Under a profound night of a clear and starry sky, I sat on a decomposing log as yellow flames of a rapidly constructed camp fire illuminated our three faces. The fragrance of pine fused with charred wood floated high up into the darkened trees.
To my right, Elston passed the enormous joint to me. For some time we sat silently. Me, young Elson, and an elderly Indian of indeterminate age in black denim and worn cowboy boots with a grimacing expression equally stoic and unreadable as a totem pole. We met the old Indian in the Rescue Mission food line during evening chow. After we ate, he approached Elston with some familiarity and invited the two of us up the ridge of the mountain to his camp and smoke weed in friendship. He introduced himself as James Ironheel. I shook his lanky hand and could have sworn his bones rattled. He possessed a firm grip and a toothless old woman smile. With a frail body and bent stoop, James’ single braided hair was jet black with long streaks of silver. Subsequently, we made our way toward the nearby mountain.
It wasn’t much of a hike, but then again I was still getting adjusted to Flagstaff’s high altitude and was ruby faced and winded when we arrived. It was a simple camp; a fire pit, a blue tarp tied across two pine trees, a couple of sleeping bags with the tale-tell signs of humanity: empty soda cans, wadded napkins, a lonely and filthy sock lay about the pine needles carpeting the camp.
It was Elston, under the approval of James, who prepared the fire. It was a good thing too, because I found out to my dismay since my arrival, the temperature drops to the low fifties during this time of year and the chill in the shade of these majestic pines were already taking effect. I rested on the for mentioned log, observing in fascination as the two performed a stylized ballet around the modest camp; each movement as if practiced from time antiquity.
I glanced around at the darkening forest. The lighting, the smells, the shadows of mysterious beauty.
“Damn.” I mumbled. “This is what I imagine the entrance to The Black Lodge in that show Twin Peaks must look like.” I glanced over to Elston, “You ever catch that show?”
“What show is that?”
After preparing the fire and asking if it was warm enough, Elston took a piss in a nearby shrub as James squatted across from me, reaching into his dingy, canvased backpack and removed the weed. The pungent yet satisfying smell assaulted my nostrils. Elston sat in the dirt and dead pine needles next to me as James rolled the joint, lit it, took a huge puff, and passed it to Elston.
“Long ago…” James began as he sat squinting solid faced into the fire, “Snoqualm, the Moon, had a spider make him a rope out of cedar bark and stretch it from the sky to the Earth.” He exhaled large plumes into the crackling fire. Elston passed me the joint and I inhaled deep. Harsh. I instantly began to cough and certain my face turned crimson. Elston chuckled and in contrast James never moved a muscle as he continued, “One day Fox and Blue Jay found the rope and climbed up to where the rope was fixed to the underside of the sky. Blue Jay pecked a hole in the sky and they climbed through to the sky world. Blue Jay flew to a tree while Fox changed himself into Beaver and swam in a lake. Moon had set a trap in the lake which caught Beaver. Moon skinned him and threw the body in the corner of the smokehouse.”
With silent ceremonial movements, I handed the joint over to James. He paused, inhaled, continued with a slow solemn tone, “That night when Moon was asleep Beaver got up and put his skin back on. He looked around. He took a few of the trees, and the Moon's daylight making tools, some fire, and the Sun which was hidden in Moon's house. He changed back into Fox then he found the hole that Blue Jay had made and took the things to Earth. He planted the trees, made daylight, gave the fire to the people, and put the Sun in its place.”
The weed began to hit me and I felt that slow pull of gravity and tingling dizziness. I glanced over to the aquiline profile of Elston. The shadows, along with the droning baritone voice of James as he continued his story, I found myself smitten. So handsome Elston was, so calm, so reserved. I wanted to reach over, grab his chin with my hand, turn his face toward mine and kiss him.
James droned on, “When Moon awoke he was very angry. He found the tracks that led to the hole. He started down but the rope broke and he fell to the Earth in a heap where he became a mountain. One can see the face of Snoqualm on one of the rocky cliffs. Today it is called Mount Si and it is near Northbend, Washington.”
Apparently, he was done as abruptly as he began as the three of us sat in wordless peace listening to the crackling fire. My thoughts raced in a kaleidoscope of a million images. What’s next? Where am I going? What am I doing? Moreover, why was I here?
I finally said to no one in particular and most likely just to myself, “Well, I'm on my way, I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way. I'm takin my time but I don't know where...”
Elston coughed and then stated, “You're rushing things.”
For the first time in hours, James became animate, his face contorted into anger and pointed a twig thin finger at the both of us, “Its fucking life? Why wait for something you want? Fucking go for it cause if you wait too long you'll miss your opportunity. Life's about taking risks and rushing things and finding out if it's right or wrong. And if you fuck up or get hurt in the end then its life, you simply just try again...”
“Yup.” I said.
“Yup.” Elston grinned.
“Yup.” James smiled, his face of dark lines and black, toothless mouth.
Crimson eyed and wobbly, we said our goodbyes to old James and made our way back down the mountain well after midnight. It was extremely cold and I missed that fire. I stated that fact to my new friend. Elston stopped in his tracks and said he had a sleeping bag roll hidden close and though not as fancy as James’ camp, I was welcome to stay the night.
Under a deep navy starry sky, amid pine trees and dew glistened tall grass, I lay on my side in the fetid sleeping bag with Elston spooning behind me. My jeans and boxers down about my thighs as he slowly and methodically screwed me with his arms wrapped around my ribcage in a python like grip. Subsequently, our heavy breathing subsided, Elston and myself spent (we wiped our mutual slimy matter on the inside of the sleeping bag), still embraced, we both fell into a deep, contented sleep until dawn exploded over the red ridge of the mountain.