There is a ponderosa pine I call Big Sister in the Plumas National Forest where I was raised and, having returned, now live. Its diameter at breast height is about nine feet, and I imagine it a sapling in the springtime of 1850 when miners first descended on the area fueled by the report of a lake lined with gold. Char scars pit the lower trunk section of the tree. Still it is strong, green-needled and growing, what the U.S. Forest Service would refer to as an “overstory tree.” The understory: a winding trail that I hike in stands of black oak neighboring Douglas firs, through face-scratching patches of poison oak, and past remnants of a Mountain Maidu homestead. The trail was built shortly after World War II as a section of the California Riding and Hiking Trail, later adopted into the Pacific Crest Trail system, and eventually, through reroutes of the PCT, left and forgotten. It snakes along steep canyon country, and at the craggy rock face that presides over the Middle Fork of the Feather River is the incongruous presence of a suspension bridge. I watch for a glint of silver in the shifting water, then cross to find a wooden sign nailed to a tree welcoming me to Dan Beebe Camp: white sands, fire rings of rock, and, also, the waste of recreators: strewn food packaging, water-bloated paperback novels, dirty sleeping bags, collapsed tents, and torn clothes. I think of Wendell Berry who writes, “…the world must live in men’s minds if men are to continue to live in the world,” and of the egregious thoughtlessness that would allow such an accumulation.
Weeks later I will return to Dan Beebe, toting heavy black bags and encouraging friends, reinforcement labor. When we get here, there will be a man named Patrick from the city. He will say he’s been camping at this site annually for forty-five years. He will say he loves this place. And he does. The camp will already be tidy and the trash will be gone; I will take that with me when I leave.