With regards to Thoreau’s claims about insects, I found them rather more in line with reality than his talk of spruces. Mosquitoes and gnats mobbed my face, hair, neck, and so on whenever my forward, upward or downward progress slowed, which fact led to large intervals opening up between myself and my companion on both the way up and down and only closing at greater heights. At one rocky clearing, I stepped to one side to await him. I had in turn been awaited by an insect, which settled on my earlobe, passed from there to the inner ear, and I found the tinny voice most welcome.
My companion caught up, I resumed my clambering ways up the rockface, all the while trying to pick out white lines from lichens encrusting the stone. In a way, I was grateful for the distance. I have before commented on my companion’s propensity for repetition; the same topics eternally recur, the nature of time, family issues, both in greater cycles and the lesser declined. After followed talk of lessons learned on this hike, current events and memories of previous holidays, such as when he recalled a desert mango that I, a great many years earlier, had gleefully consumed at Black Mesa.
He also demonstrated great capacity for boundless speculation, particularly as concerns people and their history and the relation to their identity, national character, or ethnicity, and wished that I engaged in willful guesswork as well, for which I have expressed great distaste. To his proddings, I responded in clipped phrases and hoped thereby to turn his statements on their head. Yet he seemed impervious to this rhetorical device and persisted, at length extracting from me one nation or other. He simply could not help himself, be his speculation directed towards climbers attempting the Cathedral without proper climbing gear or a hotel clerk who had been rather accommodating.
While cresting the first ridge, I had taken note of a person ascending rather more slowly than our party. Above her a man extended a hand as she inched on her stomach up a large rockface. At the moment, I could make no sense of her slow progress but, on the way down, I thought to make of her an agoraphobe bravely trying to overcome her fear, even if it entailed crawling on her stomach for large stretches. I did later see her standing between boulders and again in the tablelands, so perhaps her difficulty owed to fear of heights or an altogether more obscure sorrow.