Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Between Seasons - Leidig Meadow

The transition period between seasons often has a pause. I used to think that autumn progressively shifted into winter, each day taking another step along the way. But sometimes there is a period when movement seems to stop, when it is neither autumn nor winter, but something on its own.

In autumn the leaves on trees turn from green to yellow and red and fall to the ground. But a few trees hold on to their lingering colors. The process seems to stop moving. It’s not Indian Summer, more of an Indian Autumn. Leidig Meadow holds an earthy brown color with tints of yellow. In the early morning the slow flowing Merced River has a skin of ice on pools along the edge that melts away in an hour. Sunlight gleams bright off granite domes and peaks as it leans south in the sky, and a medium jacket is enough to keep me warm. The blue sky is clear and deep, not yet soft with the scatter of snow crystals high in the atmosphere.

This pause can last a few days or a week. Then the transition starts again and the cold of night stretches further and further into the day with a fewer moments of warmth in the middle. The last leaves fall. The ground freezes and the warm earth colors of the plants in the meadows turn black, gray, and mauve. Snow sifts lower from the clouds and covers the valley in white, closing the last remaining trails until spring.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mist Trail - Yosemite

How to Hike Without Looking

The sign at the bottom of the Mist Trail tells you it’s 1.5 miles to the top of Vernal Fall, 2.7 miles to the top of Nevada Fall, and 211 miles to Mount Whitney in Southern California on the John Muir Trail. Hikers start up the trail excited with a goal in mind, a place that they want to reach.

Some hikers go up the steep granite steps of the Mist Trail and stop at the top of Vernal Fall. Others go further up the canyon to Nevada Fall, eat lunch there, and come back down. Some continue on, taking the trail left for Half Dome, or go straight and follow the river into Little Yosemite Valley, or head to the right and pick up the Panorama Trail that leads to Glacier Point.

No goals are assured in the wilderness. I may run out of energy or twist an ankle before I reach my destination. Maybe the bridge above Vernal is under repair, or a storm sweeps in over the mountains, leaving me with no option but to turn around and run. Perhaps a mother bear will be hanging out by the trail with her cubs, blocking my way.

If I focus only on reaching my destination up ahead, and on not tripping on the steep and often uneven trail below my feet in order to get to get there, I will miss everything that is going on to the sides. There are sights, sounds, and scents all around. People sometimes see a bobcat here. There’s also a spring that the settlers put stones around to create a pool. At the top of Nevada there is a small dam that keeps the river from flowing down the steps I just hiked up. Illilouette Fall is only visible along one section of the trail. Did I see everything?

When I’m hiking, I see more if I don’t look for something specific.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Yosemite - A Place Apart

The wilderness is amazingly still at 8,000 feet. I’m alone, having hiked up the steep switchbacks for two hours from the valley floor to Glacier Point. A forest of sugar pine trees is behind me. In front, the view stretches a hundred miles over the gray peaks and mountains of the Sierra Nevada. No one else is here, but far below I see tiny people walking around on the valley floor. Except for a few squirrels and one Steller’s jay, no other creatures are letting their presence be known.

The breeze hums lightly as it twirls the needles on the pines, and there’s a hush as the wind flows over the mountains in the distance on its way east. Now and then, when the breeze shifts just right, the distant cascades of waterfalls reach me.

Where I sit feels like home. I couldn’t live here, of course. There’s no shelter, food, or water. And yet here I feel connected to something eternal. Is it awe of the landscape that pulls me away from my ordinary preoccupations? Is it reverence for a sacred place? Or is it respect for an ancient wilderness that has existed and looked like this for thousands of years?

Whatever it is, whenever I am here, I feel the burdens of life slide off and the surge of joy and contentment return.