Sierra cup

I woke up early in our tent in Kings Canyon, before Courtney, before the RV across from us started up their generator and all the kids started biking around hollering at each other. I made a campfire and heated water for coffee in our stainless steel Sierra cup.

I had learned about Sierra cups from a book which I presently opened and began to read. It was a collection of three essays by John McPhee that Clint had suggested to me in Phoenix as one of his all-time favorite pieces of writing. I’d found a copy at The Last Bookstore in downtown LA and was finally finding time to read it.

The book chronicled three outdoor encounters McPhee had with the famed conservationist David Brower: one on a mountain, another on an island, and the third on a river. Brower is nicknamed “The Archdruid,” which gives the book, Encounters With the Archdruid, its title. Brower, like John Muir and countless other romantic nature-lovers since, was deeply transformed by his time in the High Sierra, and he, for one, never traveled anywhere without his stainless steel Sierra Club cup.

We had staked out our campsite on a whim earlier that week, pitching our tent that we happened to have with us on a Tuesday day trip into the canyon, and paying the fee that let us leave it there in a prime spot until the weekend when we could return. We showed back up Friday evening with food but no camp cookware, so we went to the commissary in the canyon to buy a frying pan, camp stove, and the only water-boiling vessel available, a shiny Sierra cup.

I sat now in quiet solace, here in the cradle of the Sierra, high peaks rising around me, Kings River raging somewhere behind the deep shadows of incense cedars and Jeffrey pines, enjoying my lukewarm instant coffee (alas, Sierra cups are not great on a camp stove). I breathed the cool air and the smells of woodsmoke and pine sap and earth that the subject of my book inhaled, as did Muir, the PCT thru-hikers above us, and the strangers next door who would soon crank on their generator to recharge their RV batteries. For this moment I felt the serenity of solitude, but at the same time a communion, connecting me to the nature that surrounded me and to all who have ever surrendered themselves to it, inhaling it, letting it stir their hearts.

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