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.
Early this morning I had joked with my daughters about hiking alone today, saying that because it was Saturday I knew there would be plenty of other hikers around to see the event if a mountain lion dropped from a tree onto me. (None of them laughed at my joke.) Yes, there were many people on all the trails, but when I did have an accident it was during a minute when I was out of sight of everyone, and I was glad for that.
I couldn’t resist visiting another regional park this afternoon because I was in the neighborhood, having helped to care for my goddaughter Mary and her siblings all morning, a bit north of home. But I had forgotten to put my boots in the car, so I went with just my Merrells that are super comfortable and supportive, but still – they are just shoes.
The fires of last fall ripped through this area — that’s two years more recent than where I hiked on Tuesday, and the damage is striking. So many manzanitas are black, or black with copper leaves. But these wind-driven fires we’ve had will thoroughly burn one bush or tree and leave one right next to it unharmed. In the next picture I was trying to show the flowering bush, and the other close by that is singed and stressed. Maybe it will recover by next year – or maybe not.
Some trails in the park are still closed since the fire; I made note of that when I printed a map last month, but I also forgot to bring the map. So I wandered a lot and ran into two dead ends where the trail was closed, making it seem like I had walked for much longer than an hour. There were plenty of green trees and shrubs, and lots of new ground cover including several low-growing wildflowers. I was surprised to see so many on this last day of February; maybe the warm days we’ve had recently encouraged the bloom.
I made good use of that phone app: Seek, from iNature. I’m excited about it helping me to spend more time outdoors with the plants and less time in my cold corner looking at a screen to do my plant identification detective work. In that short time it helped me confirm the names of or learn for the first time eight plants and flowers. It didn’t matter to the app that the wind was blowing them blurry. It does matter to me, when I am posting pictures, so I will show you the clearest images I got.
Besides the charred oaks and manzanita in the photo above, you can see how the plant pictured in more detail below covers the slopes all over with its wavy leaves. When I pointed my phone at it I learned that it is appropriately named Wavy-leafed Soap Plant or Chlorogalum pomeridianum:
And this sweet thing (with the botanical name impossible to say without spitting) is the Rusty Popcornflower – Plagiobothrys nothofulvus:
The trails were mostly very gravelly, and what happened was, I slid in the gravel and went down. It wasn’t even a steep hill. I got back up and brushed myself off, looked around to see that mercifully, no one was rushing to my aid. I was more careful after that, especially when going downhill.
Besides the plants I’ve pictured here, I saw Blue Dicks; a yellow flower called Pacific Sanicle; Henderson’s Shooting Star; and a tiny and tightly furled white flower among leaves also folded close, but looking like clover — the app could make no sense of that one. But the most interesting meeting was of the Rosy Sandcrocuses. I saw most of them almost hidden in the grass, they were down so low, but this one had opened while still lying in its sand bed. Those long grass blades lying next to it are its leaves, which makes you understand why some people call it Onion Grass.
My favorite for beauty, the Pacific Hound’s Tongue. That phone app is up to date; it knew that the botanical name has changed to reflect what has been discovered about this flower’s genetics. These were smaller plants than what I’ve seen in wetter places, but their beautiful blue catches the eye. I’m thrilled to have seen one today, and reveling in the gorgeous springtime and all my flower surprises – also that I didn’t break a bone!
The main thing I brought back from my hike with friend Polly — our first-ever such outing together — was tired feet. We had walked on a hilly trail for a solid two hours, along an unnamed creek, around an unnamed pond, through areas that were burned in the fires of 2017 but are healing.
Or was that truly the main thing…? We didn’t have an exciting adventure, though Polly did spot a salamander and then a snake down in the grass where the sunlight dappled, and I managed to see them, too before they wiggled or slithered away.
The pictures I carried home in my phone were nothing extraordinary, because flowers are just beginning to appear in the oak forest. But this morning I began to identify the lily pictured at top, and for the first time opened the phone app “Seek” from iNaturalist. It showed me seasonal flora and fauna “species nearby,” and right there, in the first photo they showed me, were the modest and sweet blooms I had bent to peer at yesterday while Polly waited patiently. They are milkmaids, Cardamine californica, said to “invoke the promise of approaching springtime.”
It was a beautiful and sunny day, nearly 80 degrees, but most of our walking was in the shade. When we saw familiar clumps of leaves from which we know that heuchera flowers and iris will emerge in their time, we agreed that it would be best to return every week to watch these developments. But neither of us wants to hike alone in these hills; we don’t want to be without a friend if we should happen to encounter a cougar or a crazy human or whatever. It remains to be seen if Polly and I can manage to hike together very often. If we do I’m sure you’ll read about it here.
The last thing I noticed just before we got back to the trailhead was a bay tree, and a healthy patch of newly leafed-out poison oak. Its leaves were still shiny and tinged with red, trailing down from the path to the rocky creek bed.
The tired feet I brought home are fully recovered, and now I see that I’ve gained less tangible but longer-lasting things from our outing, two plants with whom I’m more familiar by having names to go with them. The lily is a fritillaria, probably Mission Bells.
Another achievement of the hike was of a sort that needs to be re-gained frequently if it’s to be of much value, but it will endure a few days on its own. That is the good feeling akin to stacking firewood or swimming a half hour in the pool, the satisfaction of pushing myself and using whatever strength I can muster, hopefully without the injuries that so easily intrude and become their own challenge to recover from.
So I don’t know what the Main Thing was, that I gained yesterday, but I know it wasn’t the tired feet!
I opened a gift from my daughter Pearl on Christmas Eve, an apron that she thought appropriate for me as The Queen Bee. It was a surprising metaphor, but I can see how the whole week that is just past was a picture of busy bees using the minutes and days to create sweet nourishment for all.
When my children and their families started arriving on Christmas Eve Day, you could say that I fell easily into the role of a contented queen surrounded by a humming swarm of people whose chatter and activities were endlessly fascinating. I could hardly believe my good fortune to have them all under my roof.
I will try to build this post around the activities that we engaged in for the six days that they were coming and going, sleeping here in varying numbers or coming just for a day at a time.
During the week or two beforehand I had worked like a beaver — I should say, a worker bee — to get ready. Decorating, making up beds, shopping for several meals and 25 people, wrapping scores of presents, baking more cookies.
My own master bedroom that has over the last year and a half become an untidy catch-all, staging and storage area also needed to be thoroughly dusted up and set in order for some of my guests. I would sleep in Kit’s twin bed for a few days.
On the 23rd I fell into bed aching all over, partly from a sneezy and headachey cold. And when I woke the next day (the head cold and pain had vanished!), Kate and Tom had completed a grueling journey from D.C. and arrived while I slept (almost like Santa, eh?). The cheerful hubbub quickly expanded when Soldier’s and Pippin’s and Pearl’s families pulled in over the course of the next few hours and began cooking for us all.
WE ATE: For breakfast that first morning it was Baked Oatmeal with Cranberries and Apples and Nuts with Vanilla Yogurt on top, cooked by Pippin.
Only a week before, I’d wondered via email to them all what I might cook on Christmas Eve that would be simple enough to allow us plenty of time for more than eating and clean-up — time to sing carols and open presents while the children were still awake enough to avoid meltdowns.
My colony rallied and came up with a plan whereby I would cook nothing! I could be as spacey and distracted as I wanted, play with the grandchildren or chat with the men about books and politics, while everyone else would get dinner on the table.
It was not a simple meal, but the true and traditional-for-us feast that they wanted, starting with oyster stew and finishing with cookies.
WE MADE MUSIC and SANG CAROLS… with more musicians than ever, partly because three grandchildren accompanied us this year! A violin, ukulele, two guitars, and piano. The four-year-olds danced — that is what they would call galloping around the room.
Over five days I refilled the cookie platter a couple of times per day, which was very gratifying – all those boys and men might have eaten every last cookie if I hadn’t saved some back for the one grandson who wasn’t able to be with us. By the time I took a picture the only thing left was my two favorite Trader Joe’s varieties: Chocolate Shortbread Stars and Pfeffernüsse.
WE GAVE GIFTS – And yes, we received gifts! I was given earrings and ornaments and books, a family tree chart, garden decor and an olivewood cheese board and a suet wreath for my wild birds.
The youngest grandchildren made gifts for everyone. This year they were very nicely crafted ornaments for the tree. And Pippin and Kate gave me bird ornaments, too, including a triplet of very furry owls.
I must tell you that the subtitle of the middle book in the stack is: “And Other Myths about Language Explained.” I was flattered by the gift-givers who thought me a worthy recipient of big books such as two of these are — certainly I am interested in them, but… Good King Wenceslas feels more my speed at this time, and I right away perused the wonderful illustrations.
WE WORSHIPED: Tom and Kate went to church with me on Christmas morning, where Tom hit it off with my little goddaughter Mary, and we admired all the shiny matching-sister dresses among the congregation. Kate took a video of the chandeliers swinging during a hymn commemorating the Incarnation. We sang “God is with us!” and afterward feasted on cheesecake and extravagant mounds of truffles in the church hall.
Mrs. Bread was there to give me a hug, and this darling brooch that confirmed the week’s theme. I happened to be wearing my black wool coat, which I do every two or three years, so she pinned it right on.
WE COOKED INDIAN FOOD: Tom and Kate and I started right in cooking after church: pakoras, curried lamb, roti bread, vegetable curry and basmati rice. Piles of spices and vegetables went into the curries. We all chop-chop-chopped and I made the roti dough and rolled it out, leaving Kate and Tom to figure out the most effective way to get the thin pancakes to puff up like balloons.
WE HIKED: Two hikes were taken, but I joined only the second one, after half of the houseful had gone home. My boys and their wives were on this hike, several grandchildren, plus Tom. Kate had to stay home and study Hindi. Liam marched energetically up hills while singing lustily “Joy to the world!” And “Go tell it on the mountain….” He knows the first verse of at least six carols now. I tried to sing with him through my panting.
The picture is of four people trying to get two-yr-old Laddie into the fancy new backpack. His mom is helping partly by being something for Soldier to hold on to while he squats, even while she is carrying Brodie in a front pack.
We came to a lake at the end of our hike, and sat around on benches for a half hour before starting back. On the way out we saw these berries which I think are toyon.
WE BUILT FIRES in the woodstove against the cold. It froze every morning of our Christmas week, but starting on Christmas Eve the ban on burning was lifted. Maybe it was a present from the Air Quality Board? Usually it’s on the coldest days that the prohibition is in effect. I had lots of help building and tending fires, and bringing in wood.
WE ATE MORE: Naturally, when you have all those children from 0-7, six teenagers, adult men, nursing mothers, etc., in cold weather, we go on eating. One morning Tom fried three pounds of bacon while Joy baked tender buttermilk biscuits. For dinner one night Pathfinder and Iris made their famous posole for everyone and served it with Iris’s famous cornbread.
WE PLAYED VONNIS, a cross between volleyball and tennis. Even I played! A large number of us — maybe 18? — walked a few blocks to the tennis courts where we played with a volleyball. At first the younger kids tried to participate, but they gradually trailed off to the playground with a couple of the moms; we still had two teams with many true athletes in the 13-45-yr age range. I managed to return the ball successfully a couple of times. It looked like they were trying not to serve to my area of the court, and once I heard a grandson on the opposite team instructing, “Protect Grandma!”
WE REPAIRED THINGS: Not everyone went to the park for vonnis. Soldier stayed home to work on my playhouse, whose door was coming apart. I didn’t even realize this until we got home and he was still at it. I promised him that in the spring I will put some wood preservative on the whole house.
Scout and Liam found the little rakes I’d given them in the fall, and all on their own started raking up pine needles for me. (photo credit: Pippin) In the photo above you can see the frozen jade plant, and in the one below, the lemon tree with its frost protection.
WE MOVED ROCKS: A son-in-law and a grandson worked with me for an hour on the landscape art project of placing my favorite rocks all over the new front yard so as to look as natural as possible. A couple of these were huge and required their manly brawn, but I also wanted their creative input. It was fun – and I was ever so thankful! They went on to do some other yard cleanup and tool organizing before they were done.
WE TALKED: Of course I could not overhear even a fraction of the conversations that happened while all these relations were together, people who rarely see each other and had a lot of catching up to do. It was lovely that they could use my house as a meeting place.
Annie and Maggie are 14 and 13 now — When I passed Annie’s bedroom I saw their heads together. And as I roamed upstairs and down I could hear my people discussing everything from baby care to Indian politics, from university life to cars.
After the Oregon contingent had arrived and eaten a late Christmas dinner of our Indian fare, all but three of us had gone to bed. Tom and my youngest Oregon grandson started talking about their Toyota trucks. They even showed me the Top Gear video that is famous if you know about such things, and I have to say that if I ever need a small truck, I will try to find a Toyota like one of theirs.
On the last day of our Christmas reunion, when I got home from taking Tom and Kate to the airport, I showed the OR grandsons the video I am currently renting from Netflix, “Happy People: A Year in the Taiga.” I thought that as they are outdoorsmen and skiers and builders, they would like watching the men cut down trees and make their own skis and traps and everything. As it turned out, we ended up talking more about Werner Herzog who co-directed and narrated the film, and about how he has written books and made many movies. That led us to the topic of other books that we have liked or want to read. One of my favorite things ever is getting book ideas from my grandsons!
Soon their father was directing them to take leaves out of the tables and help in various ways to set things back to pre-feast mode. They said good-bye, and I waved as they drove away. I was not the queen bee anymore, and I was not a worker bee…
Now I am a bee sleepy with winter and cold and fatigued by so much buzzing in my hive… sitting by the fire I built myself, with visions of dear people and memories of their hugs to sustain me.