We had climbed the high trail to Little Lakes Valley with our goods in our backpacks. In the morning, 10 of our group of 12 set off down the rocks and crossed the meadow to climb a snow-capped peak that rose majestically beyond the valley.
My six-year-old granddaughter, Kathryn, and I watched them go. We were alone in the vast stillness of that bright Sierra morning, the lovely day stretching ahead; our only care was fixing supper for all at dusk.
At 10,000 feet, the air was bright and light, the sun warm, the breeze gentle, and - except for small waves breaking on the lake-shore granite - there was silence.
Kathryn mixed chocolate pudding with a wooden spoon in a tin pail - brown powder with almond slices and lake water we'd filtered with our new pump. Then, balancing carefully, she carried the mix over rocks to the shore, and we hollowed out sand to settle it under cold water to jell. A stone on the pail's lid marked the place.
Our morning's work was done. Now we could sit motionless to watch a brown striped chipmunk dart and sniff and a soft-feathered sparrow forage for seeds. Then Kathryn said, "You can be queen, and I'll be your slave." So she washed my hair under scrub oaks with a bucket of water, and I brushed it out in the sun. Then Kathryn created a landscape to decorate the dinner serving log - using sand of different colors and pine needles we glued to a pan lid with dry milk paste. After we had lunch on a rock, we lay in the cool, dimly lit tent and played a ladder tennis tournament with bits of twigs and peanuts for players.
The shadows lengthened. We soaked dried vegetables for soup; cooked noodles for tuna casserole in slow-to-boil, high-altitude water; and tore up the iceberg lettuce I'd tucked into my pack, wrapped tightly in plastic film. Our kitchen was a cleft between two rocks. A flat spot made a shelf, and a stick under one edge kept the Swedish stove balanced. Cooking was a precarious undertaking. One hasty move and the stove could tip or a pot could fall, spilling its irreplaceable contents.
When the hikers appeared across the meadows, we set up our serving log with condiments, the salad in a tin pail, and dry mix in bags ready for drinks.
When the hikers arrived, they fell exhausted on their sleeping bags, but when we banged spoons on pot lids, they came spilling from the tents. The moment was at hand. Kathryn wore my purple hiking hat - too large but resplendent on her head - and took charge of serving, carefully ladling a 1/12th serving into each tin cup held out by its hungry owner. Then came the glorious chocolate pudding from its underwater icebox, the grand finale. Kathryn scooped it into those cups again, and no one cared that it was slightly soupy.
Then it was hot chocolate - and we gathered around, closing together against the deepening shadows, just as the pioneers had drawn the prairie schooners around 150 years ago. Some huddled warmly together on a rock as we watched stars, brilliant in a sky undimmed by even one human light, and listened to the adventures of the peak climbers. Then the old "remember when" stories began, followed by a few beloved camp songs; and as the cold and silence deepened, we wandered sleepily to bed.
Kathryn and I were modern-day argonauts that wonderful day in the High Sierra - finding simplicity, peace, and golden hours in the gentle wilderness.