Sunday, August 28, 2011

California Mountains - Snow in Springtime

Spring was a happening thing in the high Sierra. Last winter extended well into June, and on at least one date that month the snowpack was the highest on record. This means that at the end of July when we were there, quite a bit of snow was still melting.

Leopard Lily
From our trailhead at nearly 10,000 feet, we only ascended another 1,000 feet or so, but the difference in the flora was notable. Higher up, the flowers and shrubs were still in bud; the snow hadn't been gone long.

Willow buds
Mountain Pennyroyal in bud

The violent weight of snow had deformed this cluster of trees in such a symmetric way as to be artistic.

Spearhead Lake

Rosy Sedum with Buttercups

At the highest elevations, every lovely bloom seems like a miracle, when you consider how much of the year the plants are just roots or seeds under the snow, how quickly they are required to respond to the light and warmth and come into their glory.

In some places they were sprouting out of a puddle where snow had likely been lying a few days previous, like in this low place I had to hop over to reach a spot overlooking Long Lake. You can see Mr. G. in the distance ready to spread out our picnic of cheese and crackers.

Around us and at our feet hot pink penstemon was making for a brilliant contrast with the midnight blue water and the granite rocks.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Spiders, Perfume, and Hot Lips

Technically it is summer, and we do have days above 80°. The summer squash and Blue Lakes are producing, and we even picked a Persimmon orange tomato, so I shouldn't complain. But it's a good year to notice features of the garden other than vegetables.

The manzanita was peeling magnificently a short while back and we stared with unbelief at its ability to hold on to the peeled bark with some kind of magical glue.

fennel between manzanita and snowball
It's in the part of the yard where over a year ago I planted a tiny fennel bush that has now grown into a mighty giant. Spiders have taken over that end of the garden this summer and they really like building webby bridges from the fennel to the manzanita and over to the rhododendron and the pine tree.

...also to the snowball bush, and back to the fence, and including the wisteria, and....if Mr. Glad hadn't taken the broom to a dozen squatters yesterday I'm afraid they'd have wrapped it all up and out of my reach for good.

This morning I got entangled in the sticky threads just going through the door to take more photos in the mist. The red sedum is in bloom, and one of the two types of rose geranium that share a pot in the middle of the patio where we are sure to bump the leaves frequently and release that heavenly scent.

The hybrid verbena lived all through the winter, and the New Zealand Spinach self-sowed abundantly, so they make lush neighbors to the summer squash at the other end of the yard.

In the Spring I planted a new salvia, called Hot Lips, if I remember right. Each little flower is a half-inch across. 

Do they make you think of a kiss? Well, then, I send them to you as a greeting on this summer's day.

Friday, August 26, 2011

California Mountains - Directions and Points

Mr G. with shooting stars

The point of going to the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada was to take a hike out of South Lake, above the town of Bishop. When my husband first proposed this trip, I liked the idea of driving to a trailhead that is already high up there; I knew that our day hike would likely not be too strenuous.

After spending the day driving down from Tahoe, mostly on Hwy. 395, we stayed at a nice motel that made luxuriating possible. Making the most of our relaxed schedule, we didn't get to the trailhead until what was to us an embarrassingly late hour, and I'm not going to publicize it here. When we left Bishop, though, it was already 80°.

shooting star
A mere 22 miles up the road, the temperature had dropped to 60° -- because we had gone in the upward direction 5,760 feet. We got nice and warm, hiking for six hours close to the sun, but the thermometer never rose above 75°. When we stopped to cool off or take a drink, we could quickly do that in the shade of a boulder -- but the mosquitoes liked the shade, too.

I couldn't begin to photograph all the flowers and many of my pictures came out too bright owing to that midday sun. Anyway, Mr. Glad and I had made a deal that I would leave some space on the memory card for his shots of larger landscapes and peaks, so for ten whole minutes at a time I would try hard to pretend that I didn't have a camera with me.

I did think many of my readers would appreciate the one mountain picture I took myself, of this brown peak (at right). Now ladies, does it remind you of anything? How about...a heap of cocoa powder, maybe? It's called Chocolate Peak.

It was odd that I didn't feel a need for the boost a dark chocolate bar might give me, hiking along a trail that continued to ascend in the direction of Bishop Pass for our first few hours, up where the air is thin.

I did need to stop pretty frequently to catch my breath, but all in all I was exhilarated, and my mind was composing about 20 different blog posts in an effort to process all the beauty and excitement of the dramatic topography.

When we got back to the car I quickly wrote a few notes to work from when back home in front of the computer. Sadly, when that time came a few days later, I found that without the context that stimulated such a fervent response in me, I couldn't even recall all the main points that were to flow from the title of this installment.

Since he was a young boy my husband has liked to hike up to mountain tops or mountain passes where he could get a view, and know that he had reached a specific goal. I, of course, would be happy to sit by a field of flowers and work on taking close-ups while getting whiffs of pine needles on the breeze.

That's partly because I long ago found that orienteering is not my thing, as was well demonstrated on this hike. During the outward bound portion I felt, without thinking much about it, that we were hiking in an easterly direction, but looking at the map later, I learned that our path led pretty much due south.

And every few minutes the mountains change position relative to one another, as it seems when you are getting closer to one and seeing the other side of its neighbor, so I never learn to recognize them. This is one reason to hike particular trails until they become familiar.
paintbrush and columbine with granite

That is probably not going to happen, considering how our hikes are less frequent these days. As for reaching a panoramic viewpoint or summit of anything, on this hike we didn't try to accomplish that goal. At an unremarkable spot along the trail, Mr. G. merely said, "I think we should turn around now and go back."

Of course, he knew that the next day he'd get fantastic views of many of the particular mountains he's come to love during his life. And that is a hint as to the upcoming posts on California Mountains.

(Previous posts in the series: Getting Over,
  Tahoe, Rivers and a Song )

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Journaling about footling

When I'm writing in Word, the program often tells me that I am spelling a word wrong, or that it doesn't exist. So I head on over to and check it out for myself. Today it was journaling, which even they tell me doesn't exist. Oh, yeah? Just look at my blog and you will see that it does indeed exist, though I of course did not invent it. Even can't keep up on everything.

While I was on that page, I noticed their Word of the Day on the left sidebar, and footle seemed to me a curiously cute and appealing word (which Word also does not know), so I took the time to read about it. This is what I read:

footle \FOOT-l\ , verb: 1. To act or talk in a foolish or silly way. 
noun: 1. Nonsense; silliness.


Sometimes, on a good day, I would go upstairs with my duster and footle around the parlor, adjusting paintings and straightening cushions, knocking them into shape with such military precision that even my mother would have saluted them.
-- Marion McGilvary, A Lost Wife's Tale: A Novel 

"I say, Charlie, for any sake do play up tomorrow, and don't footle."
-- Rose Macaulay, Abbots Verney; A Novel

Footle has an uncertain origin. One candidate is the French se foutre, to care nothing." Another possibility is the Dutch vochtig, "damp or musty."

Not much to go on here, and it's confusing. What the narrator in McGilvary's book (I wonder if she is the Lost Wife...that might pertain to my discussion.) is doing doesn't seem to me either silly or foolish. It just reads like housework, done with energy.

I don't quite know what "play up" means, in the other quote given, so how am I to infer the meaning of what is given as the alternative behavior?

(One thing is clear, that people who add the subtitle "A Novel" to their book titles are more likely to use the word footle in the text.)

This all matters to me, because I've long been on a quest for a word for what some of us housewives do sometimes, on those days when I'm not under a deadline or working doggedly on a single big project. Instead, I do a little of this, a little of that, one thing leading to another; I am not in a rush, nor do I have urgent goals for the day, but I end up accomplishing quite a lot.

Do we just call this "housework"? I used to call it puttering, until I learned that there is too much of aimless, ineffective, and loiter in the definition of that word. When I am engaged in the behavior I am trying to find a word for, I am never aimless, and if I am not getting any physical work done for a few minutes, I am at least thinking hard or praying. And another question: As my computer and word processor are in my house, shouldn't I consider the work I do using those tools "housework"?

It gets complicated. Keeping the housewife healthy and able is part of the maintenance of the house, just as taking care of tools is a necessary part of the work of a carpenter's shop. So all those things I do that restore my soul are also housework. VoilĂ !

Once I was discussing this issue with my friend Herm, and told her about a word I coined to describe my style of puttering. It is serendipping. But it hasn't proved terribly useful to me, since only two of us in the world know it. I don't often need the word anyway, do I, if I am busy doing it?

Anyway, it appears that footle will not yet be of any help. Discovering it was part of my serendipping today, but did it accomplish anything? It gave me something to think and write about, and whether it was work or play, it was not aimless and it was fun!

Soul-nourishing gift from Mr Glad

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

all the ingredients are here (poem)

This poem that Maria posted last week strikes a chord with me; I keep reading it over and over.

Isle of Skye (photo by Pippin)

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

~ Mary Oliver, born in 1935, American poet 

(I saw it here.)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sunless and Satisfying Day

The beach cottage is next to a creek that forms a lagoon at this time of the year, cut off from the frigid Northern California ocean water by sand dunes and therefore swimmably warm, if you don't mind the algae.

The whole place is full of memories for me, going back more than 20 years to the first time I was here with our children, who with their homeschooling friends built rafts of driftwood and punted around, while their baby sister crawled through the sand.

Those are abalone shells lined up on the fence.
We've come many, many times to this sleepy village, and this week it was to be with our friends who lived full-time in the house for a spell but now only vacation there. Mr. Glad and I are normally just a couple these days, but they were lucky enough to have four of their five daughters with them.

No sooner had we arrived than I discovered the fuchsias and Chinese firecrackers that had enthusiastically taken over the mostly untended yard. They make you think you are in a tropical paradise, until you look up and notice the fog and the golden hills.

In the background of the third fuchsia pic, you can see the wild fennel reaching for the skies. A lot of it has already dried and is getting mildewed.

The fields of rattlesnake grass a block away also contradict the tropical theme. I picked bundles of the stuff before I came to the conclusion that it's really past its prime and that I should just come back next June to get it when it is still green and the "rattles" are whole.

Sand Art by Mr. G

We packed up some cheese, French and Italian breads, and watermelon, and drove up the coast to another beach just for fun.

One can't easily predict how grey and cool the days will be out there, but we expected the sun to come out by the afternoon, and we pointed out the little patches of blue we could see here and there near the horizon.

At least it wasn't terribly cold, though I did keep my sweatshirt on all day. The fog did not lift, but the sun burned some young chests right through it. And I was so happy and busy smelling the seaweed and the beach plants that I didn't even notice the weather change that never happened.

Some of us took a walk along the bluffs, where I found so many interesting things to see and click my camera at, including stickers and a minty purple flower that filled the low moist places.

Rattlesnake grass and cow parsnip
When we returned to the cottage it was to cook together and cozy up with a big dinner and loving camaraderie -- lively talk and laughing followed by sitting on couches and in rockers. Mr. G and I couldn't help ourselves, taking lots of pictures of the girls so clearly content and comfortable with each other, tucked in with overlapping arms and legs and smiling so much you wouldn't believe it.

I didn't mind the grey skies, because the flowers and friendship made the best kind of sunshine.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

California Mountains - Rivers and a Song

(This is the 3rd installment of my July vacation travelogue.)

Lake Tahoe sits on the California-Nevada state line, and the rivers in the surrounding mountains form the setting of the ballad "Darcy Farrow." Ian and Sylvia were singing this song the first time I heard it, and I still think their rendition is the best. I heard many examples on YouTube while looking for one to post here.

As we drove down the highway south from the lake, we weren't far from "where the Walker runs down to the Carson Valley plain," and in fact we crossed all three rivers mentioned in the tale, the Truckee, the Carson, and the Walker. We even listened to Ian and Sylvia sing from the CD player at one point in our journey.

Of course I don't like that Young Vandy put a bullet through his brain, but in comparing this story with other traditional songs I find I like it better than ones where the young man instead kills his beloved by accident or out of anger.

These rivers descend toward the east from from the northern Sierras and always refresh my mind as I watch them from the car. The Walker stays close to the highway longer than the others, and where it flows through desert-like terrain it captivates me by the contrast it gives to the sagebrush-covered banks. It's fast and furious and carrying a lot of irrigation for the green fields of alfalfa grown farther east where the land flattens out. I recall those expanses of green and the beautiful Nevada cattle ranches in the shadow of the mountains -- but we didn't go that way this trip. 

Four years ago we visited this area, and I wrote hasty notes in my journal as we sped along through ever changing layers of conifers, sagebrush, aspens and meadows, trying to preserve the moments of beauty. I didn't get to catch my own photo of the rivers on either trip, but I found this one on the Web.

West Walker River

And below is one of ours, showing the mountains where the heavy snowpack from last winter is still melting and filling the rivers with icy water. On Hwy. 395 this far north the elevation is still above 5,000 feet so the summer temperatures don't get extreme. The cattle looked content, and I know I was.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

California Mountains - Tahoe

( 2nd of many posts in a series. 1st post: Getting Over )

Our neighbor camper played his lonely and cheery mandolin for hours each day that we were at the Meeks Bay Campground.

We had pitched our tent within walking distance of the beach, where we were surprised to see three or four Canada geese looking for handouts or taking a dip with the other bathers. The many children liked to chase them in the water occasionally, but the geese always swam faster than the children could run through the chilly waters.

The lake is high this year, the beaches shrunken, but we found a spot to plunk our chairs down in the sand with a view to people-and-geese-watch, glancing up often from our summertime reading.

GJ above Emerald Bay
Mr. Glad casually and calmly swam in the lake for ten minutes at a time, completely disguising the fact that it was cold -- he estimated 60°.

I was content to wade fairly quickly out to a rock where I could sit and admire my manly husband, whom I compared to a younger, fatter guy who no sooner entered the lake than he headed right back to the dry sand moaning and sputtering and making a scene.

Bridges' Gilia
The quaking aspen trees shaded our tent and made a lovely shadow picture on the roof in the mornings, and Indian Paintbrush flowers waved at the front door. Steller's jays helped to wake us up early with their raspy voices.

Lake Tahoe lies at about 6,000 feet elevation, which makes for chilly nights and mornings, but a noontime picnic can be plenty hot if your site's table is in the full sun. 
We took a short hike to Eagle Lake, above Emerald Bay, and captured some wildflower images. The purpley one Pippin and I think is Bridges' Gilia or Gilia leptalea, though it also seems to have a new and updated botanical name for some reason: Navarretia leptalea.

Photo by Mr. Glad
I especially liked to visit the beach at night when it was empty and the water was shimmering. Little waves were going blip-blip-swish on the sand, where by their tracks you could see that the geese had been the last creatures to go to their rest.

Monday, August 1, 2011

California Mountains - Getting Over

I posted this photo last summer, too!
My husband and I drove our car back and forth over the Sierra Nevada mountains this month. We had several highway options, but no matter which pass we choose to chug up I am always reminded of the forebears in covered wagons going cross-country, and the more recent grandparents driving cars like this on one-lane roads. That's my mother in the middle of this photo taken in Yosemite.
On the Monitor Pass south of Lake Tahoe

Giant Blazing Star on Monitor Pass
My little SUV has four cylinders to propel it forward, which sometimes ends up a bit slow on the steep grades, but at least we have no worries about our horses struggling through raging streams, or the possibility of our wagon tipping over or breaking a wheel on the rocks.

That is, if I can stay on the road -- it's so easy to get distracted by the wildflowers and swerve too wildly at the turnout for a photo op.

We passed over the Sierras by way of three different routes and summits this trip, and also drove over another pass that doesn't cross those mountains.

We came at our first stop, Lake Tahoe, from the northwest, over Donner Pass. Ah, the Donner Party -- what an uncomfortable story, one that raises severe ethical questions. My heart breaks for those pioneers who got bogged down and starved in the snow. Patty Reed's Doll is a book that somehow manages to tell the tale for children. I recently gave it to granddaughter Annie for her birthday.

Leaving Tahoe after camping for two days, we took the Monitor Pass to the eastern side of the Sierras. Its summit is over 8,000 ft. At the top one drives through rolling "hills" as pictured above, with a mixture of meadows, conifers and sagebrush, and wildflowers galore.

Continuing south on Hwy 395 we rose above 8,000 feet again to get over the Conway Summit, a pass that doesn't take you as the others do in a generally east-west direction, but gets you over a plateau just north of Mono Lake.

One might ask why we would want to go to all the trouble of climbing mountain passes on pavement, just to go on a hike...Why not ascend on the closer, western side? Well, if one likes to visit the highest altitudes, but doesn't want to get sore feet walking for days, the smartest thing is to let your car do the work of getting part way up, by going over. The eastern approach is quite steep, and the Owens Valley floor itself is already aound 4,000 ft. elevation, so you've got a good head start if you come at the peaks from that side.

To get to our trailhead, we only had to steer upward and our four cylinders climbed over 5,000 ft. in less than half an hour. Yes, it does take us most of a day's drive to get to the eastern side, but it would take me a week -- or more likely I'd never go -- to get to the same places by way of the more gradual western approach.

After our adventures on either side of the Owens Valley, we drove back up Hwy. 395 to the Sonora Pass to get home.  The sign at the top reads "9,624 feet." It's the second-highest pass in the Sierra Nevada, after Tioga Pass which runs through Yosemite National Park and which we won't be traversing this year.
On the Sonora Pass, July 2011
It was quite beautiful up there. For the first hour or so on the highway we hardly met a car. By lunchtime we'd descended to hot lands again, and felt the mountains slipping behind us.

But I am so far ahead of myself, talking about the end of the trip when I've only begun to tell about the beginning. More to come soon, about our summer mountain adventures.

(next in the series: Tahoe, Rivers and a Song, Directions and Points )