Unsurprisingly, by Sunday morning, I had some complaints about the commemorative shirts, now that they were in the world and worn, developing as souvenirs while we were still there.
They were just too white, I thought, on the front. Too much silkscreened-ink, making a blobby kind of cookie with two bites missing. But just about everyone was wearing them, and most of the tribe of campers seemed satisfied or even happy with them. So I was probably the only one unhappy with them — filtering through all of my critical nomenclature and perspective to try and admire instead that it was actually just fine.
I didn’t like looking at them from far away. I tried to just file that as something to consider for the next one, what it looked like from far away. Up close, at a conversational distance, or even looking down at the upside down pattern on my own chest in quiet reflection the drive home, everything was readable and pretty good (although still too much of that painted white).
From that same close proximity, though, I had a different set of complaints about the image on the back. If you could reach out and touch them, the negative spaced outline of the mountain peak was nearly invisible, undefined, lost in the gaps of lines and the heathered textured of the dark forest green of the t-shirt.
But the further you stood away from it, the more clear the outline was, and I felt better about that.
On Friday morning we’d hiked up to the top of Cone Peak, a whole mile up and just three miles from the ocean. They said there was a platform output at the top, and for most of the drive up to the dirt trail, we still couldn’t make out much of anything manmade except a receding mountain, in strange theatrical scales of forced perspective.
After a two-mile hike, though, at the narrow peak at the top, the entirety of the Santa Lucia mountains arched from the sea into the Salinas Valley. If it hadn’t been for the smoke, from that height our field of view would have been eighty-nine miles past the horizon. We could see all the way down to our beach, and even without binoculars, the smaller peak of the Point at the edge of the cove jutted out. Which made sense but was still bizarre — to finally be looking down from the peak that I’d drawn into the t-shirt, and been looking at and hearing about for the last twenty years — and how it made everything so small, and hinted at the curvature of the earth with the wide incomprehensible arch of the range from which it once blossomed in a seismic fury.
That night, just four of us walked out to the Point, so that we would have gone from the highest point to the lowest point, both of them just above the water. My father spoke about the stars, and how even in the faintest, darkest part of the sky (like if you held a dime at arm’s length) our best camera found more of everything. From the Point, no camera, laying against the rock, the mountains were an outline of deep purple, darker than the invisible stars, a heathered, wavering noise of vision, wrapping in a greater velvet mystery, its distance no longer visible, and felt as dangerously mysterious as the edge of the universe.
Back down at the beach the next afternoon, looking up, now understanding just what of the outpost was hidden by the sheer magic of distance. It was there, right there, unobstructed by smoke or tree or bush, but scaled down beyond comprehension. Smaller than the eye of a Roosevelt dime held at arm’s length, still so full of galaxies. Everything too far from belief, or too close to be seen.