Tag Archives: rocks

As large as alone.

Mountains are giant, restful, absorbent. You can heave your spirit into a mountain, and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as creeks will. The creeks are all the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.

– Annie Dillard

Moro Rock in Sequoia National Park – web photo

A granite dome was the focus of my mother’s most memorable hiking experience. She told me many times the story of how, at the urging of my father, she climbed Moro Rock when she was great with child (me). That is, so far, my only experience of it.

On our yearly camping trips decades later, my own children’s father would hike to the summits of other domes of rock with them, and a few of those times I was along. Lembert Dome was long my favorite, looming over Tuolumne Meadows on the Tioga Pass, in Yosemite National Park. Even at two years old Pippin could get to the top of it, with someone to hold her hand on the gradual ascent up the back slope.

Lembert Dome in Yosemite – web photo

In the latter half of my life, my favorite dome is the one behind our mountain cabin. Several features of it make it accessible to me, the most important one being that I can walk to its base in a few minutes. I read recently that one summer, a small group of us climbed to the summit of this dome in the morning and again in the evening of the same day. My late husband took the picture below of our companions coming up behind him, about eight years ago. You can see why I wouldn’t want to try it alone.

During my recent mountain retreat, I set out one morning before breakfast, thinking that I would just walk over that way to get a view of the lake from the other side of what we have nicknamed Gumdrop Dome. Within ten minutes I had changed course and decided to approach from a different direction and to do a new thing: walk all the way around the base. I came through the trees to the north side, and headed to my right, around the west side of the rock. That side is a steep wall, decorated by veins of different colored minerals, and by lichens.

I refreshed my memory just now about different types of clast, or broken rock. I think what lies there at the bottom of the wall would not be classified talus or scree, but is just plain clast. On this side you can clearly make out where the base of the dome is.

I walked along in the clast, it moved under me, and then — whoopsie! Down I went on my behind. While I sat, I thought I should take advantage of the camera angle:

It wasn’t the only time I fell. A few minutes later I stumbled forward, and scraped my hand on some of that sharp granite. My euphoria was untouched; it was such incredible good fortune, that I should find myself completely alone, yet in rich company: God, and a friendly monster of a rock. Still, I navigated more carefully after that. The boulder to the right of the pine cones in the picture below is an example of the coarsest grit of granite imaginable; and the one below it, also.

I began to search for stones, keepsakes of my solitary walk around “Gumdrop.”

On the back side, the line between dome and not-dome is vague, as that granite face stretches away in an ever flattening  grade, down into the trees. There is still lots of rock there, but giant conifers grow out of cracks in it, and their duff lies thickly on top. Granite domes like this are called bornhardts; there are several theories about how they form.

For a long time I gazed at the wide views from my high perch, a flattish boulder-bench, and felt the cool breeze growing warmer as the sun rose to my left.

“O, Lord, how manifold are Thy works! In wisdom hast Thou made them all.”

From here you can see other domes in the distance, but of course you can’t get a good idea of what the dome you are standing on looks like. The best vantage point I’ve ever had is from the lake, as in this picture that was taken some years ago:

This area below I call the amphitheater. It’s a good place from which to watch the show!

If I had brought a snack, I might have stayed hours longer. It was all delicious and satisfying as a feast for the soul, but pure bliss was not going to prevent me getting shaky (elevation about 8500′) if I kept putting off nourishment such as was waiting for me back at the cabin; so I stood up and continued my explorations.

Frosted Buckwheat

This couplet below does not at all fit with the stones that I collected on the dome, as far as their smoothness, or the number of them. But the poet’s metaphor echoes somehow that of Annie Dillard at the top of this post, and they both understand what I left behind on that mountain dome, and what I brought home.

“may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.”
-E.E. Cummings

Here is my last look at Gumdrop, when I had circled around to my starting place. From this angle it seems that it might not be impossible to climb that particular slope. I wonder…. Well, next time I have a companion, I’ll have to bring him or her to this place and give it a try! But for now, Good-bye Gumdrop! Good-bye mountains! Thank you for inviting me. I had a good time!

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!

Waiting right around the corner.

Succulents and mustard are related by their mutual membership in the plant kingdom, but also by being bright particulars of my weekend that also included lots of ocean watching.

“Why pay a premium for organic brassicas like kale and broccoli at the farmer’s market when all the free wild mustard you could ever ask for is likely waiting right around the corner?”

This question was posed in an article about food foraging that I read last weekend. Pippin’s family was here and we had opportunity to explore the topic. On Saturday we took a long drive to Salt Point State Park, farther north on the coast than I have been in many years, and passed by many vineyards looking like this:

We tried to remember whether the mustard we are used to seeing in springtime in California is at least a near relation to what one buys prepared in a jar, and that night we researched further, finding once again how many good edibles are in the Brassica family. We had no idea we’d get the chance to taste some very soon.

Yes, that mustard above is mustard, and in this context it isn’t considered a weed that needs eradicating. It actually helps suppress the nematode population among the grapevines, because mustard contains high levels of biofumigants in the form of glucosinolates. Evidently the sharp flavor isn’t appreciated by the nematodes. However the mustard got there, it’s ubiquitous now, and beneficial.

At Salt Point the sun shone on us brilliantly, and made us squint. The wind pushed us this way and that, and the sound of crashing surf thundered up the cliffs to where we walked along the headlands. Some of us had gaiters around our necks, which we pulled up to keep our hair out of our eyes and our cheeks warm.

We wanted to climb that “castle rock,” but Pippin thought she better go scout ahead for poison oak. She found a lot of it, so we gave up on that idea.

Most of the plants out there hug the ground or the rocks where they are growing. Even the milkmaids stay under cover. When Ivy took off her gaiter scarf, her hair needed re-gathering into its scrunchie; once we accomplished that, she bounced off musing, “Some people say, ‘Another day, another dollar;’ but we always say, ‘Another day, another hair out of place!'”

Milkmaids
Some brassicas are likely in this mix.
sanicle
lupine

Where the trail dropped down close to the shore, we explored the sandstone that has been carved into strange shapes by the wind. The surface of the rocks with the smoothest appearance, where I grabbed when I felt buffeted off balance, was like the coarsest sandpaper.

The children all napped on the way home that evening, but slept long in their bags after they went to bed again later that night. Before we knew it we were all up and going again, but southwest this time, aiming for a hike along the Marin Headlands. Marin County is the one just north of San Francisco County/City, and it soon became evident that this destination, so much closer to a large population, was going to be too crowded. There was nowhere to park at the trailhead.

So we went into the town of Sausalito and looked at boats in the harbor, and ate our lunch at a little park with a view of Angel Island, and the Bay Bridge to the southeast.

The first wild thing we found to eat that morning was oxalis, or sourgrass, also called wood sorrel. Once I told the children about it, they continued to break off stems and chew on it for the rest of the day, it being everywhere we went. Ivy liked the flowers best, but most of us preferred the stems.

Plantain was growing everywhere beneath our feet, mixed in with the oxalis. Scout told me that if you get a rash from stinging nettle you can chew some plantain and put it on the rash to soothe it. But there were no nettles in this neighborhood, and we left the plantain alone.

The water was glittering, and the children discovered countless crabs as they peered into their dark caves among the rocks. While the more agile folk spied on crabs, I admired the colorful minerals in the giant specimens bordering the sidewalk.

Big pine trees with gorgeous trunks shaded us at the park. Ivy and Jamie took on the challenge of climbing one of them. Their mother gave them tips from time to time; eventually Ivy gave Jamie her knee for a footstool, and he was up! Pippin then helped Ivy, and they finished their lunch in an elevated position.

We drove to a different access point for the Marin Headlands and ended up at Point Bonita. Here is a map on which you can see the point, right where a lighthouse needed to be, outside San Francisco Bay at its north entrance. The lighthouse itself is closed currently, but we walked down the little peninsula as far as possible.

We stared and stared at the Golden Gate Bridge, from that perspective that we rarely get, looking in toward the bay. That narrow entrance to a huge bay was named the Golden Gate Strait by John C. Fremont:

“In 1846, when soldier, explorer and future presidential candidate John C. Fremont saw the watery trench that breached the range of coastal hills on the western edge of otherwise landlocked San Francisco Bay, it reminded him of another beautiful landlocked harbor: the Golden Horn of the Bosporus in Constantinople, now Istanbul. Fremont used a Greek term to name it: Chrysopylae – in English, Golden Gate. In his 1848 ‘Geographical Memoir,’ Fremont added another layer of meaning: The rugged opening to the Pacific, he wrote, is ‘a golden gate to trade with the Orient.'”

Here is another map of the bay from 1909, before the Golden Gate Bridge was built.

A couple dozen harbor seals were sunning themselves on rocks in Bonita Cove. We could see Ocean Beach in San Francisco to the south, and the skyline of the city with its new, tallest building, the Salesforce Tower, and indeed it towers over the others. I don’t think it’s as ugly as its name, which speaks volumes about our society. But let’s get back to more interesting things…

… And what do you think we saw at our feet? Mustard! I wouldn’t be surprised if these plants or their grandparents have been hanging around these bluffs for a hundred years or more; they are obviously robust and venerable.

Quite recently they’ve had baths and blow-drys, and the leaves looked so juicy…

… it’s no wonder Pippin wanted to taste a leaf. I of course had to follow suit… Yikes! That is the strongest tasting Brassica I ever hope to sample.

Ivy tried a periwinkle flower and spat it out. Then, the kids interacted with their environment with hands and feet, making their way up the rocky wall to our west.

We walked back up the path and drove around the corner to the former Fort Cronkhite, now part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area. From the batteries we could see north up the coast and south to the lighthouse.

Another Brassica lives on that side, the very common wild radish, raphanus raphanistrum; shown here with violet blooms, though white and yellow are common, too. I used to notice these flowers as I walked home from the bus stop as a child. We didn’t taste this one.

wild radish
California Manroot

The last Brassica experience of the weekend was the next morning when Pippin took a little tour of my garden before they started home. She told me she’d eaten some of the flower buds of my collards. How did they taste? “Like broccoli.” I don’t normally eat my collards raw, but I decided to snap off all the developing flower stems, and I ate them right then. Mm-mm — they were so sweet and tender. And just around the corner of my own house.

Lament for a Stone

LAMENT FOR A STONE

The bay where I found you faced the long light
of the west glowing under the cold sky

there Columba as the story goes looked
back and could not see Ireland any more

therefore he could stay he made up his mind
in that slur of the sea on the shingle

shaped in a fan around the broad crescent
formed all of green pebbles found nowhere else

flecked with red held in blue depths and polished
smooth as water by rolling like water

along each other rocking as they were
rocking at his feet it is said that they

are proof against drowning and I saw you
had the shape of the long heart of a bird

and when I took you in my palm we flew
through the years hearing them rush under us

where have you flown now leaving me to hear
that sound along without you in my hand

W.S. Merwin

St. Columba's Bay Iona
St. Columba’s Bay, Iona