PICO SAYS YES, I’M EASY
scorched black side dominates
with its volcanic scars;
its cone-vented presence
challenges and makes wet
the scenarios of introspection—
like the needs of conversation
churning inside our tenacity
will somehow ignite the confidence
and courage that we need to climb.
Pico says yes, I’m easy.
Try my 7,000+feet straight up.
You’ll enjoy the lovely altitude.
The view is fantastic.
I’m famous for my sunrises.
You won’t be disappointed.
Don’t pay any attention
to all those false accusations
about the skyward trek.
What you see, is what you get!
My promise has no dark side.
There’s not one ounce
of truth to that sly rumor:
You’ll pay dearly for desire
once its totally satisfied.
You’re curiosity about me
has no believable undertow,
but fear can be a password
when you’re using all fours—
hugging the steep ground,
gripping haphazardly every
searched for solid jutted point.
And don’t forget the morning fog.
There’s a mighty dose of moisture in it.
It can be a wizard with multi tricks.
On the way up the trail it’s dry.
On the way down, this pebbly
trail makes the slickest mud
in all of the nine islands.
See, I’ve laid it all out for you.
Be careful, watch your step,
and remember, it wasn’t my idea
you’re wearing those Pomida shoes
you got at such a cheap bargain.
For good reason though
as we trek up Pico
I sense the mountain
snickering at my resolve
for purity of heart and grit.
A finger-pointing belly laugh:
greenhorns are my staple here.
How could I begin to believe
keep up your faith in endurance.
I really admire your stamina.
Não problema. É facil!
Our snaking trek up is menacing.
The concrete guideposts linger
like daggers in the thick mist.
They are endless and every
one of them tilts madly
by the extreme vaulting winds,
by devouring winter storms
and time ravishing sublime.
“We’re so high, streaks of fog
run up our asses,” I say to Linda.
“I wish there’d been a sun this morning.
It’d be easier on our climb.”
“Yeah,” she says, bent over
and trying to get her wind back.
Forgive my grinning while I wait
to get any information from the
young trail guide taking others
to the crater for the day’s excursion.
You aren’t satisfied with her warning.
You boast you’re tougher than whang.
This steepness isn’t unusually personal.
Unimproved path, goofy wild terrain,
bitter cold from the very high elevation—
they never intimidate you in the least.
Boy, do you have the corner on the market
when it comes to lying to yourself.
I keep putting the strength of that
Pico voice in a far corner of my head
as the upward slant and loose rock
prevail with each predetermined step.
Before it’s all over I’ll see the
humorist in you, but don’t forget
I’ll remain the cross-eyed beast
hiding in my angle of outrageous glee—
there at the summit where I feast on
the vast meal of your innocence to be free.
“Look at those damn posts!
They ain’t ever gonna end.
Staring down at us like that.
Goading us with their crazy numbers.
Always more to take their place
when you go around the next bend.
And do you notice, from this
angle you never see the peak.
You never know how far
you’ve come; or what
the distance is you got left to go.
It’s always the same
never arriving it seems!”
Even when we make it
to the top you can’t enter
the crater from a good vantage point.
You know you have to skirt around
the high rim for a side view to open.
One thing we have to admit
the bowl inside is a moonscape
in certain places. And the rest
is a strange volcanic spew of
old activity from the colossal blast
that scorched and burnt everything
to rages of red and black and gray;
and big rocks are isolated like tombstones
and tossed about like airy dots of hairspray.
It surprises to see sand here.
And to find these crab-lava shrubs
in green-fingered clumps hanging
onto faces of boulders like
if they didn’t hang on like that
the winds will lash them to fits
and infinitesimal tiny bits.
We stop once on our ascent.
A quick ten minutes. And now
one hour later we have our supper.
The huge lunches Linda packed
the night before to serve
our twenty-four hour trip—
like going on a grand picnic.
There is still a party atmosphere
when she unpacks our sandwiches;
the cheese, bread, boiled eggs, oranges
candy bars, and the best for last:
a large box of Hot Tamales
I’d given to her for a birthday gift.
I remember the night before
when Linda and Ira in anticipation
of the trek and with a festive air sang:
“Dang me! Dang me!
Hang me from the highest tree.
Woman would you weep for me!”
The sunset over Faial Island
as the evening set in helps
lull us into a sense of euphoria
with the grand march of colors
layered in a fiery ecstasy of clouds.
Once at the top, the beauty
gives out a false sense of security;
and the twilight falling slowly
seems to be offering us an
inner soft pillow for the night.
It’s our last poetic moment
sitting there unaware, the dusk
still minted with the worthy climb;
the ambiance that has waited
out the patience clock of time;
the vision held by the challenge
to be one with the peak,
measuring the altitude
of the soul when it dreams
for all of those who are weak!
We can’t see the full-length
of Pico Island covered in clouds.
We will get another view at dawn.
The Little Peak extending from
inside the crater hovers over us
as if to say, aren’t you going
to climb the last little bit of me?
My son, Ira, starts up, but didn’t finish.
I have no desire left for challenge either.
It’s time to look for a good sleeping nest
and my boy already walked around
the outside border of the crater bowl,
searching for a decent place to bed down.
Our point dog is always exploring.
Youth ahead of us, energy to spare.
When we first came into the bowl
we’d passed by a low-lying area,
almost a perfect circle of sand.
The softest area to our eye we’d
seen in this crater’s desolate décor.
“This might be an excellent spot to roost?”
But when we returned there after
the sunset, some of the moisture has
already lifted its dampness to the top.
We have our raincoats and think
they might act as a ground cover
and serve as a vapor barrier to the cold sand.
Are worst experience here are
these low flying, jet-propelled
volcanic Pico bugs that you dare not
lift your head up above the ground level
or they will torpedo your face big-time.
Immediately we have our doubts
and Ira goes looking for a better place.
He yells at us from above that
the evergreen shrubs that grow on
the surface of the rocks are worth a try.
We find us some and lay down.
And why do
I now find myself with
white socks on each hand instead
of warm gloves I should’ve packed.
We try to sleep on the only ground cover
available here, this low crustacean shrub
rarely reaches four inches in height.
I call it crab-lava ‘cause it looks
like endless fingers clawing at rock.
And that’s what we try to sleep on.
This impenetrable cushion. These stones
matted into the dwarf tentacles eventually
sent you searching time and time again
for a better, less rakish angle of boulder—
for an exhausted body trying to rummage
a morsel of comfort out of the volcanic night.
We can’t catch a wink here.
The cold already puts its icy fangs
into the air, snagging our gullibility
like weak demented preserved butterflies
stuck on a pin for the whole world to see.
All of the advice given us lay like cruel
wishful-thinking slug phantoms now;
and that terrible-pointing finger voice
of Pico I can barely hold at bay
keeps weaseling its way back in again.
If I’d just brought a heavy coat,
or one thermal top maybe it’d been enough.
I’d talked about wearing two T-shirts.
The long-john bottom is the only
good decision I made, but the rest of me
is so chilled that my legs feel cold too.
Hardly any time passes at all and
we find out why the natives preach
about the extreme weather up on top.
Our taxi driver had said:
“Take a full bottle of aguardente.
The strong brandy will keep you warm.”
We laughed it off, but
I’d give anything right now
for my first stiff bracer of bagaço.
Alberto had warned us about our not
taking blankets and sleeping bags.
We gestured with a negative
wave of the hand as if to say,
That doesn’t apply to us.
We’re from Montana.
We’re born tough!
At one point I start
sort of bizarre zombie giggles,
telling Linda how stupid can
we be ignoring all that
good advice by those
who’d climbed up Pico
three or four times.
We go up to another of Ira’s chosen spots.
He isn’t doing any better.
Ira has a lighter and wants
to believe a fire is possible.
But there is no wood; just this
crazy shrub with a twiggy root stem
about a quarter of an inch wide.
That same old dwarf evergreen.
The minute he puts our precious
toilet paper under it, the weak
embers disappear into mute flames.
But we hustle around the vicinity
pulling the roots up from the rocks
while Ira sorts out the green leaves,
which make a terrible rolling smoke
across the entire bowl of the crater.
Earlier Ira had talked to some scientists,
environmentalists building a weather station
in the middle of the bowl, checking
on pollution by running a cable all
the way down to the mountain’s base,
where you checked in with the ranger
so he could count heads if and when
you returned on the following day.
There are always stories about people
going up on Pico but not coming back.
One old man’s body was never found.
“They’re going to see our smoke,”
Linda says. Ira doesn’t care.
Linda knows from the start that our
effort with the pigmy roots will not
sustain any kind of real warmth.
Ira at one point says seriously,
“You wanna lay down by my fire?”
Linda looks at him as if it’s a bad joke.
You can barely warm the tips
of your fingers when you literally
stick them into its tiny embers.
Yet it keeps us occupied for a few minutes
of that very long tortuous insane night.
It isn’t meant to nurture a body
with its meager downhearted heat.
And it may have been the only
fire ever made up on top of Pico
because we saw no other sign of any.
Ira stays with his false hope
longer than us, but eventually
even he gets disgusted with
his effort and heads up to the base
of Little Peak and rolls up into a ball.
We didn’t know this tiny cone
had a thermal hot spot up on top;
if we’d explored up a few hundred
feet more we could’ve kept warm.
It is a full moon night.
Large white swirls across the rocks
light everything up so you can
walk with fairly accurate footing.
We look for more of these grassy spots
and you can only lay on them
for short periods of time, taking your
hand and removing the volcanic
debris that fell on top of them
in the original spewing long ago.
Linda and I put our backs together
to warm up the lower area;
we try in desperation to keep
the cruel cold we have yet to endure.
I look at my watch in the moonlight.
Sometimes only ten minutes have passed.
But I feel milestones each time
an entire hour has gone by.
One hour closer to dawn.
The sun. Warmth. The thought
that I welcome too much,
and too often into my mind.
It is sometime after midnight when
we manage a twenty minute snooze.
But you aren’t very certain you’ve slept.
We move along in our everlasting wandering.
I yell up at Ira over and over again.
“If you find a softer spot up there,
let us know. Okay!”
I say in immediate defeat.
We continue to search for another place.
When we’re moving, that seems
to be the only time there is hope.
Once we lay down again, the cold
creeps in like a hundred centipede legs
dragging its belly in volcanic dust
and leaving us busted-ass ranch miserable.
It is a useless heartless thing to do,
but I keep looking at my wristwatch all night.
Sometimes only a fragment of the present escapes.
The longest time I keep from looking at it
is about fifteen minutes. Five minutes
up there seems like two hours in civilization.
The crab greenery continues to supply us
with varying sizes of rocks on it.
You pick them out with one hand,
lifting your body up with the free one.
I doubt if we sleep an hour all night.
About twenty minutes to five a.m.
I give up completely I am so cold.
Linda asks me to keep her warm.
I do so but can’t no longer sleep.
As I stand there I first
beat my arms across my chest.
Then I reach with my hands
as far as I can around to
my backside to try and massage
out the cold. I’m shivering
and tell Linda that not long
before that I’d heard the first
birds singing. The happiest sound
I’d heard all night. I calculate down
to the minute when the sun will rise;
and there is something like a promise
I let slowly creep back inside my head
for the soul’s sake of loveliness once again.
When the ordeal of the night
is mostly over and the full-length
of Pico lay clear to Lajes Bay,
we are humored again to pick
out cinder souvenirs from Pico’s cone.
We watch the steam rising
from the earth and I never have
the heart to tell Linda when we
are up on top that a few days earlier
they were bringing earthquake
experts to look at the new bubbles
coming up from the ocean bottom
just off the shoreline of Velas.
After photographing the dawn,
with new energy we start down
the trail, content that we have made it—
whatever that is; and we are
beginning to put the challenge to rest.
We’ve learned some valuable things
on the way up; that you didn’t always
stick to the trail when it had slide areas.
You picked your own path
Even so, Linda fell at least four or five
times on the way down. The trail
is much more to handle because
of the loose pebbles and the slick
surface from the dampness of the night.
We know survival depends on each
step of our footing because there
is no way you can break your fall.
Each time Linda fell she creates
bruises and more respect of this
mountain’s blunt nose of arrogance
with its eerie unforgivable silence too.
By now I miss talking to it,
cursing it, the strength defying gives me.
It’s a little too serious for any of that now.
When I do fall, it’s a hard one.
I can feel the pain come in my
knee and ankle in a terrible rush.
I can’t speak at first.
I see some oozing on my index finger.
“You alright,” Linda asks.
“I think I’m okay.
But the mountain has drawn first blood.”
I show Linda the cut.
She’s worried I might’ve broken my hand.
About a quarter of a mile
before we reach we the taxi driver
waiting on the mountain road,
Linda takes a bad fall.
It messes up her right knee.
It swells up immediately.
And at first she doesn’t know
if she can walk or not.
She lay there in a heap.
Not getting up right away.
“Can you walk?”
“I don’t know.”
Finally the taxi driver yells out:
“You missed the trail!
“You’ve taken the donkey path!”
By then we know everything
there is to know about all
the truths of old jungle routes.
Finally Linda makes a great effort,
limping and hobbling along towards
Ira who’d reached the bottom
a half hour or more before us,
telling the taxi driver and a dairyman
about our merry adventures with Pico.
How much we learn each day after,
hobbling down the streets
and ascending the ramps of airplanes
is centered on the tremendous
respect that Pico wrestles from you.
Linda’s knee is so bad a week later
she can’t make the two-mile trek
into my maternal grandfather’s village
of Fajã da Caldeira do Santo Cristo.
P.O. Box 249 Big Timber,