Category Archives: mountains

In the glorious elements.

gl P1040981 huge dome & lakeWhen we were up in the mountains last week, my granddaughter Maggie often played a game on her phone, which involved creating things from earth, fire, water and air…  Just now I realized that our experiences during our vacation were centered around a similar thematic group, consisting of Rock, Water, and Stars, with a little Fire and Trees in the mix, too.

A wildfire was burning close to our route up the mountain (Fire+Trees=Wildfire+Smoke), which may account for the hazy look of this top photo, which nevertheless combines in grandeur several mountain elements. (Rock + Trees + Water + Evening Light = Wow)

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We stopped at the redwood grove on our way, because it never hurts to get a dose of the stately and patient mood the giant trees maintain, and Maggie had never met these particular specimens before. She read a sign and reminded us that some of them have been here since the time of Christ. (Trees + Time = Giant Sequoias)

 

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Here you can see how tidy is the bundle on top of my car, which early that morning Pearl had helped me wrap envelope-style, before I did my knot work. 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

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The bundle remained tight and noiseless at freeway speeds (on the way up the mountain, at least), so we were relieved.

As soon as we pulled up to the cabin, Maggie was running, flying down the hill as the bird flies, to “explore.” Just below our place she had to cross this large slab of granite sloping down toward the lake.

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Her mother and grandmother (me) did not attempt to go anywhere on foot that evening, because we were feeling the altitude. It really slows a person down, to be eight thousand feet higher in elevation than your lungs are used to. Maggie also noticed that she was out of breath more quickly, but it didn’t seem to slow her down much! (Activity – Air = Sluggishness)

So that night after dinner we curled up and listened to me read Farley Mowat’s The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be, a very funny story that we had also read at the cabin about fifteen years ago. I later saw in The Cabin Log Kate’s account of that previous reading, “We laughed until we cried (seriously!)”

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The next afternoon we went canoeing, which we could all three do together, after hauling the canoe down to the water. It was lovely while we were out there, but we only did that once, because the canoe is really too heavy for us little women. After seeing women paddling solo around the lake in kayaks, I have started thinking that I should invest in one of those little boats I could manage by myself, so that I could enjoy exploring the lake when I am up there on my own. If any of my readers has knowledge of this subject, I’d appreciate your input.

The photo above also shows Maggie with one of the friends she made, in the water near the rock that looks like a cracked egg, from which they would leap into the water. Having an almost 13-yr-old with me was part of why this stay at the lake was unusual. She was eager to do everything that could possibly be done, from lying in her hammock under the deck to swimming in the lake that the rest of us had always considered too cold.gl P1050100 CR Fi leap

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The days we were there were leading up to a work day and potluck for the members of the owners’ association, which brought many more people up to the lake than I’ve ever seen at one time. This is why tgl P1050006 M w marshmallowhere were children Maggie’s age to play with, and how it happened that on two nights we shared three different campfires with new friends. It was a strangely social time, though not overly so. We all had time each day to be quiet and alone as well. And I really do want to know the families who have cabins at our lake, some of whom have been coming for over 50 years and passing their property down through the generations.gl P1050123

 

We had two campfires at our own cabin, which Maggie built herself. We made s’mores and popped popcorn over the fires, for the popcorn using this venerable device that can also be used in a fireplace. But the weather was so mild, we didn’t build a fire indoors.

One day I took Pearl and Maggie over to Gumdrop Dome which we always have to climb partially or to the top. The views and the photography from up there are unbeatable, but for the last many years it has only been partially to the top for me. I showed them the way that everyone seems to go, and saw them off with a cheery “See you on the other side!”, confident that they would have no trouble getting to the top, young and strong as they are.

But it was not to be. They came down the way they had started up, and eventually came around the dome to find me above them, partway up. I had  been hollering “Hel-looo!” every so often for 45 minutes, and praying that they hadn’t both fallen and hit their heads. This is what it looked like, where I was expecting to see them come over the top:

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In real life it feels steeper than it looks, but I think the angle of this photo conveys the feeling pretty well. And then, there is that lack of oxygen.

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While I was waiting, on the lower sides of the dome, I still had lots of beauty to keep me enthralled. Everything from succulents at my feet to the famous Ant Island across the lake.

 

Water + Sky + Rock = Mountain Beauty

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At night before bed we all liked to lie on the deck and look up at the stars for a half hour or more. What can I say about them? No words are adequate. Each one is energized, is what it is, by God’s Holy Spirit, and there are gazillions of them making an incredibly showy and captivating display that is completely silent. Perhaps it is the silence that helps us become receptive, so that they are able to convey to us some of their spirit. God uses them to thrill our souls, I know that at least. Maggie said she could never get tired of looking at them, and I must agree.

But eventually we had to go to bed. I will leave you with a view of the lake at evening, when we see that Water + Evening = silver glass.

Good-bye, Dear Mountain Air, Rock and Stars, Lake and Trees — all you Mountain Elements — until next summer!

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Doing the prep work for being utterly useless.

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our lake

I’m going to the mountains next week. My daughter Pearl and granddaughter Maggie and I are driving up to our cabin at the lake, where we will have multi-generational Girl Time and Mountain Time. We’re off the grid up there in the High Sierra, and away from stores, so we have to bring everything we need…

I have never been the one to load a car rack before, and now I need to know how. So I’ve been watching YouTube videos and practicing tying knots, both on a contraption I rigged up with chairs and boxes next to the computer, and on my car itself. I think I am prepared… I know I am pleased with myself that I could learn this knot, because beyond knowing my right from my left pretty well, I am not gifted or intuitive when it comes to visualizing and remembering spatial arrangements.

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guys using knots at the cabin in 2013

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One thing that added to the fun aspect of my project was running across this music video that doesn’t purport to teach the knot that the singer and I both required, but does capture the emotional tone of my own efforts and made me laugh out loud — and want to dance.

The other fun thing was that after my practice sessions with the old rope, my hands smelled as though I had been camping. 🙂

I have so much to do to get ready, I don’t really have the time to write a blog post about it, but I can’t help myself – and now you know why I’ll be away from Blogland, gone to a place where time will be in abundance. I will probably write, but on paper in notebooks. And we will all sit on the deck reading, I’m sure of that. So I’ll just leave you with a nice quote from Philip Connors, and hope to see you here again next week.

“The greatest gift of life on the mountain is time. Time to think or not think, read or not read, scribble or not scribble — to sleep and cook and walk in the woods, to sit and stare at the shapes of the hills. I produce nothing but words; I consume nothing but food, a little propane, a little firewood. By being utterly useless in the calculations of the culture at large I become useful, at last, to myself.”

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Sisters +1 Jelly

GL P1020238What is proper footwear for a mountain cabin? My sisters and niece showed me how to dress properly, and even provided the gear.

I had a very full long weekend. Unfortunately it necessitated me driving two exhausting days for the sake of enjoying two layover days with family, at my sister Cairenn’s cabin that I was experiencing for the first time.

 

Good thing I had little I needed to do on my recovery day but look at photographs and write sentences to go with them. While I’m still in a grouchy mood I’ll get the bad parts of the excursion off my mind first. That way I can have pleasant pictures at the end and maybe go to bed feeling more elevated. But, okay, before we get to the bad parts, a beautiful jay. And a close-up of his blueness:

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Drought. Here in the lower elevations of the more southern Sierra Nevada, the lack of adequate snow and rainfall for several years in a row is evidenced by the sight of many dead trees. And on my way up the hill I saw Lake Success, which is at about 4% of its capacity.GL P1020490 Lake Success crpGL P1020397

Camp Nelson is a small community at a much lower elevation than our family cabin that is also in the Sierras. This town stays open all year, and the roads get plowed every day when it snows. The last many miles going in are so curvy, I got carsick even though I was driving. Of course that made the drive seem even longer.

I haven’t beenGL P1020435orig in the High(er) Sierra since July. Maybe the trees there are also yellowing and dying by now, but I suspect that these at the lower elevations and farther south are suffering more. At least one big tree on Cairenn’s lot needs to be removed safely before it comes down dangerously. It’s the one on the left in this photo with the peak of her cabin below.

In many cases it’s not the lack of water that kills the trees, but the bark beetle that does it. A USDA article explains: “Under normal conditions, trees produce enough resinous pitch to drown and ‘pitch out’ the beetles that attempt to enter. When trees are stressed they are unable to produce sufficient amounts of defensive pitch and the beetles are able to bore deep into the trunks of trees, eventually killing the tree.”

GL P1020394 Chamaebatia foliolosa mountain miseryOne plant that was a new discovery for me has always been disagreeable to my sister Nancy. When she first pointed it out to me on one of our several walks together around the village, I leaned up close and she cried, “Don’t touch it!”

She didn’t want me to be contaminated by its notoriously clinging odor. This wildflower in the rose family, called Bear Clover or Mountain Misery, is also not appreciated by most animals because of its smell. In the forest’s ecosystem it plays a complex role, as I read about in this article. It’s very drought-tolerant and recovers quickly from fire, too.GL P1020377

What else is super drought-tolerant? Our beloved manzanita. I took almost as many pictures of manzanita last weekend as of Steller’s jays. The ones in Camp Nelson get so tall! They all looked particularly healthy; I think they have the added protection of not being the sort of material the bark beetle prefers.

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In this picture on the right we have just discovered a manzanita seedling growing in the bank, and it is about to be transplanted by group effort to Cairenn’s lot.

We looked at trees a lot during our Sisters +1 Retreat. Those huge pine trees, Ponderosas and Jeffreys, are both found in this area. I have written about them before on my blog, but as often happens, the more you know the more you realize you don’t know…

 

 

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They resemble each other in so many ways. I hadn’t even heard before that the bark of one smells like vanilla; ah, but which one is it…? Both, as I read when I got home. The ones we sniffed did have that yummy scent.

I could tell by the way I was frequently lagging behind on these walks, that we didn’t have enough of a group mindset to do an intensive tree study, and anyway I’m not encouraged to spend a lot of time on the questions myself when I read that even experts have had to correct their identification errors.

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On our walks we saw donkeys and mules and deer. One evening we saw seventeen deer on the “meadow” that is a sort of town green.

And a bear track! I circled it in green below, looking something like a thumbless human handprint.

 

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As we relaxed at the cabin, eating, playing games, eating, reading and chatting, eating, the Steller’s jays and squirrels entertained us and kept me busy with my camera.

 

 

 

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After I took about a hundred pictures of the jays I got down to business and did some sewing. I sewed a button on to my fleece jacket, which I then hung on a hook and left at the cabin – ugh! GL P1020415

I worked on one of my patchwork potholders, and started to take apart a pillow that was made for Pippin by her grandmother 30 years ago. I hope to spiff it up and re-stuff it.

 

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I even did some coloring with my sister and my niece Jelly. The picture I chose to color was one of the simplest in the book, and it reminds me a little of the elderberry bushes that I have admired so often up in the mountains. I didn’t see any in this area, though.

 

 

 

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What I did see were mountain sunflowers and their seed heads.

 

Two days with dear people went by so fast… Next thing I knew, I was driving back GL P1020461down that curvy road, early enough in the morning to get some more nice pictures. I had been taking vitamin B6 for two days, and maybe that was why I didn’t get queasy on the descent.

Just a little lower down there were fewer conifers and more desert-y plants to be seen, and wildly painted rock cliffs to highlight their drama.

Below is another plant I didn’t take the time to research today. It looks like some kind of berry bush, growing out of a rock cleft.

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…and I have to admit that yes, its leaves do somewhat resemble those of manzanita. I guess I have a fondness for leathery gray-green Survivors.

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As I wound my way down, off to the south the morning light came over the ridges and fell on forests of manzanita bushes that spread in rough bands across the slopes.

GL P1020469The last mountain scene I captured was of more rock, with late penstemon blooming out of it. I was amazed, and honored.

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When I arrived on the flats of the southern Central Valley, I kept taking pictures, because of the olive trees. More gray-green and hardy specimens! Tall ones dwarfing the orange groves…P1020495 Pville olives crp

…and just a few blocks from my old high school, old gnarly and knobby ones like this:

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I was grateful for the chance to walk around in this grove, and the brief encounter was very satisfying. Just hanging around the trees must have given me the strength to soldier my way up the Interstate for the remaining hours that were required to get me home. I like being home.

Good night.

 

The rain blesses.

My sister joined me at the cabin on Saturday afternoon (This was almost two weeks ago now – I have been writing these reports from home); it was the first time juP1000828st the two of us had spent any time together as long as we can remember – maybe since our younger sister was born! We didn’t have any real adventures, but we had a lovely time.

Unless you count losing our power as an adventure, but we are used to that. The cabin is off the power grid, but we have a solar collector and batteries that usually provide enough electricity for lights.

We were brushing our teeth, getting ready for bed, when the lights went out on Saturday night, and we never got the system going again. We think the batteries may need replacing. So we used lanterns and flashlights, and two dim gas wall lamps. The refrigerator runs on gas.

We read on the decP1000818k, until we got too hot, or too cold, or too sleepy. We cooked lots of vegetables, and Sister barbequed enough steak to make me happy for days to come. We talked about our favorite trees around the cabin, two of which I show here.

Storm clouds gathered all day Sunday, and we watched them eagerly, hoping some moisture would fall out, and in the late afternoon it finally did. Immediately the fragrance of the conifers and the duffy earth rose up and all around us and we felt better about everything. The trees were happy and able to exhale and share their essence again.P1000846

Monday I spent the whole day combing through the Sunset Western Garden Book and some books from the library, picking out the most flowery drought-tolerant plants that would attract bees, birds and butterflies, and making lists to prepare myself for an upcoming meeting with a landscape designer. She will help me with my garden at home, once the pool is gone and I am left with a vast dirt canvas on which to paint my garden art.

I know, that was a little odd —  you’d think I should have been focused instead on nature’s glorious garden all around me. But it helped me greatly to invest some time in that landscaping project so that my mind would not feel as chaotic and overwhelmed as my yard looks right now. The mountains were a restful place where I would not be distracted by any environmental mess.

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My sister anP1000823d I collected firewood from the stash under the cabin deck, and pushed and pulled it up the hill in a cart, to build our magnificent fires. She built one, and I built the next.

We read, and talked about our reading, and planned our next sisters cabin retreat, which will include all three of us at a different cabin in October. This place will be closed down by then, to protect it from the snows, which we pray will be heavy this year. Sometimes the cabin is completely covered in snow, just a bump showing under the white blanket.

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Penstemon heterodoxus – Sierra Penstemon

The storm clouds had gathered again that day, and serious rain began to fall in the early afternoon, and continued all day and night. We were gleeful, as if our own skins haP1000849d been shriveled and were now plumping up again. We tried to take pictures of the wet skies. On our way to the firewood pile between showers I took a picture of the most common wildflower at the cabin right now, a tiny drenched penstemon.

Too soon it was the morning of our departure. It was certainly nice to have someone to work with, turning off the water valve and getting the cabin tidied up for the next family members who visit.

Once again, I departed late, but I didn’t expect to feel the need to take pictures on the way down, as I had done so much of that on the way up. I was really surprised therefore when the one-hour drive from 8,000 ft to 5,000 ft elevation took almost double that amount of time.

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Meadow Goldenrod

Now that I’m back home, I’m very glad I did stop a lot on that curvy road flanked by layers of wildflowers. Using my several wildflower guides I have identified three new flowers that I didn’t know before, or that I had wrongly named in the past, just from that morning.

The Meadow Goldenrod was popular with the bees. I had seen it in the meadow with the cattle on the way up, but here it was growing along the roadside.

Another plentiful flower along my course was milkweed. Like the goldenrod, it has a hundred miniature flowers making up its clusters, and the insects were feasting on nectar there, too. I think this one is Indian Milkweed, asclepias eriocarpa.

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Indian Milkweed
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Bigelow’s Sneezeweed

Years ago I had mistaken this next flower for something else. It is Bigelow’s Sneezeweed, which is an ominous name; one can imagine how it got that title. The blooms I saw were pretty far spent, but easily recognizable — and I actually was set straight on this one while perusing a guide from the cabin library.

So…the rain is blessing the forest, and the bees are blessing the flowers, and the flowers are blessing the insects with nectar.

It is comforting to remind myself of these things that were going on under my nose. At the time, I was hurrying down the mountain, to Pearl’s house, to get a granddaughter to take home with me. That will be the next chapter of my summer story collection.