bushwhack (verb) – to clear (or force) a path through dense woods, bushes, and/or low branches.
Occasionally, the best route to take when hiking will ask you to ditch the trail to get to your destination. Maybe your destination is off the beaten trail (literally and figuratively) and hence doesn’t have a direct trail to it. Maybe you just feel like an adventure and want to feel more of a pioneer and desire the thrill of uncertainty of what your path might hold for the day. Either way, such off-trail venturing in the Sierras will very often require some bushwhacking – making your own way where none exists to the eye.
Anyways, bushwhacking through huckleberry oak (Quercus vacciniifolia), and / or willows (Salix geyeriana) bushes is much like walking on clouds – or what I imagine walking on clouds would be like. You find yourself feeling a bit weightless, outside gravity, a space walker – feel this only if you properly choose your footing. The key is to find the thickest part of the bush, where the branches have the greatest diameter, closest to the main trunk, and place your foot gingerly there and then with more confidence when you’ve confirmed that the plant will hold your weight. It is a fine balance between overthinking and reckless decision making, as cloud walking would most certainly be as well – a defying of physics.
In this manner, you seem to be gliding above the ground, nearly skating from bush to bush. They grow so densely together they nearly appear as single, united surface. Thus, you are walking on an evergreen sea. You can use the upper, new-growth branches for further balance. They act as upraised hands, reaching out to help you crowd-surf on them. And you, in gratitude, feel you must reach out to each in time, only letting go of them when your hand must embrace the next on your ill-defined path.
I should mention here that the only way to cloud-walk or evergreen-sea glide is to come with the proper attire. Sprinkled amongst the more forgiving huckleberry oak and willow bushes are the less affectionate manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) bushes. The manzanita is brittle, and comes with a bite. But, with the armor of long sleeves and pants, their bite stands no chance in dampening your enjoyment of the bushwhacking experience.
Perhaps this is the closest we are able to get to a magic carpet ride? For you do feel you are being transported on some invisible surface, mystified by how you can be walking above the ground. Clearly magical.
And when back on the solid ground, you can’t wait to have another go at the impossible.