HE HIKED OFF DOWN THE RIDGE, through all the familiar humps of gneiss, and wreckage of basalt and incredible quartz veined boulders. He turned to look uplake to Hozomeen one last time, but it was socked in, and by the time he turned into the first switchback of the south meadows, so was Sourdough Lookout.
GARY STAYED IN THE UPPER SKAGIT for another few weeks, working trail crew from the Ross Lake Guard Station with Andy Wilcox, old Ed Wyman, and Kim Oelberg, the Desolation lookout. They went deep into the back country along Big Beaver Creek, up past Thirty-nine Mile Creek between Mount Prophet and Elephant Butte, where the sun filtered down in bars through dark stands of old growth red cedar. They spent ten days bucking gigantic blowdowns on the pack trail with two-man cross cut saws. It was up there that Gary performed his first sweat lodge.
“GOD, THERE’S SOME big trees up there—big cedars,” says Snyder. “That was when I first made a Native American-style sweat lodge. We heated rocks, threw an old packer’s tarp over a framework, and rolled hot rocks in there and made myself a little sweat lodge. The other trail crew guys thought it was great, but too hot they thought. One of the guys was an Indian. There were always some Native American guys that were working on those crews, because they were the locals. That led into something I did for a number of years when I was out, which was to make sweat lodges, do that kind of Native American purification. Then I started doing it when I worked on trail crews down in the Sierra.”
WHILE GARY WAS UP ON BIG BEAVER, Jack Francis left Diablo Guard Station and headed back to Bremerton for another year of high school teaching. He took the train from Diablo back to Marblemount, riding on one of the last trains of the year. At Newhalem, Blackie Burns got on the car with a couple of other Forest Service men. Jack was reading a newspaper he’d found in the seats and Blackie didn’t notice him behind it, but Jack recognized Blackie by his voice. Soon Blackie and the others were talking shop and gossiping about the various men in the district. Eventually the talk got around to the lookouts, and someone asked Blackie who he thought was best on the forest. Jack perked up, eager to hear Blackie’s judgment. “I like that Snyder feller we had up on Sourdough,” said Blackie. “He’s a calm son of a bitch.”
From Poets on the Peaks: Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen & Jack Kerouac
in the North Cascades, published by Counterpoint Press, 2002.
Text & Photos © John Suiter All Rights Reserved.
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without the express written permission of John Suiter.
1953 photo of Gary Snyder © Jack Francis, used by permission.
“Poem Left in Sourdough Lookout,” from Left Out in the Rain, © Gary Snyder, all rights reserved.
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