Tag Archives: trees

Down to the lake to be alone.

THE COUNTRY WIFE

She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.
Following their voices on the breeze,
She makes her way. Through the dark trees
The distant stars are all she sees.
They cannot light the way she’s gone.
She makes her way through the dark trees
Down to the lake to be alone.

The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.
She cannot see the winds that break
The night reflected on the lake
But knows they motion for her sake.
These are the choices they have brought her:
The night reflected on the lake,
The fire of stars changed into water.

-Dana Gioia

I spent quite a while looking for a nice piece of art, or one of my photos, to accompany the story of this woman’s walk. The trying had the effect of making me love the poem even more; I began to think that only Gioia himself might be capable of creating a visual graphic that wouldn’t actually detract from what he’s already given us in words. There are voices and movement and one thing changing to another….

All the pictures I looked at were still pictures, of course. And none of them could carry half of the feeling of even one material element as expressed by these lines, such as the woods in the dark, or the stars, the water. When there is a stop in the middle of the fourth line, I see her pausing to push aside fir branches. The whole is an elegant interplay of the forces of beings.

Those beings are not only material. For example, the heart and mind of the woman any of us might imagine. It’s a wondrous thing to be able to go with her down to the lake, and yet, not invade her privacy. To have the vicarious experience of being her.  I follow the music, arrive at the lake, and find a solitude as full as the universe.

I grow younger again in January.

In spite of being only 95% recovered from my illness (a wild guess at a statistic), I started something new today. Pippin and the Professor gave me a Christmas present of a year’s membership in the local regional parks agency. It includes other benefits besides free parking, but my unwillingness to waste that part made me want to use it soon and often. I’d thought that I’d need to drum up a walking companion in order to get myself moving in that direction, but today when the afternoon suddenly opened up, I decided to go on my own to the most familiar of the parks. I’ve written about this one before, most memorably just after my husband’s death almost five years ago.

It’s winter, and I knew there would be a lot of grayness on this mostly gray day; I was (surprisingly) surprised at how much there was to see that wasn’t drab. Some of the regional parks I will visit have no parking fee at all, but this one is $7! So it was a good one to start with, to make me feel the monetary value of my gift — which is surely the least part.

It’s not a huge park, but it is crisscrossed with several trails and I never have a map. In the past it seems we often end up back at the parking lot before we are feeling done, so I was trying to make the widest loop I could around the perimeter of the space. I think I did okay. Where a huge bay tree hangs over the creek, I took this picture in which I already can’t tell where the lines lie between the sky and the tree and the reflections.

In the last several months “everything,” most lately the attack of who knows what viruses, has conspired to make me feel my mortality. Not that I thought I was near death, but in just one year’s time I seemed to have become several years older, weaker and flabbier. I know youth is relative to a point, but I thought my youth might have died. It felt very good to be walking briskly in the fresh air and to be right there under the sky when the sun came out from time to time. It was shining nearly horizontally in my face or my camera lens when it did. Frogs croaked, and towhees hopped about in the bushes.

Have I mentioned that I also put my back “out” just before my battle with the viruses? I couldn’t even do anything about that for weeks, but last Friday I did see a chiropractor and am now on my way to getting back my less flabby self. The weather is of the sort that makes me want to curl up indoors with a book and a blanket, but I have had my warning, and I am going to fight against my tendency to the sedentary lifestyle.

Not far from the descent to the parking lot, I was on a ridge from which I could see across the road below to the vineyards on the slopes beyond. And on my drive home — only ten minutes! — I noticed workers pruning the vines.

January is usually somewhat depressing for me, but this year I have been distracted from the bleak weather by other things that one might think more depressing. It didn’t work that way; I was continually reminded of God’s presence and had so many occasions of joy and contentment, it was obvious that they were pure gift. And this Christmas present from my children — it is a gentle prod to do the things they know I will love. I wonder if I can squeeze in one more park before the end of January?

I explore the north country.

Yes, another road trip! My first stop, as often works out best, was at Pippin’s. The children doted on me and I on them, and well, I like the parents a lot, too!

I drove through the rain the last couple of hours of my first day, up through the top center of California, and arrived in town just in time to catch the last ten minutes of Ivy’s ballet lesson. She is a beginner ballerina but was fun to watch.

Everyone was surprised that all three children and I could spend so much of the next morning coloring pictures I had brought, as we watched birds at the feeders. We colorers chatted about how it is way more fun to do coloring with other people, and we were proving the principle.

Between rain storms and frost the next two days we went on a couple of splendid nature walk expeditions, first to Lake Siskiyou where the Sacramento River comes into it.

Pippin remarked at this point, “From here we tend to make slow progress because there are so many rocks to look at.” Indeed. And to bring home!

Indian Rhubarb

On my second morning I stood at the kitchen window while eating my breakfast bowl, and watched four deer eating their breakfast of willow leaves off the back lawn.

And that afternoon found most of us along the Sacramento River Trail near Castle Crags. The last time I’d been here my husband was still feeling healthy and we were here together with Pippin’s family.

This time was lovely, too, nearly four years later, during fall instead of winter, with bigleaf maple leaves covering the paths, oaks and firs and Port Orford Cedars and more kinds of trees…. The children had a ball on the rocks jutting out into the river and Scout named one spot after me: Pearl Point, because I had told him the day before that Gretchen means little pearl.

Jamie was missing his nap but you would never know it by the way he marched along the trail and climbed cheerfully for hours up and down banks and over countless large river stones.

On our drive back home Scout’s mind was busy planning the evening’s activity and chattering about all his ideas. His mother and I were not enthusiastic about the first ambitious projects he came up with, so he said, “Well, then, Grandma, what would you like to do?” It shows a developmental leap, I think, that he was showing this willingness to consider what other people’s preferences might be.

I thought a bit, and answered, “I would like to do something that wouldn’t require thinking or talking, or being on my feet.”

“Is reading considered talking?”

“No.”

“Well, then, would you like to read that book about Kit Carson that you gave me for my birthday?”

I surely would love that, and I read three chapters while dinner was being prepared by other people on their feet, and Scout colored another picture while he was listening.

Now I’ve moved on to Oregon, where Walt has found and started restoring the truck he was only dreaming about back in September when I was here.

Oregon trees and their knock-out gorgeous fall colors
are competing for my designation of Favorite.

So far I think I like the last one best.

I’m not halfway through this road trip. Before I get home I’ll have slept twelve nights not in my own bed. I’ll have seen five friends and ten family members, staying in five homes. It does feel like a little much for an old lady, but I’m enjoying myself and will try to check in at least once more to tell you more about my northern adventures.

 

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 Steller’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.