Tag Archives: mountains

wintertime loves

We in the arid parts of the West have been exulting in rain the last week or so. It’s so comforting and even glorious to wake in the night and hear the rain still coming down. Then to wake in the morning and see it is still falling. We had puddles in the back yard! Thank you, Lord!

Mr. Glad and I do live in northern California, but daughter Pippin lives even farther north in the state, and we drove there early this week for a short visit. Often February is a very snowy month at her place, but this year they’ve had more dry weather and rain than snow, and even the rain stopped while we were there, so we could get outdoors easily for work and recreation.

One day we made a family project out of pruning old apple trees that Pippin and The Professor are trying to revive from years of neglect. I floated back and forth between lopping branches and swinging the kids.

I would get Scout and Ivy going and then run over to take a picture of the adults on ladders.

Another day we took a short trip to Castle Crags State Park and walked a trail alongside the Sacramento River. Considering the dryness of this year, I was amazed at the thick moss and ferns.

 

 

Port Orford Cedars like to grow next to rivers.

A pale green, almost white lichen grew on rocks and tree stumps.
yew trees on the riverbank
Grandson in orange jacket

Everything was wet from the recent rains, and many times our feet slipped on the invisible mosses — or was it algae? — growing on wooden bridges or river rocks.

Ivy practiced throwing pebbles into the river, and once she got the hang of it she did not want to do anything else. The supply of rocks was endless.

We went to the confluence of Castle Creek (in the foreground below) and the Sacramento River, from which you can get great views of the jagged rocks above, called the Castle Crags. They are high enough that the recent precipitation there was in the form of snow, and some was still unmelted and visible.

My dear husband showed me this large and artsy rock, which you can also see in the photo at the very top of this post, in its original setting. I wanted to take it home. It was a little too heavy for me to carry, so The Professor hauled it back to the car. It came with us on our journey home and is now living by our house. Mr. Glad classified it as a confluitic rock.

Winter days are short enough that at the end of our busy days there was plenty of time for cozy gatherings in the kitchen or by the wood stove. I read many books to the children. Scout’s current favorite, which I read about on a blog before Christmas and gave to him, is Bumblebee at Apple Tree Lane, and we read it several times. Ivy likes The Little Fur Family best right now.

We danced to the children’s favorite recordings, and also listened to bird calls on the Stokes Field Guide to Bird Songs CD. After ten minutes of loons and other waterfowl, Ivy must have deduced that those bird songs were some kind of dance music, too, and she started twisting and prancing around.

Hot soup is what you need on a winter’s night, so Pippin and I learned how to make French Onion Soup, using the recipe in The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition by Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. The secret that the Cook’s testers learned is that red onions give the best flavor. Our result was sooo good.

And cookies! Pippin had some dough left in the freezer from her Christmas Peppernuts, the recipe that I concocted a long time ago but haven’t made for years. We like our nuts to be nut-sized, so we always cut the frozen dough into little cubes and bake them long enough that they come out crispy. Next Christmas I’ll give the recipe.

But for now, since I do love cookies, they make a good ending to my story of a wintry family visit that was warm and sweet.

I praise Modoc, and question Jefferson.

Surprise Valley, California

It looks to me like some cowboy lost a piece of his shirt on this barbed wire. I took the picture when we were poking around in Modoc County, “where the West still lives.”

Ten years ago our family met a cowboy who looked like The Marlboro Man himself, as we stood on a hillside watching him lead a string of horses through the sagebrush and across a creek, with pastel layers of aspens and mountains behind him.


This remote and rugged land is one of the areas that has perpetually been found within the proposed boundaries of The State of Jefferson, a longed-for 51st state that would include several counties in northern California and southern Oregon.

The modern Jefferson includes more counties.

Just last month the supervisors of Modoc and also those of its neighboring Siskiyou County voted to secede from the State of California, as the historic movement revs up again.

The Sacramento Bee reported:

[Mark Baird, one of the prominent activists] insists the State of Jefferson is the answer to revive logging, protect ranching and lure new businesses. He bristles at suggestions that these counties need to subsist on social services.

“It’s absolutely infuriating to people up here, this idea that we’re little children and we must have our hands held out,” Baird said. “Well, we would make our own way. We are intelligent, creative, hardworking people, and without the morass of failed social engineering experiments here, we would do fine.”

Barn in Yreka, in Siskiyou County, California

The Modoc county seat is Alturas, a word that means “valley on top of a mountain.” Much of this country is considered High Sage Plateau, with evidently enough water for many cattle ranches and hay fields.

If I hadn’t had a traveling companion to restrict my stoppings, I’d never have made it home for trying and trying again to get the perfect picture of black steers grazing on varying shades of green and yellow-green, with dark mountains behind them.

Nothing close to the perfect shot was to be mine. Either I was not high enough above the grassland to get the sweeping view, or the steers clumped up close to see if I were bringing their dinner, or, in the case of those next to our our motel in Alturas, they ran away when I was still 50 yards from the fence.

Many of these fine scenes were in Surprise Valley, which is even farther east than Alturas, east of Hwy 395, on the other side of the Warner Mountains. This valley’s elevation, if you drive up and down Surprise Valley Road as we did, is above 4,000 feet.

The photo below looks still farther east, toward a band of tan that might be an alkali lake, and up into the Hays Canyon range of mountains that lie mostly in Nevada.

Looking east from Surprise Valley to the Hays Range in Nevada

Besides your typical mountains, you can find the Glass Mountain Lava Flow on the western edge of Modoc County, though it lies mostly in Siskiyou County. On our previous visit we climbed on parts of that “mountain” and brought home huge pieces of obsidian and pumice. Everyone’s shoes no doubt suffered a month’s worth of wear on that terrain.

Glad kids scramble on Glass Mountain.

Murals on several buildings in downtown Alturas express aspects of the region that the residents appreciate. Modoc County has mule deer, herds of wild horses, Rocky Mountain elk, pronghorn, and birds galore. We didn’t make it up to Goose Lake, but the bird mural makes me think of Goose Lake Valley, rich in all kinds of bird life. The painted fowl look as though they could fly right off into the real sky.

At the bottom of the mural you can see landscape such as we also noticed on our way up to Alturas, when the rich farmland gives way in places to slopes on which the soil is evidently too rocky and poor to support anything more than the occasional juniper tree. But the existence of fencing makes me think that in the springtime they might run livestock on the greened-up grass.

juniper trees
Fisherman
Pronghorn

more murals

We ate breakfast at the Hotel Niles in Alturas.

I don’t know about the Jefferson thing. It’s a nice idea….can you believe we have a lot of family who reside in Jefferson counties both in Oregon and California? Probably none of our kin would be found at either of the cultural extremes within the succession movement, but at least one sports a license plate frame on her car declaring “State of Jefferson.”

Nowadays there is a public radio station that claims the name, and people can attend the Jefferson State Hemp Expo, “…founded on the belief that through awareness, education, and the cooperation and coordination of citizens and public officials, many complex social issues can be solved.” Note the emphasis on cooperation, not separation. Separation was formerly the goal of all Jefferson adherents, and a big part of the content of Jefferson as in its nickname “State of Mind.” Currently it does seem that many of the people who use the name don’t really expect anything to come of it. To at least a few it is probably just a brand they use to sell something.

another Surprise Valley view

At the other end of the spectrum, perhaps, are the hunters and most of the ranchers, and the politically conservative. This segment of the populace might include the woman who was noted in the police report column in the Alturas newspaper, which I perused while sitting on the bed in our motel room. She called the sheriff and said that if someone didn’t speedily do something about the dog that was threatening her alpacas, she herself would “dispatch” the dog. I doubt that was the word she used.

Maybe the serious secessionists would include the people who shoot at Belding Squirrels during the Annual Squirrel Roundup. These are a type of ground squirrel that looks like a prairie dog, and their large populations damage the cultivated fields (I’m guessing it’s by their holes and tunnels?), so once a year the residents hold a big fundraiser/pest-control event.

The giggling squirrel-shooter in this video I ran across is embarrassing, but you could turn off the sound, try to ignore the squirrels flying into the air, and see some nice footage of Surprise Valley in the background. The Roundup is held in March, so you will see less yellow and brown than in my pictures. If you make it to the very end you’ll be rewarded with a view of Mount Shasta, something that would not be possible from down in Surprise Valley. The moviemaker must have driven back over the pass to the west at the close of day.

The likelihood of all these diverse Jefferson people agreeing to secede seems slight to begin with, and that’s not the only challenging aspect of the project. Perhaps the nickname The Mythical State of Jefferson is the most appropriate. Whatever you call it, I do love this country.

On Cedar Pass, between Alturas and Surprise Valley

Mountain Air – Stars and Storms

top of a little fir tree

I’ve mentioned the smoke from the Rim Fire, and the stinging of eyes and throat. It all was a bit distracting. The discomfort made any mental focusing difficult, and one thought kept coming back to me: Will I have to cut my time short and go home? By the second morning, I knew I would be able to stay.

Naturally the stars were still there where I’d left them in July, and I did spend some time with my friends, but not the first night – I was a little altitude sick, and spent. Just give me a good bed, and I’ll leave the window open so the cool mountain air will brush my cheek in the night, gently. The second night I also did not feel great, because of the smoke and the headache it gave me. I could only imagine that the stars were somewhat blocked out anyway.

But – surprise! – I woke at 2:30 in the morning, quite wide awake. It’s not very cold, and I feel good. So I dragged a sleeping pad out onto the deck, shook my sleeping bag (brought just for this purpose) out of its stuff bag, and crawled inside. Hmmm….I am not in the best location; the eaves of the roof are blocking part of the show… so I hauled myself out, moved my bed and scooted back down inside.

I lay there looking up at the Milky Way and noticing again how the tall Lodgepole pines make a kind of ruffled edge to the pool of stars. They also hide some constellations I’d like to have seen, like the Little Dipper. Next I found that the umbrella was cutting into my view, so I rearranged myself and my pallet once more, and then stayed put for an hour and a half. During that time I stared a lot, and saw many shooting stars. Stars appear to be so alive, making the sky coldly electric and exciting with their sparkling. And I felt alive, too.

I tried to go back to sleep out on the deck, which is why I stayed so long. But that didn’t work, so I went back to the bed by the window, from which I could actually see the stars a little.

One reason to make one’s mountain vacation at least four nights long (or should we make that ten?) is so that you can have more possible nights for star-gazing. In the mountains you never know when a thunderstorm will come through for a couple of days, and that’s what happened next. My remaining nights at the cabin were rainy, so I was really thankful that God had awakened me in the wee hours to have my Star Time.

I was sitting on the deck that afternoon, reading or sewing, when I noticed the sky clouding up. I could see that rain was falling in the northeast, and I heard the thunder very loud. Then lightning…but I resisted being driven indoors until an hour or two later when the sky was completely clouded over, and the temperature was dropping.

The kind of fire I’ll build next time.

I had moved inside to the dining table by the picture window when I heard the patter of rain, and looked up to see dark spots appearing on the deck boards…what a blessing to have this Mountain Storm experience! It made me very contented. I thought of building a fire in the massive rock fireplace, but the weather didn’t really call for it; I still had the doors and windows open as the temperature hadn’t dropped that much.

Me sitting by that window in yesteryear

When the rain had stopped, and it was still not dark yet, I went out and stood looking out beyond the deck to the lake. I smelled the earth and the trees — for the first time! I hadn’t even noticed as I was entering the forest on my drive up, or anytime in the first two days, that the mountain air hadn’t pressed its heady aromas on my senses. All I could think was that the smoke had been filling those olfactory spaces until the rain washed things up.

As I looked out and soaked up the quiet, and the moist and piney smell, a small doe picked her way through the rocks and little trees right below the cabin, not aware of me. It’s the first time I’ve seen a deer that close to the house, and I counted it one more gift of the mountains.

Mountain Air – I notice some things.

After reading of John Ruskin last summer, how he recommended that everyone learn to draw as a way of learning to attend to God’s creation, I felt it almost my Christian duty to at least make an effort. Normally I don’t want to take the time for a new challenge like that, so I had put it off until I knew I would have these uninterrupted hours at the cabin.

An ant visited my sketch pad.

Betty Edwards, in her book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, was my instructor. I enjoyed some of the exercises one day on the cabin deck, and the next I walked over to Gumdrop Dome and attempted to draw a very complicated scene.

It was a surprising pleasure, concentrating on all the lines and angles in front of me as I perched on a boulder, soaking up one of my favorite venues in a brand new way, noticing with my hand transferring what my eyes processed through my mind — for about an hour. Then suddenly I was done for, too brain weary/bored to finish my impossible drawing.

I picked up my tools and hiked a little farther around the dome where there was a simpler picture in view. This will be easier, I thought. So I sat on another rock and started in on this slope of the dome with a tree growing out of it, photo at right.

But no, granite domes and trees are just way too intricate for this beginner, and I gave that sketch up within a few minutes. It was soothing after my exertions to take out my camera and do instead some more familiar kind of focusing on these natural wonders.

tree bark

My primary goal in taking this little walk was unrelated to my drawing exercises anyway. When we’d hiked here with our friends earlier in the summer, while the other three were on top of the dome with the camera, I’d walked around the side and noticed the dearest little tree growing out of the rock and seeming to lay its “head” down on the stone, in a manner reminiscent of the way we children in First Grade used to lay our head on our desks every day after lunch for Rest Time.

This is how it had looked to me then:

I had tried very hard to concentrate my mental forces and memorize the way that tree looked, so that when I arrived back at the cabin I’d be able to sketch it. The results weren’t satisfying, though, and I’d contented myself with the thought that Next Time I would go locate it again, camera in hand. Here was my next time, a mere two months later.

As I walked around the tree I saw that it’s not resting on the rock at all. But the poor thing must have had its bones permanently bent by snow as a child. It will always be a hunchback, but with the honorable position of pointing to a beautiful granite dome, showing the climbers, “This way to the top!”

Here is another complex arrangement of nature that I didn’t even consider taking pencil and paper to, rock, trees, sky and clouds. This one seems to demand colored pencils:

At last, the picture I know you all have been dying to see, the result of my feeble exploration of the mountainside with the Right Side of My Brain: