It was a good thing I learned about bats that evening for I would have confused all the bats that were feeding on insects in the avalanche chute for night birds. I watched those bats dart and dive back and forth in the clearing from my cozy, log hideaway until I fell asleep.
A mist arrived with the morning and all the bird songs seemed dampened by the moisture. I was horribly stiff-legged. All the favoring of my right leg must have strained both of my legs. I got my day-pack and slowly hiked downward, parallel to the avalanche chute, just paces inside the forest cover. Some would think hiking down would be easier than up, but each downward step sent my weight into my thighs, making them ache terribly. I passed a huge hollowed out tree and wondered if bats lived deep inside that tree—even I could have slept there, the cavity was so large.
“I suppose stewardship goes both ways,” I thought, recalling that stewardship was the last note from Mr. Davis that I had read . “Bats are responsible for eating insects, even some of those that bite us. And we have the responsibility to take care of bat homes.” I passed out of the forest and reentered the chute while continuing my slow, determined descent.
By noon the fog had lifted, but I was stopped in my tracks. The trickle down the center of the chute had gained strength and had become a steep cataract which plunged a hundred feet or so down. I stood upon a cliff facing only air and treetops. The only feasible way seemed to be to my right.
Once again I entered the forest. Inside the forest the trees were immense, wider than I was tall. After I walked in far enough that the sound of the falls eased and became indistinguishable from the deep background murmur that seemed to pervade all of the wilderness, I heard the tiny chirps and trills of birds. Some were flocking high up in the canopy, a couple of hundred feet above me, while others darted around the forest floor, almost seeming to be taunting me to follow them. I had glanced ahead in my journal in the duff and took a break.
After I had completed the activity, the bird songs that seemed to surround me had vanished and had been replaced by the creaking of tree against tree. A wind was buffeting the canopy. Blue and marbled-white skies were soaring above in the strong, midday breeze.
I had yet to discover a way down the steep mountainside, and was forced to go south, deeper into the forest. So onward I hiked, not able to descend. With my legs continuing to weaken, I hiked for more than an hour and ran into another gully. It was similar to the other avalanche chute, so I chose that route down. It was steep, but not nearly as sheer as the precipice that had redirected me before. Far across the valley, I could make out what looked like a trail winding through a clearing in the forested mountainside. My heart started to pound with anticipation. But my pulse retreated as I started down, for the difficult footing and my sore legs slowed my progress. The wind seemed to be carrying a summer afternoon thunderstorm, for the sky had become mottled and dark gray and I could hear deep rumbles in the distance.
With the thunder growing nearer, I began to feel like a human lightning rod, standing on the open slope. I wanted to find some shelter, so I picked up my pace.
At last I was nearing the bottom—maybe 500 feet to go—and I came across a huge melting snowfield which continued all the way to the valley floor. A few small branches were scattered atop the snow, but otherwise it was clear of hazardous debris and I could clearly see that I was in no danger of careening into a tree, for the snow flattened out onto the valley floor. “Finally, one of Mr. Davis’ notes is going to come in handy!” I remarked out loud excitedly. The previous note was enjoyment.
I sat down on the steep snowfield and began my slide. The speed was tremendous.
My boots sprayed wet snow in my face. I lost my balance a few times, but otherwise my course stayed true. I ended my ride face up with my arms and legs splayed. I lay there soaked under a darkening sky. But it didn’t take long for me to get moving, because the breeze was still strong and I began to be covered with goose bumps. Only moments after I had slid down the melting snow pile and entered the deep forest, pelting rain fell from the sky.
I found an deer trail and followed it toward the roar of the river. This sound was becoming overshadowed by the chatter of rain in the canopy. I soon came across a very large boulder, at least the size a house, which probably came tumbling down the avalanche chute long ago. On one side its angle created an overhang where I took shelter from the canopy’s water droplet bombardment. Behind me, black soot covered the face of the rock in a wide vertical swath up and out of the overhang, which was otherwise covered with various green mosses. It seemed as though a campfire lay here in the past. The rain still fell and thunder crashed all around. When it calmed a bit, I opened my journal.