Lake, stream, and mice.

DAY 5: This will be our last full day at the lake. Mark and Jennie have already left their nearby camp, which leaves the six of us to plan for. I take a long walk in the morning and meet Tom, a man who spends the whole summer up here. “Mine is the black cabin,” he says. He is in his mid-80’s, and knew my father. He takes his canoe out every morning, all by himself, because his wife died only a few months ago. I think when I come next summer I’ll go look for him at his black cabin with a picture of quail on the sign.

I also check out the little library in a cabinet, but don’t find anything up my alley. Certainly I don’t need more books up here anyway – I’ve made small progress in the ones I brought.

wild gooseberry

I admire buttercups, and eat a couple of gooseberries as I head down to look at the lake, then hike steeply about 200 yards back to our cabin. There is time to read from The Complete Brambly Hedge to the children before lunch, one of the dozen books I brought from my shelves to share with them. We are already familiar with Jill Barklem’s charming stories and the detailed drawings which we study carefully to extract more knowledge about the families of darling anthropomorphized mice.

Then we all head to the lake, even Jamie. His father keeps him lakeside while Pippin, Scout, Ivy and I head out in the canoe for the special spot they found yesterday, an inlet on the other side of the lake where the water cascades over slabs and boulders and sand of granite in a myriad of gorgeous colors. We all enjoy walking up big rock steps through the stream, or along the same slopes that Scout gleefully slides down on his bottom into little pools, where the water is surprisingly temperate.

Me with Scout and Ivy

On return, the Pippin clan all five go in the canoe for a brief outing, while I try out the kayak for my first time. It’s quite fun!

My first voyage

Scout tries paddling the canoe with his mother – then we stow all the paddles and life preservers and kayak seat into the van and return to the cabin so that Scout and his parents can fit in one more Sierra Nevada experience: climbing a dome, just the “little” one behind the cabin. I stay with the younger children and trim green beans from my garden to steam for dinner.

Just before I climb into bed, a mouse runs through my bedroom!

lupine seed pods

 

The next day’s entry is HERE.

My view is deep.

pearly everlasting

 

DAY 4: I set out walking alone before breakfast, for back therapy. Yarrow and pearly everlasting flowers line the road, which has recently been resurfaced in places with granite gravel in 2-4 inch chunks. Yesterday when Scout and Ivy walked back from the lake they stopped their father every few feet to exclaim about a new piece that they had picked up, with unique sparkles or shape.

On return, I fry a pound of bacon, because you always have to do that in the mountains when you’re in a cabin where the bears can’t get at you. Scout and Ivy grab a crispy slice in one hand and a pile of blueberries in the other, and go out on the deck to play, waiting interminably it seems for the adults to do something besides talk – like take them out in the boats.

While the other adults are still making plans I decide to walk again, and take Scout with me. We head down to the lake and on the way he schools me in conifers, showing me red firs and lodgepole pines (aka tamarack, his father tells me), the most numerous tree species in this area.

lodgepole pine with red fir behind

As we come up through the forest behind the cabin, I check on the puffball I saw last month — remember, it looked like this:

— and it has puffed itself and exploded into a pile of cocoa powder:

When the canoeing group finally embarks paddles in hand, two-year-old Jamie and I remain in the cabin. This is the first time I’ve ever taken care of him alone. We play with dominoes, and read Machines at Work a dozen times while eating nuts that he holds in little bowl on his lap.

Tonight Pippin, understanding how much star-gazing means to me, does most of the work to set up the chaise lounge on the deck. Mice have demolished the pad so she makes a sort of mattress with blankets and Thermarest pads. Soon all the lights in the cabin are extinguished, the family are in their beds, and I stretch out in the dark darkness, flat on my back staring up.

Black tops of the lodgepole pines ring the patch of sky like a wreath. My view of the heavens is not wide, but it is deep. The first thing that happens is that I feel the stars’ presence like angels hovering over me, and I almost begin to weep. I think about what my friend Art said, that the sky is not empty, but full of angels, and try to remember if that was a reason that C.S. Lewis wanted to call his trilogy not The Space Trilogy but Deep Heaven. Space sounds empty, but like all of Creation, it is filled with God’s presence.

The fullness is overwhelming, but soothing. Cool air blows on my face. I drink and am strengthened. After a long time I carry my sleeping bag into the cabin and soon am sailing into dreamland like Wynken, Blynken and Nod.

Next day’s entry is HERE.

On the lake and on the bed.

DAY 3: I wake in the wee hours on this day and can’t go back to sleep for several hours. Maybe my morning coffee was a little too strong?

After a while, I read on my Kindle Paperwhite, which has the kind of screen that is easy on the eyes and doesn’t stimulate the brain to stay awake. My Kindle book has most recently been The Haunted Bookshop, which Pippin and I discovered we’d both bought because it was 99 cents. It did not keep my interest so in these wee hours I decide to start The Romanovs by Virginia Cowles. Maybe I should have kept with the boring book, because reading about 17th century Russian rulers is gruesomely fascinating and not soothing.

Finally I do sleep a little, and wake up just a little later than the children. I abstain from coffee. The kids are scrambling all around the cabin and down to the lake in the morning, and in the afternoon Scout checks out the refrigerator and sees some lemons, decides to make lemonade. I find the ancient Joy of Cooking in the cupboard and show him how to multiply the lemonade recipe five times to make use of the amount of juice he has extracted. It makes a superb drink that we all share, even the men who are poring over maps planning their hike.

Scout in particular is impatient with the slow process of planning our activities for next couple of days, along with Mark and Jennie who are camping nearby and will be joining us. They have a truck, so our project of getting the boats down to the lake is made much easier. The kids help haul the canoe and kayak uphill from under the deck, and try them out while they wait still longer.

Finally they are ready to go, and to take “my” new kayak on its maiden voyage. I am so happy that so soon, someone else is interested in using it. I want it to belong to the cabin and the family, even though I bought it for times when I am at the lake by myself and can’t manage the large canoe.

But this time, because of my lack of sleep and my back pain, I stay in the cabin with other nappers and catch up on rest, and I hear the reports of the small expeditions when everyone returns and I have had a delicious sleep.

Our friends barbecue an ample steak for us tonight, and we keep talking and talking after dinner, much discussion about the history of water and dams and drought in the western U.S. I am inspired to download yet another book to my Kindle, Cadillac Desert by Mark Reisner. I started reading that with my husband when he was in chemo three years ago, but it got too depressing for that time of our life. Still, I think it would be good for every Californian to read, and I’m ready now to try again.

After everyone else has gone to bed, I remember to step out on the deck and watch the stars for a while. So cold, but alive and multitudinous, and comforting in their vastness. But I don’t have the right angle on them… I need a pad to lie on, or at least a chaise lounge, and maybe tomorrow I can remember my star friends earlier in the evening and make provision for an encounter.

Next day’s entry is HERE.

Listening to the silent stars.

Diary of a mountain sojourn:

DAY 1:  I arrive at the cabin overlooking a lake for my second visit this summer. The last twenty minutes I was driving through a thunderstorm with huge drops splattering the windshield and dark grey-purple clouds all around the lake when it first came into view.

I am alone in the house until at least tomorrow night, and there don’t seem to be many people in the little village, either. It took me slightly less than six hours of driving to get here, if you don’t count the first hour when I got to the next town before realizing that I’d forgotten the keys to the gates and the cabin — so back I drove, and started over. I’m so thankful I remembered so soon; a few years ago we forgot the keys and it was inconvenient to say the least.

The quiet is so complete, it reveals the noise in my body and soul as so much jangling and buzzing and ringing. But it’s a weary and even bored kind of excitement – I hate to think of how so many of us get through day after day on this kind of “energy.”

I expect that as I go to sleep listening to God in the silence of the stars, the noise of my mad journey to get here will begin to evaporate.

DAY 2: Every time I wake and turn over in the night, the silence is there enveloping me as cozily as my sleeping bag. Until 7:00, when a bird call breaks the quiet and brings me to consciousness. Other than the stellar’s jays, I don’t know most of the mountain birds. I do see a woodpecker occasionally.

This morning, the sky is bright blue and cloudless, but the deck is very wet, and it’s only 44 degrees. In spite of my deep sleep, I am groggy and have a slight headache from the altitude. This is a catch-up day, so I go back to bed and eventually to sleep again.

Not getting much “done” today – I’m trying to enter into that rest, in spite of a brain that can’t hold a thought. There is less oxygen up here for sure! Well, not exactly:

“The percentage of oxygen is the same at sea level as it is at high altitudes, which is roughly 21 percent. However, because air molecules at high altitudes are more dispersed, each breath delivers less oxygen to the body.”

It takes me a long time to shower and dress and to decide about breakfast. I make summer squash with scrambled eggs, and yes, I will have coffee this morning. Suddenly it seems that a big mug of coffee with cream will complete the event in the most comforting way. Will it compensate for the oxygen?

It used to be that coffee was made by my father in a percolator, and my husband always loved that strong brew. Daddy bought a second, extra large version for the rare times that we had a crowd here. But lately someone has added a French press and a grinder to the kitchen equipment, so I use that, only because it’s what I’m used to.

While eating breakfast I text with friends on my phone! Even more than using the French press, it feels a bit sacrilegious to be in contact with the world “down there.” Three or four years ago when it became an option in the cabin, I didn’t use it – but at this stage of my life I don’t crave Alone Time that is absolute, and when you are trying to coordinate meals and supplies with people who are coming later, it’s very helpful. We don’t have phone service, but those with iPhones up here can text with iPhones elsewhere, and then there is email, Facebook, etc.

Not that I know what all the etcetera are. I have no hope of catching up in the tech world; “they” are always changing things and calling it upgrading. I don’t know why Apple Photos have to be so complicated: It’s so so easy to take pictures and have them stored in Moments and Place and in the Cloud. But then I can’t find them when I want to put one in my blog!

Oh, well, I can finish the post when I get home. And I want to read while I’m here. I brought The Hidden Life of Trees, by Peter Wohlleben, which one or more of my readers recommended, and am reading it on the deck surrounded by a virgin forest. But I haven’t gotten past the introductory chapters when I come to a hint that this forester author is going to be annoying.

Tim Flannery in the foreword explains a little about how trees in a forest communicate by means of fungi in their root systems. Trees send electrical impulses, they exude chemicals toxic to specific insects when one starts chewing on a neighbor… I have heard about these phenomena and want to learn more, which is why I am reading this book. Trees show us God’s glory, and He fills all His creation with His presence, including trees. I want to know and love them more.

In the introduction to the English version, the author uses half of the page space to tell the story of an ecosystem, how wolves that have been reintroduced to Yellowstone Park have “kept the [elk] herds on the move,” so that the elk aren’t defoliating the trees along the streams, the beaver are back, and so on. I understand all this.

But then he tells us that we humans ought to learn from the wolves’ “stewardship of natural processes.” Wait a minute! The wolves are just doing what comes naturally to them, as do the elk, when they “make quite a meal of the aspens, willows, and cottonwoods….” I don’t know why he doesn’t label the elk as poor stewards, because they are equally intentional in their destruction as the wolves are in their destruction. The author also doesn’t mention that the reason the wolves are keeping the elk on the move is to kill and eat them – not to promote the restoration of streams. And a wolf would eat a beaver if it were convenient.

Stewardship is intentional and not instinctive. Wikipedia: Stewardship is an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. But why tell this story of wolves, when it has only the remotest connection to how trees communicate with one another? The motivation for doing that might make an interesting tangent to run along, but I know you are glad I won’t. I hope the author will get down to business now and tell us what he really knows about trees, and not fall into too much romantic euphemizing and speculating, but I’m not very hopeful.

The air is cooling as the sun sinks behind the peaks. Dusk comes early in the mountains. It’s 5:30. Tonight, or tomorrow, Pippin’s family will arrive and we’ll spend a few more days together. They invited me for this stay, but I arrived first, glad to get through my lethargic day without the children around for contrast.

I found a way to get some photos in here, so I will publish this part of my “diary” now – otherwise it would be way too long by the time I get home. But before I go, here are some elderberries I saw on the way up yesterday. And my family just drove up… Good night!

Next day’s entry is HERE.