Sunset perspective

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Bronze shades of last light calm my fluttering eyelids.

Hues of red push through me,

Barreling past the locked iron that protects my subconscious.

Light breezes pulsate off the ocean.

Caressing my skin, they brush layers of salty mist across my face.

That wind brings goosebumps in its wake,

And they stretch along my follicles as memories creep up my legs

Like the purple and pink crabs that scrape and scuttle into the deepest crevasses of rock I trespass along.

They eye me from the shadows,

and watch my pulse change—

Depending on which piece of my past makes its way to the top of my forehead.

I ruminate,

And watch as the coarse sand I’m sitting on gradually becomes the rock tide pools are made of.

Stretching past my toes, the surf-inundated stone melts into an ocean

That begs me to throw away the pennies I’ve collected from my life.

It’s a rough surface that beckons me to cast my past

Into the calm golden water that waits for the tide to come in,

Into the Safari orange sky that fades into the pinks and dark blues of coming night,

In between the tree shadows that give shape to the ridgeline above Avila Beach,

Into the waiting mouth of ugly brown pelicans, which stalk northbound schools of fish.

But I can’t bring myself to let loose of my change—

I can’t just throw them away into the soup of someone else’s time,

Rampantly give away my visions to the catch-all of the world;

A world that boils full of bare-boned carcasses, broken hearts, empty memories, and slimy fish.

It would leave me too empty,

Freeing up a hole I now knowingly fill with the past,

It would leave me without my dear, close-up view of what I had,

What I wanted,

What I thought I needed.

I can’t just release memory-stamped pictographs and voices into the unknown.

But I can leave them where I sit,

I can scoop them out,

Throw them to the ground,

Mix them with the broken shells and smooth pebbles beneath my feet and know:

Next time I come they will be here

Waiting with the sun.

John Muir’s highway

Pulling up to the end of Rock Creek Road revealed an astounding vision of cars and people. Of course, there was also a gigantic stretch of mountains known as the Eastern Sierra Nevadas, but all the activity along the road was what I noticed first.

There were just so many humans.

Cars and SUVs lined the sides of the pavement and we played a game of chicken trying to figure out whether driver or pedestrian would bare themselves to take the right of way on the skinny one-way road.

Horsetrip

Cigarettes, crying children, and fishing poles about sums up that part of the Rock Creek experience. I felt claustrophobic, but my father convinced me to trek on and I quickly learned there’s a reason the Mosquito Flat trail is one of the most popular hikes on the east side. It’s short, easy crests and valleys pave the way into John Muir’s awe-inspiring (honestly) Wilderness.

Water is the first eye-popping feature, and it takes stage left, gaining beauty the further you journey up the trail. Rock Creek is flat at first, winding through a rocky meadow of green, and it starts to climb alongside the trail, stair-stepping up to a higher elevation. Over the initial rise is the first of an endless set of lakes that pool into one another as the creek meanders down from it’s mountainside birth.

We dropped down to the first lake, on the less-beaten path, and found a sweet spot, hidden from view. I hadn’t seen a sight like that since I left Montana.

CSLMosquitoflat_marshlake

I found that even next to this highway filled with wilderness gawkers (like myself), I could sneak away from the blue, red, yellow, and brown that adorns people as they hike. The backpacks and plastic walking sticks, the boots and words, the dogs on or off leash. You can move into a feeling of solitude if you cut away from the stone-lined trail and follow the skinny path down through the grass. Around the lakes, between trees, behind the short hills and piles of rocks, along the meandering of slow water or the pounding of fast, you can sit still along the banks without the voices from another hammering your eardrum.

As I faced the sun, its slanted light pushed below a surface paved with glassy reflection, revealing the grays and browns of Rock Creek’s scummy bottom. Turning around, I watched as light forced the peaks to open up, above the brush-covered valley, pulling me into the pensive reality of perception. Grey boulders bearing the rusty red and neon green signs of age dried out above the water line. Teal blue water changed color with the shallow depth of a high Sierra, snow-fed lake. Green and yellow grasses blended into the soft, mucky water that hedges space between dry earth and creek.

CLPMosquitofflat_dogstick

It was absolute in its power over me, quieting me into that place I love to be: If only to catch a moment in time that is unlike any other. It is what I discovered that brought me there, even though I walked the same path as the profound number of others who also found this place. We stained it, made the dusty sand of high, dry mountains wild with human footprints and chased away any sign of fear or animal that can surface while you’re alone.

It is here where I understood what it means to see, to feel the presence of everyone and everything, purely because everyone deserves to enjoy the beauty of a timeless reality, of something that words cannot do anything but fail, of a place that can only be captured with the deepest breath of life.

CLPMosquitoflat_pano_creek

Tufa forest

It was a strange smokey haze that greeted my father and I at Mono Lake. The foreign towers that jettisoned out of the water were of another world. A fantasy land of moon-like proportions, only there were also water and birds, rather than just weird, textured stone and mineral structures.

CLPTufatower

My whole adult life I’ve dreamed of visiting Mono Lake. Travel magazine views I’ve had of the lake display something captivating and beautiful. From the visitors center on a hill overlooking the lake, I saw a dull reflection of what I wanted to see. Cloaked in smoke was something I’d thought about seeing over and over again. Inside the visitors center, Yosemite-trekkers and Labor Day campers were also disappointed.

A couple German travelers driving up from Los Angeles had no idea Yosemite was burning, and a park ranger had to tell them about the five hour detour they would have to take in order to see Half Dome. The same park ranger tried to explain to a lady how no open flame meant no fire of any kind, no propane stove, no charcoal, nothing.

With the Rim Fire burning more than 200,000 acres of land just a few miles northwest of where we were, I could understand the no flame thing, but damn, what a weekend for the world to burn. But as awful as it felt to my sinuses and my lungs, the smoke was growing on me. It seemed to fit with where we were, and on our five-mile drive southeast to the South Tufa reserve, my excitement came back to me.

Sagebrush, these bushes with tiny yellow flowers, and rolling hills surround the majority of the oldest lake in the United States, which incidentally has a higher salt content than the ocean. Along with the smoke that day came a threat of thunder, lightening, and rain. Humid electricity hung as we walked toward the lakes tufa-filled edge. The other side of the lake was obsolete, obscured by the grey smog that blocked any long-range visibility.

My dog started scaring off hikers as soon as we left the car, panting and pulling with an excitement I couldn’t handle. I forced him to wear his special nose harness, so he wouldn’t pull. He was still panting and pulling (but not as hard) and everyone thought he was one of those crazy pit bulls that takes chunks out of people. But he’s not, it was the lizards that got him riled up, darting in and out of the brush and hiding under tufa, teasing him, taunting him.

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Tufas have the texture of sand that got wet, then dried to a hard, course edge. They look like old cottage cheese castles, discolored by minerals and molded by gigantic clumsy hands. They were created by the natural springs that feed the lake. As they bubbled up underwater, minerals came together to form the towers of solidified rock.

My dad and I came to the realization that the only reason the full-length of the stone skyscrapers (it’s pretty much the high desert, so yeah, skyscrapers) are visible is because the water level of the lake has dropped so significantly over the years. From the sign that marked the high waterline of 1941, the shoreline looked to be about 40 yards away. If the waterline was where it used to be, only the tops of the tufa would have been visible above the lake.

Mono Lake is essentially a catch-all for snow melt coming out the Sierras to the west of the basin. Because the lake doesn’t have a natural outlet, evaporation is one of the only ways the lake’s water level decreases after spring’s warm temperatures fill it. However, the Los Angeles Municipal Water Authority thought the streams feeding the lake would be a perfect source of water for L.A. residents, so it started siphoning off fresh water before it hit the lake.

That was in the 1940s.

Here we are now, decades and many legal fights later, and water is no longer being diverted from the natural springs and streams. However, the lake level is still low and faces a long haul of depending on many BIG snow years. Mono Lake needs to rise another seven feet before it gets back to the state-mandated “normal” level. With this whole climate change thing, and the potential for a future full of low snow pack years, it could be a while.

It really is mind-numbing, what we think we can do without paying attention to future consequences. The mountain-fed streams were all but destroyed and are being rehabilitated. And who knows if that state-mandated tick mark is truly where the lake’s water should be, but reaching it could undo some of the environmental havoc we humans caused to this ancient lake over a relatively short period of time.

Should the lake rise, it would cover some of the boardwalks and trails visitors currently use to view the infamous South Tufa Reserve, but it would also mean a fuller, more pristine lake. It’s something I would like to see someday, when I come back. Or, I would at least like to come back and see those cool islands in the middle of the lake, which weren’t visible through the smoke that hung around over Labor Day weekend for my dad and I.

Next time I’m bringing a kayak.

Dad and dogs

Driving inspiration

CPLCentralValleysun

Sometimes all I need in life is a drive to put me where I belong. A drive to anywhere will usually do the trick. It’s like walking without the exercise, it gives me time to drift, piece through my memories, pull out what’s important, and match those up with my surroundings.

Take cows for instance.

Hundreds of heads poked out of their long fence, hanging wet noses and chomping mouths over a feed trough. Lined up like black and white soldiers, smelly and loud, fixed to their spot and their lots in life. Just there to feed us calcium and lactose in liquid, semi-solid, or solid form.

Happy cows don’t live in California, I don’t think,  I mean, I’ve never asked them, but I just can’t imagine a herd animal that’s normally a wandering grazer, could feel pleasant stuck in their own muck. So maybe the ones roaming around on the green, green grass at the edge of Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, are living fat off the land and probably feel pretty good about themselves, but I’d be surprised if the ones who live in the Central Valley feel the same way.

Their area is a heat-dosed, agricultural mecca that gets water shipped in from elsewhere. Corn, peas, alfalfa, carrots, whatever else. I don’t understand how we thought that would work and still do.

Did we think that the land was flat and the water from the north would last forever, as we diverted it, diverted it again, then again, and again, and again, until the rivers and lakes that they come from are no longer recognizable, can no longer refuel themselves naturally, or at least how they once did, because they are no longer themselves?

I don’t know, but it’s something to think about. As I rose out of the flatland and into the very first foothills of the Sierra Nevadas and the sun started to shoot out its setting colors over the alternating green and brown of fields, I couldn’t help but feel awe at being able to witness the event.

And shamelessly I pulled out my camera to feebly attempt to capture the colors I’ve never been able to capture, because that’s what we do. We try to keep it forever, when we know it will never be the same later as it is now, or that it’s damn near impossible to truly dam up the beauty of a sunset. It’s too wild. It’s too spontaneous. It’s too much of a moment.

Left to wonder, ponder, and inhale the sun’s pale brightness as it goes beyond the line of the west, thoughts are left to do the same. Potentially try to keep the moment by moving f-stops, angles, shutter speeds, and as my dear friend Steel used to say, “isos,” and the sun leaves quicker than you thought possible. It’s light and colors changed with every tick of the second-hand on my non-existent watch.

It was a learning experience I have constantly.

It was a reminder and an impetus to continue on, to feel ready to be wild and spontaneous too. And as I got my first and only honk and wave from a passing trucker who either thought I was a super-hottie or a crazy lady, off I went, over those foothills and south to the sharp u-turn that led a weary driver up the other side of the Sierras and into a new-to-me spot that pretty much made me not ever want to leave. And soon I will share what I can, because of course it’s only a snippet, with those of you who care to continue my journey with me.

Relishing fantasy

It is a mirage.
An image,
Mirrored present.
We’ve somehow forced it,
Squeezed it onto a future that isn’t yet.
Hurry past today
Into a vision of tomorrow.
We forget—
Without the experience of yesterday:
The wisdom of life is lost.
The love of a moment is gone.
And we get stuck staring,
Peering out at a future
We may never get to see,
As we hope to get through
Another day.