My friend who’d never been to our mountain retreat had a desire to walk all the way around the lake. I told her that would take all day, and I didn’t know if my feet were up to it. So we walked for a few hours (round trip) and got to one end of the lake where a little creek flows in. I’d never done that walk before, so I felt happy about accomplishing a new thing.
It was also fun to get new perspectives on old favorite vistas.
At first I was surprised by the hundreds of dragonflies zipping around us most of the way, but then I remembered my amazement two years ago in this place. When occasionally one seemed to be considering alighting on the ground, I’d say, “Please stop here just a moment so I can look at you more closely!” But their English isn’t very good, and they mistook here for her, and stopped on Myriah’s pant leg. But not long enough for me to get close.
We admired the rocks and grass and moss, and domes across the lake,
and waded in the chilly waters to get to the inlet.
We didn’t see another soul.
Soon after we got back to the cabin, we got our last dinner assembled and cooking.
It’s been more than 25 years since I stayed five nights in a row at the lake. What a relaxing and rejuvenating time this was, and nourishing to the friendship of my companion and me. So I count the whole week as another sort of new exploration. Next time, longer! But now I am home and gathering my wits and strength for adventures coming my way this fall.
Myriah and I were standing on the shoulder of Gumdrop Dome, looking across the lake to the other shore. She said that the trees rising in ascending rows from the water’s edge reminded her of a choir standing straight at attention. I made a note to include that image in a blog post if I could.
Later we were talking about age and getting old and what is youthfulness? and I was looking up a poem by Wendell Berry that I posted here once, when I found this fitting one:
What do the tall trees say
To the late havocs in the sky?
The air moves, and they sway.
When the breeze on the hill
Is still, then they stand still.
They have no fear. Their fate
Is faith. Birdsong
Is all they’ve wanted, all along.
-Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems
The thought of the trees listening to the birds comforts me. I don’t see half the birds here that I see at home, though as Myriah noted, “I’ve heard more birds than I’ve seen.” Yesterday I got the idea of putting some berries on the deck and railing in hopes of attracting a Steller’s Jay. Nope. Not even a chipmunk has found one yet.
But a blue dragonfly just now graced my field of vision with his blue whirr.
I’m in the mountains, at my cabin, with my friend. It’s all lovely.
The sky is free of the smoke that has at times drifted south from Yosemite fires.
Myriah and I drove up earlier this week. She’s never been here before and hadn’t envisioned how remote and un-resortlike it is. We have been talking a lot, catching up on the last 65 years of each other’s lives, including learning how our respective parents met, details of our childhoods and college years and our children’s and grandchildren’s babyhood and wonderfulness.
We’ve been walking, reading, cooking, sitting on the deck. We saw strange large birds our first morning, that we haven’t been able to identify based on our brief glimpse of them thudding into the window and flapping in the trees. That was special enough, to have a close encounter with something other than a Steller’s Jay up here. But this morning while drinking my morning tea I saw a bright bird that quickly flew off, but that had such distinctive colors he was easy to identify from a “Birds of the Sierra Nevada” pamphlet: he is a Western Tanager!
I have no hope of getting a photograph of this fellow, if he even comes near again to sit in a pine tree, so I am showing a picture I found. He has been the highlight of my stay so far. I was as happy as if I had found a bag of gold under a hunk of granite.
DAY 6: Even though this is our departure day, and I have much to do — or maybe because of that — I linger in bed this morning and savor this cozy little part of my cabin experience. I wonder where that mouse ran to… don’t suppose a mouse would start making a nest in my suitcase overnight… hope not. My lips are really chapped, from the dry air. I haven’t looked at the weather station much but I did notice humidity of 25% yesterday.
We are all up and packing, cleaning, eating breakfast at the same time. The children eat leftover pancakes heated on a stovetop toaster. I have jerky and leftover cold green beans with pesto. No microwave here, so even my tea gets cold and I wouldn’t want to dirty another pan to reheat it.
Everyone ponders when they might next be up here. The Professor is hoping their family might come back every other year; Scout was lobbying for twice a month! But snow prevents us from using it more than three or four months of the year. I might return as soon as next week, but I might not. I may be all tripped-out and too weary from this year’s bounteousness of traveling.
I am cleaning my windshield — amazed that I remembered to do this — when four-year-old Ivy comes up and says, “Can I help you with that, Grandma? I can do your side windows; you can do the high parts and I’ll do this part down here.”
“Well, okay, thank you, Sweetie, that will be nice to have those clean, too.” I hand her a paper towel with Windex on it and she starts wiping. “Dad told me and Scout to help you and Mom as much as we could.” 🙂
My dear family drives off, after Pippin has accomplished 90% of the cleanup. A few last details… I’m almost out the front door when a chipmunk runs past me into the cabin. Oh, dear! I try to get on the other side of him to herd him back to the open door, but he runs into the back bedroom and disappears. My brother is due to arrive sometime this day — will I have to wait for him to help me? Mice are always with us, but I can’t lock up with a chipmunk in here.
While I muse over this and check my phone one last time before leaving the wi-fi, the little guy scampers down the hall and out the door. Whew.
I drive away from the lake and down the mountain, enjoying the quietness for one more hour at least — I won’t turn on my audiobook until I get out of the forest — and the smell of the trees. Today it’s the usual piney flavor that they exude especially on warm days, but when I arrived last week in the thunderstorm, oh what a mix of earth and plant smells the rain brought out; just breathing it put the essence of Nature Girl right into me.
That afternoon upon first entering the forest at about 5,000 feet elevation, I’d been puzzled about the smell, which was unfamiliar. It didn’t have any of that piney edge to it, and it was sweet and toasty. I wondered if the thousands of dead trees were changing the chemistry of the aromatics. But after a half hour, the distinctive incense cedar scent came in the window, and I recognized it as having been one element of the strange smell. I suppose that with all the different trees, shrubs and flowers that are blooming and fading, each day’s bouquet in each microclimate is bound to be at least a little bit different.
I stop to take pictures of granite expanses, with giant trees sprouting out of crevices… get back in the car, turn the key, the engine hums, and Bam! the Kinks are blasting, “All day, and all of the night!” What on earth? Why did my stereo suddenly come on, and what station could possibly transmit here? I gather my wits from where they’ve been bounced all around my skull, turn down the volume, the song changes…. I realize it is iTunes playing, through my new stereo’s Bluetooth function. “My” iTunes is 90% my late husband’s collection, which I haven’t spent any time adapting to my own kind of music; I never even listen to iTunes.
I begin to wonder if an angel turned it on, because for the next hour as I listen to the shuffle, it’s a sweet reverie I float in, reminded of times when he would play certain ones saying, “This is for you, Gretchen.” R&B love songs like “Always and Forever” by Heatwave: “I’ll always love you forever.” Atlantic Star’s “Always” includes a line about making a family who “will bring us joy for always,” something I have just been experiencing these last few days; I think over all the joy Mr. Glad and I shared over our children.
Now that I am thinking about him, I remember the time my husband and I stopped along this very road just to cut some manzanita branches to take home for Mrs. C. What a job that was! We staggered far up the bank through loose sandy soil so as not to uglify the least bit the view from the road, and all the bushes were surrounded by a stickery plant that impeded us greatly. But we accomplished our errand.
Even Kate Wolf’s “Across the Great Divide,” though it is melancholy indeed, evokes for me truths and realities of loss and change, and more importantly, of hope:
Where the years went I can’t say I just turned around and they’ve gone away
The finest hour that I have seen Is the one that comes between The edge of night and the break of day It’s when the darkness rolls away
And it’s gone away in yesterday Now I find myself on the mountainside Where the rivers change direction Across the Great Divide
Here I am driving on a mountainside myself, thinking on things that have in one sense “gone away” with the years. But Love remains. Though my life has changed drastically in the last three years, its direction has continued steady, thanks to Christ, “the true Light that enlightens every man,” Who will finally roll away all the darkness. I think about this quote, too:
What shall pass from history into eternity? The human person with all its relations, such as friendship and love.
-Father Georges Florovsky
Various things happen to slow my descent, like being stopped while a tall dead pine is felled and crashes in the forest right across my line of vision. Slow logging trucks, road work, my own stopping to snap pictures… I see lots of Sierra Vinegarweed and spend ten minutes watching bees and butterflies drink at the flowers.
Also, I’m very relaxed and wanting to put off as long as possible the moment when I leave the last tree behind me and find myself in the baking and bare foothills. That’s when I will switch to my audiobook, leave my happy meditation, and count my Mountain Diary as concluded.
(I returned home just last night.)
If you missed previous posts in this series, you can go back and start HERE.