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Personal Essay | Backpacking

The Way of Ģebedu

By Anna Johnson
November 29, 2008
The first night sleeping under the stars, I kept waking up and going over the sky, star by star. In the deep light of just before dawn a thousand little finches chimed their bells in the clover. 
The Peaks of Europe, the Mancorbo Canal
The Peaks of Europe, the Mancorbo Canal, 1876 -Carlos de Haes

The Way of Ģebedu, (Ģebedu is the Old English word for bead) is wisdom extracted from ages, scribbled in a notebook (do not remember where I got it) years ago –to follow a trail with pure intentions. The path is a touchstone, and getting there excites me as much as arriving.

In 1966, my husband and I backpacked into the Sierra Minaret Wilderness, and it was the beginning of my lifelong love of mountains. The picturesque trail traversed superb pristine meadows, clear streambeds; wind tumbled ancient cedars growing from stone. It switch backed up precipitous granite slate outcrops, overlooking a steep gully of sheer stone walls above the stunningly isolated canyons at the headwaters of the San Joaquin.

The backpack wore blisters on my spine, the abrupt and narrow passages that were almost impassable and the talus and decomposed granite left over from an ancient glacier made me wish I had a rope to hold.

The first night sleeping under the stars, I kept waking up and going over the sky, star by star. In the cold morning air, in the deep light of just before dawn a thousand little finches chimed their bells in the sweet clover and woke us up.

That morning the scenery was spectacular as the trail climbed gradually from 8500 feet up through high alpine forests, post piles of basaltic rock, limestone columns with thin coats of ice, and vista on vista of continuous stone peaks and sky beyond.

We came up over a granite dome that had a view of Mt. Starlight, its snowy peak lost in the silk of dry white clouds. We stood there, in the wind, the mineral and rain of primordial rivers rolling through crooked stone gorges thousands of feet beneath us, when a splendid character, looking for all the world like a dusty old mountain man, rode up to us on a horse.

He got off, checked his burrow (named Gump), and gave us a very pleasing hello, truly happy to see us. It was Ansel Adams, just dropped by. We sat on the rocks talking, a million miles from nowhere, in no particular hurry, and shared a lunch of salami, Gruyere, sourdough, white onions, and a half bottle of Spanish Rioja.

The air was cool, brilliant, and full of finches. After lunch, Ansel rode down the trail. I remember the quartz blue of the sky, and his eyes, intense, and clear as ground glass.

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