Nothing’s on fire in Kings Canyon itself, but the burn follows you around and stings your nostrils, and the vista turnoffs that are meant to open onto miles of rock instead show a blank blue-gray. You feel like you’re driving into the void. (Bashō: mist and rain, can’t see Mount Fuji, interesting...)
Up on the trail were live pines, and blackened trunks and limbs shining with mineral deadness from some earlier fire. That’s the world, half alive and half dead. The world to come, half alive and half dead. (I read somewhere that Venus isn’t a possible scenario because Earth is too far from the sun. We’re just the asteroid, powerless constituents of the asteroid.) Squirrels, robins, woodpeckers, nuthatches, lizards, flies all moving around, doing what they know.
I got to a stream, a gust of wind came up and then a huge report, much deeper than gunfire; I thought some idiot must be setting off artillery from the cliffs. Then one of the huge blackened trunks slowly began to tip, shedding branches against its neighbors as it gathered speed, slammed to earth thirty feet away and raised a huge cloud of reddish dust. I was there to hear it. The birds did nothing for a space—thirty seconds?—but the wind and water were still moving, and soon the forest’s whole quiet machine started up again.
An hour before sunset I took the shorter trail to pay respects to the sequoias, which have a lot of companion manzanitas growing between—because their shallow root structures are compatible? Because the taller trees don’t grow thick and light gets through the canopies? I was so exhausted and happy that night in the tent cabin, curled up with my novel from Brazil and my old jazz guitar, practicing chord shapes up and down the neck. Cooked chili on the camp stove and ate it looking west, washed out the pan at the bathhouse and used it for granola the next morning at first light. I actually wanted to get up early. I’ve hardly had a coherent thought from start to finish in years.