mattress, food and cooking gear. Just the usual."
But when Dr. Street opened the pack to distribute some of the gear he said: "The usual?" He had pulled out a large pair of binoculars, a small rechargeable flashlight, two rolls of toilet paper, and most improbably five books including one paperback novel (Way Station by Clifford Simak), three Peterson's Guides to plants, animals, and birds, and a huge Northwest Plant Key by Hitchcock. He then pulled out one final item. "And two cans of pop!?"
Rocco ignored the question about the pop. He replied: "I like to know what I'm looking at. And look, I'm doing fine. I can carry my own pack. It's all downhill."
Dr. Street looked Rocco up and down. "You can't weigh much more than a hundred pounds yourself. This has to be half your weight."
I knew for a fact it was a bit more. I had our tent, but Rocco had our double-wide air mattress. Rocco had also started out with six cans of Mountain Dew.
And for some strange reason I was now getting almost angry. And I couldn't understand just why. Almost like Rocco tried to take himself away from me. And Rocco seemed to think nothing much happened at all. So at that moment I wasn't saying much. Fortunately that strange mood passed almost as fast as it came on and all the way back -- Rocco carrying about half his stuff and now limping with a hurt knee -- I was just too thankful that my White-boy was all right. Rocco kept trying to tell us how he came away virtually unscathed.
"I lay on my back and tried to slow down by digging my hands into the icy snow. And when the rocks came up I made sure I hit them with my feet. I tried to stop but was going too fast. It flipped me and when I crashed into the rocks again I hit them with my hands and arms. Finally I bounced to a stop. I was pretty surprised myself when I felt all right. But I was pretty shook up. It took me a while before I could make myself stand up. Later I was mad at myself. Instead of just saying I was OK, I should have said you should all try it. That the ride was fantastic." Rocco was the only one who laughed.
Leigh Creek and Snowshoe Mountain -- hiking back to trailhead
When we finally got to the trailhead and dropped our packs next to our cars, Rocco sobered and said for the fifth time: "I'm really sorry you guys for ruining your hike."
It was the doctor's wife who replied. "Look, we're very fortunate to live where we live and do what we want most of the time. We'll be back -- maybe even next week." She was quite gracious.
Dr. Street then got back into his doctor mode and said he wanted to do one last check on Rocco. Fortunately there were absolutely no signs of anything seriously wrong. For myself, I was just glad my White-boy was all right. And the Streets said they'd be back again; they were just glad that Rocco was OK. And I think it was then that the whole episode hit me so forcibly. I could have lost my White-boy! Tears threatened and I turned away. It was Rocco who was supposed to be the overly emotional one.
Mrs. Street must have noticed. She pulled me aside and remarked: "Jade, you're crying. Are YOU alright?"
I was quite embarrassed. "I'm OK. It's just all the release of tension I guess."
And she looked me square and asked: "You're really in love with him aren't you?"
Dr. Street must have overheard and looked over at us with a big question on his face. His wife looked at her husband and said: "Garry, it's been quite obvious all afternoon. Jade and Rocco are much more than good friends."
For some reason I just came right out with it. "I love him more than my own life."
Dr. Street seemed to look a bit disgusted, but his wife was actually smiling. I was wondering about the conversation THEY were going to have on their way back to Spokane.
Rocco and I got back on the road and our own conversation revolved around both of us being so grateful that nothing serious had happened. And we wondered about the Streets. Rocco was the one who voiced what we were both thinking.
"They were always so nice. It was a shame how Dr. Street became this totally different person when he found out about us."
We talked about this for a short while but soon realized that we were talking about things we'd hashed out many times before. Then Rocco remarked what was really bothering him: "Too bad I had to ruin the whole trip by being careless."
"Look Rocco. I'll let you feel bad about that one thing but then I'm ordering you to forget it and concentrate on all the good stuff."
Rocco smiled and replied: "Yes suh, massa suh. Where shall I drives you to suh?"
Good thing Rocco was contemplating no acting career.
And I also started thinking. Our relationship seemed to have changed a bit this past year. There've been a number of times where I'd just told Rocco how things were going to be, and depending on the item, he's just been giving in and doing as I'd asked. On the unimportant stuff like just now, he usually just complies although he usually has to make some kind of remark. On the more important stuff, I can almost set my watch. (Figuratively speaking. Rocco is the one who carries a watch -- in his pocket). Almost exactly one minute later I will get the first question. And then we'd talk about it or discuss it, and on a rare occasion get in a heated `debate' about it. But fortunately, those rare times we still disagree, it didn't seem to matter any more.
One time I asked Rocco a couple days later how come, after a big disagreement, he simply finally just said: "Ok, we'll do it your way." I couldn't believe it. He asked: "What disagreement?" After arguing so vehemently on one side of the issue so determinedly two days before, he now had trouble remembering what I was talking about. After finally remembering he said: "Oh that. Doesn't seem so important two days latter does it? And I've been also realizing that I don't have to be right all the time."
A day later and I still had trouble figuring THAT one out.
Rocco drove us to Missoula, the closest big town, and I insisted we get a motel room as close to a hospital as possible just in case. And we did.
"And Rocco, at the very slightest symptom that Dr. Street talked about we get you to the hospital emergency."
"I promise not even to argue."
We wound up staying there two nights. That evening I went to a Drug Store to get some Epsom Salts to help soothe all Rocco's bruises and open wounds. They were looking quite bad. The guy at the counter talked me into buying a bubble bath which was primarily Epsom Salts but had a few other soothing ingredients. And also smelled pretty good. We both had fun soaking that evening.
Rocco still didn't feel too much like driving the next day so we took the time to wash all our clothes, clean up all our camping gear, and catch up on needed sleep. We also found a few other things a big comfortable bed was quite good for. Rocco was in one of his do-with-me-exactly-whatever-you-want moods. And I did. Whatever I wanted. And more than once. And it was fun. But for some reason just having him lay in my arms later on felt even better. I had my White-boy -- a little banged up -- but I still had him.
After a short while in this "laying in my arms" mode, Rocco made the remark: "You know Jade I just figured out what the difference is between having sex and making love. When you make love you find yourself being more concerned about giving your partner pleasure than yourself."
The next morning we drove to just before Bozeman and then turned south into the mountains. The day was quite clear and the mountains stood out just as we remembered them that time we landed at the Belgrade airport last September. The roads weren't very crowded and in spite of all the mountains there were quite a lot of straight stretches where you could really go fast. We were presently on our way to the Spanish Peaks southwest of Bozeman, Montana. Just after we started into the mountains we had to make another right hand turn onto a narrow road. It was gravel for several miles and then turned into a dirt road as it went through the edge of the Flying A Ranch*. Then when it got back to Forest Service property the road got much better again. We finally made it to the Spanish Creek campground and one of the main trails into the Spanish Peaks.
[* Today renamed Spanish Creek Ranch and owned by Ted Turner. A few years ago Ted Turner tried closing off that access road.]
We camped the night and started out early the next morning. We soon came to a small falls which our maps called Spanish Creek Falls --not quite original. After about 10 miles we started getting above the tree line and the country opened up into some of the most magnificent mountain scenery you could ever want. We eventually came to widening in the steep walled valley and there nearly backed up against a rugged mountain was Mirror Lake. There were amazing 10,000 foot peaks totally surrounding us. Blaze Mountain towered over us to the west and Beacon Point to the east. And apparently we had the place to ourselves. It was a little early in the summer and there were snow fields everywhere. There were also plenty of good spots to set up camp to the east of the lake. We found a spot not too close to old horse droppings and set up our tent. After Rocco set up the stuff for cooking on our little gas stove he went down to the lake for more water. I soon heard him yelling.
"Jade, come and help. Hurry!"
At first I thought something happened like maybe he fell into the lake and was drowning, but after a few step I could see him standing in a small lobe of the lake halfway up to his knees and bent down trying to catch something.
When I got there my first reaction was to laugh. Here was Rocco standing in what had to be absolutely ICY water bent over trying to shovel this gigantic fish out of the lake. He kept paddling like a mad man.
"Help. It'll get away!"
For the life of me I couldn't even figure out how to help, except maybe to spear the poor thing with one of my hooks. Finally the big fish made a getaway and my White-boy looked at me with pure fury. I couldn't help laughing again.
"Damn it Jade we could have eaten a feast. That fish was at least three or four pounds!"
I couldn't help it. He deserved it for actually getting angry. I asked: "Where's your fishing license?"
He started getting mad again and then stopped. He smiled and said: "Well officer it's like this. I was just mindin' mah own `bizniss' gittin' here a canteen a' wadder and out of the blue this here monster fish attacked me. I wuz jus' defendin' mahself!"We were laughing as we got back to camp. We ate spaghetti that night. Which at that elevation took forever to cook. We were both then thinking about how good that trout would have tasted. By the time we got ready to get into our zipped together sleeping bags that fish grew to be at least 10 pounds and would have been the tastiest trout in the world. The next morning there was new ice around the edge of the lake and we also noticed the lake was full of those monster trout. The water was so clear we could see quite easily. For once I didn't think that Rocco's estimation was any exaggeration. And I was certain they were all laughing at us. We later found out from another hiker that they were all cutthroat trout and the lakes in the area had been stocked with them a number of years before. But without any streams flowing into the lake, the fish didn't breed. They just grew larger. And with the plentiful natural food supply were near impossible to catch. Rocco started talking about using a bow and arrow.
We soon set out on a day hike -- leaving our camp where it was -- and traveled along the trail as it continued south where it would son split. The left fork went to Summit Lake, while right one continued on to the divide to Bear Basin.
It was impossible to explain just how beautiful the whole area was. But quite different from the Cabinets. There the rock was mostly dark grayish blue and there were a lot of cliffs. Here the rock was lighter in color and the terrain usually not quite as steep. But the alpine scenery with all kinds of lakes was impossible to adequately describe.
The trail right before the juncture started getting steep. And then started zig-zagging back and forth to gain more elevation. I couldn't believe it. It seemed the more the terrain became difficult to traverse, the happier Rocco got. By the time we were crossing a humongous snowfield going toward the Bear Basin Divide, he was absolutely manic. And that's when he gets dangerous. The trail had completely disappeared under the snow banks but Rocco only found that "challenging."
Then he got out his map again and waited for me to catch up. Not only had the Uphill Trail Gods gotten particularly authoritative in this Para of mountains, but I was beginning to suspect that Rocco had become an acolyte. The further up we went, the bigger grew his smile.
"Hay Jade, I was just thinking."
That was translatable into "I want to find something even more treacherous to navigate through."
"Sure Rocco, what's up?"
We "agreed" to traverse across the even bigger snowfield we saw in the distance to get to the divide looking into Beehive Basin. I had to admit that according to the map, and all the squiggly contour lines, the area would probably be spectacular. Rocco also wanted to get a better view of Beehive Peak. I was also positive he was going to try to talk me into climbing it.
I finally collapsed next to my White-boy but revived quickly when I saw the amazing view. It was so mesmerizing that it was a good ten minutes latter, looking at the knife edge of the ridge on this side of Beehive Peak before I realized what my White-boy was almost certainly thinking and he was going to be disappointed. Before he could even say anything I proclaimed: "Absolutely not!"
Rocco looked at me a moment and then smiled. "Well maybe if we traverse around we will see an easier route up from a different direction?"
I was talked into traversing a mountain-side of boulders, and steep patches of snow. It took forever but I finally caught up again with Rocco sitting on a rock intent on the view to the west.
Rocco turned at my approach. "Jade, it seems like every time we get a different divide, the view gets even more spectacular."
This time we could see all the way into the Spanish Lakes area with a nearly frozen Beehive Lake immediately below. I heard Rocco sigh. This side of Beehive Peak was even steeper.
We ate part of our lunch while perusing our map. We finally decided to reverse directions and possibly climb Gallatin Peak.
"Look at the bright side Rocco. Gallatin is actually the highest peak in the entire area. Even higher than Beehive."
The way back was still exhausting even if it were mostly down. Rocco seemed to skim across the snowfields while I seemed to sink at every step. Finally made the final stretch up to Summit Lake which barely had a spot of open water. The valley below was quite beautiful with Thompson Lake a glimmering blue, with wide notch in the flank of Beacon Point to the left with a couple more lakes in it. Those two were mostly unfrozen but still had chunks of ice floating on their surface. Then we started up the side of Gallatin Peak. And up. And still up. It seemed never ending. And just when you thought you broke out on the top you realized there was another ridge in front of you. Of course the view into the valley to the southeast was breathtaking -- almost as much as the climb upwards. I kept stopping to admire the view. (That's what I told Rocco). Of course Rocco seemed to think that this part of creation was made exactly for him.
"Jade, I am constantly amazed in how just beautiful our world is." Of course we did make it to the very top, and now I was better able to appreciate Rocco's sentiments. We seemed all alone atop the entire world. Rocco had to get out all our maps and determine the name of all the peaks we could see in every direction. I was just content to soak up the view.
View from near top of ridge to a view of Lone Mountain
Of course it was almost two hours later before I could finally convince Rocco that we had REALLY head back. We found the snow perfect for glissading partway down and zoomed down the mountain. Rocco was in his most manic glory. And I could not believe it. He was zooming down right in front of me and it was like some invisible force simply shot him into the air to do a remarkable face plant into the snow when he came back to earth.
He looked up at me with this expression which said: "Some one doesn`t like me."
"What the heck happened White-boy?"
"Something suddenly grabbed my foot. Totally unfair. I was doing so well." Rocco had to go back to investigate and sure enough he must have zoomed over that only exact spot where a tiny point of rock broke through the immense snow coulior. Finally at the bottom I realized we had gone too far to the right and missed Summit Lake entirely. I groaned (only to myself) when I realized that the Uphill Trail Gods were again mocking us. We had to go back UPHILL to Summit Lake.
By the time we got back to camp, I had one small blister, two very tired feet, five newly formulated Laws of the Uphill Trail Gods, a grudging respect for Rocco`s seeming tireless ability to climb up mountains, and a million fantastic memory pictures.
Law # 1: Every time you are enjoying going downhill, you must go back uphill -- only twice as far.
Law # 2: Every circuit hike must be at least 60% uphill.
Law # 3: The difficulty of the terrain will vary in direct proportion to the amount of uphill needed to be navigated.
Law # 4: Every time you believe you've reached the top of a rise, the Uphill Trail Gods will punish you for heresy by adding another rise just beyond the one you're gained the top of.
Law # 5: The steepness of a hill will always be in direct proportion of how tired you are, and inversely proportional to how much water you have left.
Law # 6: No matter how close you are to the end of your hike, there will always be that one more uphill stretch.