Category Archives: cabin

As large as alone.

Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain, and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as creeks will. The creeks are all the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.

– Annie Dillard

Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park – web photo

A granite dome was the focus of my mother’s most memorable hiking experience. She told me many times the story of how, at the urging of my father, she climbed Moro Rock when she was great with child (me). That is, so far, my only experience of it.

On our yearly camping trips decades later, my own children’s father would hike to the summits of other domes of rock with them, and a few of those times I was along. Lembert Dome was long my favorite, looming over Tuolumne Meadows on the Tioga Pass, in Yosemite National Park. Even at two years old Pippin could get to the top of it, with someone to hold her hand on the gradual ascent up the back slope.

Lembert Dome in Yosemite – web photo

In the latter half of my life, my favorite dome is the one behind our mountain cabin. Several features of it make it accessible to me, the most important one being that I can walk to its base in a few minutes. I read recently that one summer, a small group of us climbed to the summit of this dome in the morning and again in the evening of the same day. My late husband took the picture below of our companions coming up behind him, about eight years ago. You can see why I wouldn’t want to try it alone.

During my recent mountain retreat, I set out one morning before breakfast, thinking that I would just walk over that way to get a view of the lake from the other side of what we have nicknamed Gumdrop Dome. Within ten minutes I had changed course and decided to approach from a different direction and to do a new thing: walk all the way around the base. I came through the trees to the north side, and headed to my right, around the west side of the rock. That side is a steep wall, decorated by veins of different colored minerals, and by lichens.

I refreshed my memory just now about different types of clast, or broken rock. I think what lies there at the bottom of the wall would not be classified talus or scree, but is just plain clast. On this side you can clearly make out where the base of the dome is.

I walked along in the clast, it moved under me, and then — whoopsie! Down I went on my behind. While I sat, I thought I should take advantage of the camera angle:

It wasn’t the only time I fell. A few minutes later I stumbled forward, and scraped my hand on some of that sharp granite. My euphoria was untouched; it was such incredible good fortune, that I should find myself completely alone, yet in rich company: God, and a friendly monster of a rock. Still, I navigated more carefully after that. The boulder to the right of the pine cones in the picture below is an example of the coarsest grit of granite imaginable; and the one below it, also.

I began to search for stones, keepsakes of my solitary walk around “Gumdrop.”

On the back side, the line between dome and not-dome is vague, as that granite face stretches away in an ever flattening  grade, down into the trees. There is still lots of rock there, but giant conifers grow out of cracks in it, and their duff lies thickly on top. Granite domes like this are called bornhardts; there are several theories about how they form.

For a long time I gazed at the wide views from my high perch, a flattish boulder-bench, and felt the cool breeze growing warmer as the sun rose to my left.

“O, Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all.”

From here you can see other domes in the distance, but of course you can’t get a good idea of what the dome you are standing on looks like. The best vantage point I’ve ever had is from the lake, as in this picture that was taken some years ago:

This area below I call the amphitheater. It’s a good place from which to watch the show!

If I had brought a snack, I might have stayed hours longer. It was all delicious and satisfying as a feast for the soul, but pure bliss was not going to prevent me getting shaky (elevation about 8500′) if I kept putting off nourishment such as was waiting for me back at the cabin; so I stood up and continued my explorations.

Frosted Buckwheat

This couplet below does not at all fit with the stones that I collected on the dome, as far as their smoothness, or the number of them. But the poet’s metaphor echoes somehow that of Annie Dillard at the top of this post, and they both understand what I left behind on that mountain dome, and what I brought home.

“may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.”
-E.E. Cummings

Here is my last look at Gumdrop, when I had circled around to my starting place. From this angle it seems that it might not be impossible to climb that particular slope. I wonder…. Well, next time I have a companion, I’ll have to bring him or her to this place and give it a try! But for now, Good-bye Gumdrop! Good-bye mountains! Thank you for inviting me. I had a good time!

When the poor and needy seek water.

I drove boldly past many “FOREST CLOSED” signs on my way up the mountain earlier this week. The United States Forest Service has closed them because of the drought and fire danger. Our cabin is one of a group on a little piece of private property in the middle of the forest, so I brought along proof of ownership. There are currently no fires nearby, and the skies are clear and blue, but the air was brown-tinged a few thousand feet lower down, from the smoke that drifts in from fires in the north.

So I saw few other vehicles or people, but the hummingbirds, chipmunks and jays are more to be seen than in my recent memory. This forest family stared at me as I passed:

My sister came up for a couple of nights, and we talked until late. She drove us down to the lake bed in her “mule,” and we walked around for awhile. The part of the lake visible through the trees from our cabin showed a bit of blue water when I arrived, but the next morning it had turned to mud. The water is used for irrigation, so it’s not an unusual situation at the end of the summer, and not surprising that it would be the case this year.

As soon as I entered the forest, on the last leg of my journey, the noise and strain that had been with me on the highways began to be absorbed by the deep silence, and the fullness of presence, not only of living and growing trees and animals, but massive rocks. Those slabs and domes were here eons before the lake, and they comfort me.

Sister Nancy showed me an osprey nest when we were down at the shore/lake bed, and though it was kind of far away, I took a picture anyway. I didn’t see the greater context while I was focused on it, and was surprised when looking at my pictures later, to see what looks like a cloud picture. Just to the right of the odd blue dot is the osprey nest at the top of a tree.

Something has gone wrong with my settings on my devices, and I can’t seem to insert most of the pictures I wanted. I really don’t want to spend any more time up here fiddling with technology, so this may be my only post about my little retreat. I am hardly disappointed that the lake is so low, because The Mountains are where I am, and they are so much more. When I saw this reading for a church feast this morning, it made me think about the living waters that God provides, the Living Water that He is for our souls, no matter how dry the landscape:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.  Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD’S hand double for all her sins. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the LORD will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.  Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the LORD have created it. Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing declare ye, tell this, utter it even to the end of the earth; say ye, The LORD hath redeemed his servant Jacob. And they thirsted not when he led them through the deserts: he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them: he clave the rock also, and the waters gushed out. Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.  (Isaiah 40:1-5; 41:17-18; 45:8; 48:20-21; 54:1)

Our lake in a wetter year.

Guests make thank offerings.

Roger and Izzy had to leave early morning to catch a flight in Los Angeles this afternoon. When you are traveling with a toddler you need to give extra time for stopping proactively at places like parks, and time for unexpected events of various sorts. We mostly said our good-byes to them last night. So they weren’t there at breakfast when the remaining six of us gathered for the last time.

During the months that I’ve looked forward to this family time at the cabin, my mind has been buzzing with ideas of things I’d like to say, topics I wanted to discuss with my college-age  grandchildren while we were together day in and day out. I didn’t really trust those ideas, because I’m not the kind of person who brings up topics for discussion! The phrase “some spiritual gift” vaguely expressed what I wanted to give in person, separate from my ongoing prayers for them.

As the week went on, the fantasy faded, and I just enjoyed them immensely, and loved listening to them and being with them. We got to know each other a little better. Philosopher’s girlfriend C. I had never met before; I quickly fell in love with her.

This morning I discovered that the new prayer book from St. Tikhon’s Monastery includes the “Akathist Hymn of Thanksgiving: Glory to God for All Things.” As I read this prayer alone on the deck, it dawned on me that sharing it might be a kind of “spiritual gift.” After Nate blessed the food, and everyone was beginning to eat, I read several portions, beginning with these:

“I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity. From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your Name.”

“O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest. Breeze full of scents — mountains reaching to the skies — waters like a boundless mirror, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of Your tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last forever in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, rings out the cry: Alleluia!”

This thankful spirit was expressed by the three teenagers who wrote in the cabin guest book before they left for home. Excerpts:

“The cabin is such a sweet place to simply be, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do that with so many people that I love.”

“I’ve never seen so many stars so clearly, nor have I been able to see the Milky Way. The Sierras are a wonderful place to be! …This time being up here, I could really take in the smell of the pines, marvel at the granite domes as the sun sets on them, enjoy the clear blue water of the lake, the cool nights and breezy evenings… and enjoy being out in the less-altered land of the beautiful world God gave us….”

“There is so much peace at this cabin to the point where it feels like an oasis. When I figured out that there was no service at the cabin I was nervous. I quickly realized, though, that having no connection to the rest of the world is part of what makes this place so special.”

“You have brought me into life as if into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavor and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on your earth. It is a pleasure to be your guest.”

“I see Your heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious You are, radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side: Your right arm guides me wherever I go.”

If you look closely at the railing in the second photo from the top of this post, you might be able to see the green fencing that has been installed over it, for the protection of little ones and the peace of mind of their elders. Lora could freely run around in and out of the cabin at will, and she did. I held her up above the railing so she could throw seeds down to the chipmunks that scurry around under the deck.

There have been lots of changes and improvements at the cabin since the last time I was here, including a new generator to replace the WWII veteran, and a new propane stove. The old one I think was the original stove installed in the cabin when it was built in the 1950’s. The thermostat was broken, the burners often had to be lit with a match, and the oven door would fall on your feet if you didn’t hold it up when looking inside.

Pearl made good use of it all week to make fabulous meals including shakshouka, a dish I’d never heard of. She had eaten it in Israel, and brought all the ingredients up to the cabin to try making it herself for the first time. We ate it for breakfast, including pita bread she made from scratch that morning.

And “the kids” made dinner twice. An addictive dish Izzy contributed was rice cooked with butter, lime, and cilantro. This experience of having other people cooking for me every day was pretty wonderful!

Last night Nate and Philosopher were gone fishing for a few hours, and they came back with six rainbow trout. This made Lora extra happy and she hugged herself again. The trout were featured at breakfast this morning while we contemplated God’s providence.

On this departure day of my family, a huge blessing has been bestowed on me in the clarity that this prayer hymn provides about spiritual gifts. I felt and experienced and learned again what I had somewhat forgot, that the most precious gift we can give each other, out of that abundance that has been given to us, is LOVE.

“Glory to You, ceaselessly watching over me.
Glory to You for the encounters You arrange for me.
Glory to You for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends.
Glory to You for the humbleness of animals which serve me.
Glory to You for the unforgettable moments of life.
Glory to You for the heart’s innocent joy.
Glory to You for the joy of living, moving, and being able to return Your love.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.”

(If you squint, you might see me walking in the middle of the picture.
Izzy took the shot on her way up Gumdrop.)

Dome, stars and fire.

As a group, we are trying to do All The Mountain Things.

The brothers have fished in the lake several times, off the shore and from the canoe, which my sister and her husband had been kind enough to take down to the lake for us before we arrived. “To the lake,” in a drought year like this, means that one has to unlock the canoe from a tree at the level of the lake at its fullest, and carry it about 75 yards across the lake bed to a place where you can put it in the water. They paddled a total of five miles one afternoon and evening in the process and caught two little trout, which they shared at breakfast the next morning.

All the kids swam in the lake, and the girls floated around in tubes. All five young people slept on the deck one or two nights, and looked at the stars, and woke  to the hummingbirds’ loud zipping overhead.

Our first morning here, people immediately began discussing the granite domes we can see from the cabin, ringing the lake. Which one should they climb first? Where was the trailhead? I told them they must do the quick and easy Gumdrop Dome right behind the cabin, too close to see. Yesterday morning the five young hikers and I started off together in that direction, so I could show them the usual route up. I haven’t tackled it myself in at least ten years, but I like to walk around its base, which is high enough to give a good view.

The little clump of trees just to the right of center of the photo below is what becomes Ant Island when the water level is higher.

This was my first time to see a backpackers’ campsite. That was a cheery sight, unlike the more numerous saddening ones: the many trees up there that have been familiar features of my previous visits and have appeared in my photos over and over, now dead. One of them was what I sketched, that one time I exhausted my mind trying that art form.

In that post I also mentioned the little bent-over tree that I loved. It, too, is dead now:

Normally when I’m framing photos in the Sierras, I try to exclude dead trees, but that is no longer possible. I’m sure Mrs. Bread will recall our philosophical discussion while sitting on the deck one summer, as to the value and possible beauty of creation in the process of decomposition. At the time I think I was unwilling to exert myself in that mental exercise. Even now I am having a hard time with it!

After dinner last night, which four young people cooked — barbecued tri-tip, fried potatoes, sauteed vegetables, baked beans and chocolate chip cookies — an even larger group of us carted  supplies down to the dry lake bed to have a fire and make s’mores. Roger and Izzy did most of the work, and left Lora with her Granddad back at the cabin. Pearl and I came last to the scene, tromping through the bushes and gravel straight down the hill instead of by the road, when Roger was just setting a match to the kindling.

Venus was the first bright light in the sky. We all craned our necks searching the sky for constellations that were brighter every time we looked up. Philosopher made a s’more just for me, my first in decades, I’m sure.

Today Pearl went off in the canoe with Roger and Izzy to cross the lake and get nearer to the base of another dome, which they would climb. I’m eager for them to get back with pictures showing our Gumdrop Dome from that side of the lake. I feel richly blessed by every outing and conquest that each of my family has been making here, even the ones in which I personally am not directly participating. I guess it’s one of those benefits of producing and being with a large and busy family, that I can in this way continue to do (almost) All The Things.