Mountain Air – smoke and writing

GJ in the Tuolumne River

I returned this week from a solitary trip to the mountains, where I stayed in a cabin off the grid for four nights. I could easily write a book about my five days of journeying and lodging, probably a philosophical novel. Or would it be a how-to treatise with packing lists and suggested activities and prayers?

I’m always saying, “I could write a book about ____.” And it just occurred to me that I am always writing, as I endlessly analyze events as to their significance, and organize my thoughts, composing and reworking the lines in my mind. If I have a pencil or keyboard handy and hands free I might scribble down some of it, often in a notebook or in the margin of the book I’m reading. But the process has begun long before that.

It wouldn’t be a lie exactly, when people ask me what I do, to say, “I write.” Because I’m a process-oriented type, I can’t see a book ever resulting from my work, but no pressure — no one is clamoring for a discussion of the things in my pocket or the interrelatedness of the last ten books I read.

I thought I might do some sort of scribbling during my getaway, but I didn’t make much visible progress on my “books.” Many things that are fascinating to my self-centered self consumed my hours and my thoughts, and I do want to reflect on some of that here, hopefully without rambling on and on.

Evening with brown haze in north

Today I just want to mention one sad thing about my experience: Smoke. The brown cinders from that horrid Rim Fire, the largest wildfire on record in the Sierra Nevada, had drifted south and made the air murky around Our Lake. One day was so bad that my eyes and throat and head hurt from the pollution. But I didn’t have to come home early, because it cleared up a little by the next morning.

Another bad air day

I can’t imagine what the landscape will look like, the next time we visit our beloved Yosemite and drive through the scorched forests. One thing I know: On August 25th the fire destroyed the Berkeley City Camp Tuolumne where my sisters and I as children vacationed with our grandparents.

It has been many decades since I did water ballet in that swimming hole in the Tuolumne River, or even visited the camp, and it won’t change my life that it is wiped out. But what a heartache for the people who spent dozens of formative summers in the context of that special place, and those for whom the rustic cabin life in an idyllic setting was a very recent tradition and expectation. I’m very thankful it was only smoke that invaded our family’s lake and village.

Camp Tuolumne in the old days

9 thoughts on “Mountain Air – smoke and writing

  1. Hi GJ! I like your thoughts concerning writing a book. We ARE always writing because we are always thinking and it's a great gift to use our pens to process our journeys.
    The Sierras are beautiful. Breathtaking.


  2. The smoke has been horrid. Our skies have been red all day every day for a week,
    I am so glad you had time to get away. It reminds me of Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Gift from the Sea.
    I understand what you say about writing, I am the same way about it.
    I am sorry about the camp.


  3. Oh I am so sorry to hear the news about the fires in/around the Yosemite. I've never been there, I've seen some photos, which I know can never do it justice, but I hate to think of this piece of paradise hit by fire.

    We pray for healing of the land and its restoration to beauty and life.


  4. PS… your retreat sounds lovely. and I seem to relate to your thoughts about writing, and scribbling away to sort your own thoughts and reflections. I say I have lots of ideas for articles and books, but in the end, I write to process my own heart and life.

    I like the sentence 'no one is clamoring for a discussion of the things in my pocket or the interrelatedness of the last ten books I read.'


  5. I'm so sorry for the loss of so many beautiful places there, and the seeming loss of years of memories and significance. Very sad.

    It sounds to me like you have the condition that many good writers have, GJ — a constant, running voice in your head, speaking, thinking, churning, “writing.” It's the voice that initiates all the eventual words on pages. MFK Fisher had such a voice and discussed it in her books. Those who have this writer's inner voice find it shocking and unusual that other people don't have this inner dialogue, but most people don't. Keep writing 🙂


  6. Inner dialogue…it is shocking that not everyone has this experience. When I want my brain to be still and it won't…when my heart is needing rest…this is the only time I wish for the voice to be a little softer. I envy your retreat…maybe someday!


  7. I wonder if you were able to see the stars amidst the smokey air? I love swimming holes like the one you showed from long ago. There are a few around here that the state hasn't cemented over.


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