The Secrets We Leave Behind (or, Crossing the Sierra Nevada)

We prepare to leave the small campground outside of San Francisco. The old couple from the neighboring RV comes over to our bus to talk. The wife is direct and assertive and eager to say that when she first pulled up and saw we had four children, her heart sank. But she gushes over the kids, collecting their names and ages like butterflies to pin on a board, saying over and over again how well-behaved they are, how she can’t believe the HOURS they played quietly at the picnic table between our two vehicles.

Her husband stands quietly behind her, tossing one-word interjections into the conversations (disarmed grenades). She mostly rolls her eyes at him or waves her hand, as if he is a pesky fly. They watch as I hook up the van. They wave as we drive away, though we’ve only spoken to them for about five minutes.

The mountains of California shed their houses as we drive up and east. Altitude: 2000 feet. The trees grow tall and straight, cedars or pines or some other evergreen. In the distance we see snow-covered peaks.

You were far away
And I
Didn’t ask you why
What could I say?
I was far away
You just walked away
And I just watched you
What could I say?
How close am I
to losing you?

Sam, our youngest, only 2 1/2 years old, is our scenery buff. When the bus is still he terrorizes us with his sticks and his loud, growling shouts of “Show yourself, Red Rackham!” But when the bus is moving, and we wheeze up into the mountains, and Maile and I start shouting for the kids to come and look at the amazing sights, he is the first to come shooting up the bus aisle, launching on to the sofa or the booth, staring out the massive windows.

Long after the other kids lose interest, he sits there, arms resting on the narrow window will, nose pressed up against the glass, constantly imploring me to take some dirt road or to get closer to the edge of the bridge. Every mountain is a ‘cano (volcano). Every narrow river stream is a waterfall. In other words, he lives in a perpetual state of amazement, enraptured by this journey we so bravely take through a land of volcanoes and waterfalls.

you just close your eyes
and I just watch you
slip away
How close am I
to losing you?

We stop close to the peak – Altitude 7200 feet. The shadowy ground off in the evergreens is covered in an icy layer of snow. I can only imagine how deep the snow must have been at one point, if small drifts of it have survived to see this 70-degree day. Massive rocks bigger than our bus poke through the ground like broken bones. Whispers whisk through the trees, secrets I can only know by following them into the shadows.

I take in a deep breath of the cold air and walk back to the bus, leaving those secrets to be discovered on some other journey.

are you awake?
Yeah, I’m right here.
Well, can I ask you
about today.
How close am I
to losing you?
How close am I
to losing you?***

We descend back to earth. We stop at a truck stop, where we will spend the night. I step out of the bus for a breath of fresh air. Some sort of beaming light at the back of the bus attracts my attention. I walk toward the west, toward the mountains we have just crossed over.

It’s the sun, dropping down behind the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Great clouds of dust billow around us.

***The italicized words come from The National’s song, “About Today,” a staple on this trip.

3 Replies to “The Secrets We Leave Behind (or, Crossing the Sierra Nevada)”

  1. just watching the world

    watching all those things
    that we’re passing right on by.

    through the window
    of a dream
    that seams so

  2. “Whispers whisk through the trees, secrets I can only know by following them into the shadows.”. Thank you for writing this.

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