Category Archives: mountains

Romantic rocks in the head.

A long time ago I read that the forces in play in a highway accident are so powerful that you can be killed by something as insignificant as a Kleenex box flying from the back seat to hit you in the head. I always think about that when I am loading rocks in my car to carry home from anywhere. I already had my car stuffed full when I picked up these rocks on my way down from the lake, so I tucked them in the space behind boxes and bags just inside the hatchback. Smaller stones were back there, too, in paper bags. Would that be romantic or what, if I were killed by a stone I had gathered myself from the mountaintop or stream?

You may say in response that I have rocks in my head.
Is that similar to having rocks on the mind? Because that I admit to.

There is nothing so pretty as succulents and rocks together. Big rocks for the in-ground succulents — and other plants — to drape themselves on, and little stones, preferably flat, as I understand, to lay on the soil in pots of succulents.

You can see that I didn’t have any small flat stones last year when I potted these plants, so I had to use whatever I could find, including mussel shells. Today I saw this pile containing several stones that would have been perfect, and I don’t remember why they are there or why I didn’t have them when I needed them. It’s this kind of forgetfulness that makes me want to bring home more every time I visit a Good Rock Place. Stones seem to be easy to misplace.

The Sacramento River and its tributaries are excellent sources for nice smooth stones. I’ve collected there several times with the Professor and Pippin. This one was first admired by my late husband at the confluence of the Sacramento River and Castle Creek in 2014. He jokingly called it a Confluitic Rock, and we brought it home; it’s still here somewhere in my garden, but a plant may be hiding it right now, large though it may be.

My largest rock is this one below, which my brother lifted out of the lake bed and put in his pickup, 15 or more years ago, to carry it up the hill and to our car. I let my toes be in the picture for size comparison.

This week I gathered the best rocks from the dry bed of the winter stream that crosses the road, downhill from the cabin a ways. In this picture you can see in the upper left that there is still some water standing, though none is running across the ford at this point.

Lora and her mother helped me collect small stones from in front of the cabin last week, and combined with the ones I picked up on my own the last day, they make this new pile in my utility yard:

Other than Raffi’s mention of “a little wee stone” in a shoe, I don’t know of any songs about stones that aren’t about stony hearts or love on the rocks, and other such negative connotations. It seems to me there should be a jump-rope song that goes like this:

Rocks in the car,
Rocks on my mind,
Rocks in the head,
Rocks in my H-E-A-R-T!

The very thing.

Web photo

The hawk dropped down to the shoulder of the road just ahead of where I was driving down the mountain. It was at the elevation where you start to see the elderberries that don’t grow much higher, about 6,000 feet. He carried something in his talons that touched the ground just before he did.

I didn’t see any cars in my rear view mirror, so I slowed to a stop in the middle of the road and looked out the window at him, a few feet away on the other side of the road. He looked calmly at me. I should say, he looked in my direction, because I don’t know… what if I were the first human he had ever seen? Does a bird focus on another creature’s face and eyes, the way a human baby does? I stared and he looked a little bored, for ten long seconds, and then he flew into a tree nearby.

salsify

That meeting was one of the exciting events of my drive down from the mountains this week. I’d stayed at the cabin two more nights after my family departed, and had anticipated that when I finally left I would do my typical stop-and-go meandering for at least the first few thousand feet of descent, say, from 8,000 to 5,000 feet elevation. Because in July there are many more wildflowers than in September, the month in which I most often have visited this part of the High Sierra.

When the rain began to fall, and fell harder the morning I was to leave, it seemed my plans would have to change, and I might only be collecting rocks for my garden, instead of wildflower pictures. I always love rain at the cabin, so I did not complain at all. And it surely wouldn’t be a bad thing if I got home sooner rather than later. But — about the time I’d finished closing up the place and packing my car, the clouds began to break up, so that this was my last view of the lake:

The first wildflower I found, one I hadn’t seen for years, was Mountain Pride, bordering the road. It and Wavyleaf Paintbrush had few flowers remaining, but they provided a bright contrast to the sky, water and granite. This is a picture of them taken four years ago nearly to the day, in the same place. The snow melted earlier this year, as there was not much of it, so the bloom peaked before I got here.

I noticed or met for the first time no fewer than 18 different species of wildflowers that day, most of which I wrote down in a little notebook each time I got back into my car to drive further along the road, going slow and keeping my eyes open for spots of color, or whatever else might appear. Some of the flowers that I won’t show you were:

Spreading Dogbane
Arrowleaf Senecio
Goldenrod
Deer Vetch
Ranger’s Buttons
Spanish Clover
California Aster
Delta Sunflowers
Groundsmoke

My favorite flower of the day by far was Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, a darling thing which I first saw in this area many years ago. I pulled over for it several times, and the last time was the best display, with bees and two kinds of butterflies drinking at the blooms.

One of them was the Field Crescent, of whom I didn’t get a good shot, but here is one I found online of this little insect:

Field Crescent Butterfly [Phyciodes campetris]
Mormon Fritillary

Should Nature at times, on our awakening, propose to us
The very thing to which we were disposed,
Then praise at once swells in our throats.
We feel we are in paradise.

-Francis Ponge

The corn lilies were blooming, and a beetle was on site for that glorious event, seeming to have lost its head over pollen:

Fireweed waved its purple flowers in the breeze. “It earned its name because this plant is the first colonizer in the soil after forest fires.”


This next picture shows an area ripe and ready for some fireweed to sprout and grow; it is a landscape resulting from the Creek Fire last fall.

That was the huge fire that necessitated closing the highway that we use to get to our cabin, the same week that Soldier’s family and I had planned to be up there. We went to the beach and took smoky pictures instead.

Already I saw wild roses blooming among the stumps, and this healthy milkweed:

I often have run across wildflowers with buckwheat as part of their common name. This page shows you how vast is that family, called Polygonaceae, that includes mountain sorrel, curly dock — and rhubarb, of all things. But the strange species I saw a lot of on my drive was Naked Buckwheat.

It has strong, wire-like stems that are tall and bare for most of their length, with white puff-balls at the tip.

Bridges’ Penstemon

I wanted to get a nice picture of the elder bushes in flower, and when I squeezed in close this bright and rather large beetle got my attention:

I began to think of all the fascinating and complex creatures that live their (often short) lives in “obscurity.” I bet no one else had ever seen that bug. God lavishes the earth with life and beauty as an expression of His generosity and love.

As I went down the mountain, it was like an hours-long birthday party with Him saying, “Stop here. See that flower? It’s one of the special gifts I’m giving you today.” Then, “Look there! A red and black bug I chose just for you.”

He gave me sneezeweed because they are my old friends. He introduced me to a hawk for something new. Butterflies fluttered, proposing the very thing to which I was disposed. This place was not paradise, we can tell that by the fire damage, and many other aspects. But there was a little taste of Paradise in my soul, and praise swelling in my heart.

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.

We sleep and swim and sleep some more.

Except for the hum of my car’s engine, and the sound of rubber rolling on asphalt, the night was still, and pitch black. Pearl and I were driving on curvy roads the last hour up the mountain, at nearly 10 p.m., later than I’d ever done that. There was no moon, but reflectors shone from the snowplow markers on both sides. I kept slowing down as a precaution against hitting deer that might bound out in front of me, then I would forget about them and speed up, my high beams shining Into the darkness giving me some confidence to push on. This was an eerie and unusual way to start a vacation at the lake.

She and I had stopped a ways back to shop for five day’s groceries for nine people, and we suspected that at least one of our group’s three vehicles would have arrived ahead of us. Yes, three people greeted us when we arrived, and two hours later, at midnight, the last carful, in which two-year-old Lora was riding. Her Aunt Maggie had been entertaining her all day, or they’d have been even later.

So, bedtime was very late that night (morning). But then the fun began! This cabin has two bedrooms with two beds each, but there is a carpet and sofa in the living room, and a large deck. The effects of the altitude are laughingly predictable: everyone sleeps a LOT. We sleep late, and various ones take naps morning, afternoon or evening.

Yesterday we found a gloriously deep and green swimming hole down the mountain a short way, plus a redwood grove to stroll. Lora was so pleased with the latter place, she hugged herself. Most everyone swam, and Lora and I reached through the limpid stream to collect sparkling pebbles from the bottom.

Lots of cabins and businesses have a bear out front, carved out of a log. The one at top is next door to our cabin. He never sleeps, but I am going to go to my bed now, and will tell you more tomorrow.