The Singing Clump

These days I stay up late and, in the mornings, I sleep late as well. It’s nice to have a long evening but sometimes I feel like I’m missing out. The days go by so quickly. Not long ago I woke up early for no reason at all. There was no sleep left in me. It was still dark outside. I crawled out of bed.

As I showered, I thought about how nice it would be to see the early morning light slipping in around the corners of the mountains to the east. There is a large lake nearby where I sometimes go to walk the dog.I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I woke up the dog and got in the car. We got there quickly. No freeway traffic at that hour. Can you say “we” when it’s just you and the dog? I guess you can. I’m pretty sure that’s how the dog thinks of it.

I took the Long Walk Route this time which included parking at the far end, hiking up to the top of two consecutive hills, down the other side, across the bridge, along the water, through the gate, up the hill. Stop. Enjoy the view. Walk back the way you came.

On the outbound leg of the walk, in the gray light, I passed a tall clump of reeds the size of a small house growing at the edge of the lake. At the time, I mostly ignored the reeds, although I did notice some coots and a family of mallards mucking around in the water. Noticing them reminded me to remind the dog that he isn’t allowed to eat coots or mallards.

On the way back, the sun was just coming up and there was beautiful red glow in the east. On the hillside above me, the first shadows of the new day were receding, burrowing back under the rocks and sagebrush. In the air, unseen, was the sound of a giant blackbird choir. I knew they were blackbirds, not because I could see them, but because I was raised well, brought up to recognize such things, for which I’m grateful. (Thanks, Dad, and happy birthday.)

By the sound of them, the blackbirds were happy to see the sun. I didn’t blame them. I was too.

I walked by the reeds at the edge of the lake and realized that the singing was coming from right out of the muddy heart of the clump. Not a bird in sight, but the air was full of their chorus. I stopped and watched for awhile. Not a sign of life from the bush. Except, of course, that song. There must have been hundreds of birds in there.

What does it all mean? I don’t know. But I’m glad I woke up early, even if I was tired all afternoon.

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Gallery: Salton Sea

I decided to drive to the Salton Sea last weekend on Sunday afternoon. Now if you’re a Southern California resident you should have already started feeling tremors of fear just reading that sentence and this is why: you’ll remember that it was the end of the Thanksgiving weekend and you know that there are basically 5 ways to leave and to re-enter the Los Angeles area. And, yes, the 10 freeway to Palm Springs and the Salton Sea is one of them.

So I drove happily to the east, noting somewhere in the back of my brain the acute absence of fellow travelers going my way on the freeway. Like the calm before the Katrina, anyone with any sense was not going east out of L.A. at 2pm in the afternoon on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. This is like jumping off the back of the boat at midnight in the Southern Ocean. You can pretty much guarantee that it’s going to be a long time before you’re home and in bed.

And it was. The hordes of returning holiday travelers hit the bottleneck about the time I was leaving and the mess still hadn’t let up at 8pm when I decided to head home. I don’t know if the pictures that I got were worth the pain, but I had a pretty nice day and saw some nice country. I also listened to a good podcast from here on the drive out. And then on the way home I made a loop through Joshua Tree, which is always good for the spirit.

So, anyway, here are a couple pictures.

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Mt. Shasta: Why Driving In Northern California Is Nice

mt shasta from california highway 89

I had been wandering for a long time in the tall timber when I looked in my rear view mirror and saw this. It surprised me. How it got behind me, I’m not sure. I was tempted to think that it had moved, or was sneaking up on me. But, in my experience, the mountains sit still most of the time (my faith is clearly not quite as big as a mustard seed). I’ve decided it was a miracle. Which explains it nicely, I’d say.

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Open Space

Ash Creek Wildlife Area, Big Valley, California

My house is among trees and I’ve taken a liking to the grasslands. I’m hoping to resolve this conflict before long, but in the meantime I’m taking walks in places like this. The dog likes it, especially when it is cool and damp outside and when there’s a ball to chase. I like it because I can see in all directions which is good for watching the sun rise and set, tracking the wind as it approaches, and lying down quietly and listening to stillness of the open space.

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Driving North

I left Southern California at 4:30pm on Thursday. Over the San Gabriel Transverse Range and down into the Mojave. Unfortunate that I chose to make a 1000 mile overland drive on the hottest week of the summer. I stopped to get food in Palmdale. Too hot to leave the dog in the car. Too hot to take him out. But something must be done. So he skipped across the blazing hot parking lot to a place in the shade while I went inside.

An hour later the highway changed numbers (14 to 395) and I’m in Red Rock Canyon. The wind was incredibly hot and dry. We only stopped for a short time. Shadow, almost blown over by the wind, looked around in surprise. What kind of place is this?

One quick stop in Olancha to take pictures and chase rabbits. I took the pictures. The dog chased the rabbits. The sunset was beautiful. Suddenly the trip started to be an adventure. Back on the road, the air was beginning to soften. Pulling into Lone Pine, the open windows brought the scent of water and green grass and my head spun with delight. Have you ever smelled something that made you sad and happy and dizzy all at the same time? Strangely, my first impulse was to somehow record the experience. Camera wouldn’t do it. Neither would the audio recorder. How do you record a scent? In this day of gadgets, the smell of a thing is still unconquered. It is the most immediate of experiences. All along this drive, I found this again and again. There is no way I can ever share those moments. You had to be there.

Bishop for the night. Super 8. Terrible. Please, I never want to stay there again.

In the morning, the front right tire is flat. Perfectly appropriate finish to my stay. I’m up and ready to go, wanting to count off the miles before the sun starts to blaze. Instead I change to the donut tire and find a tire shop. They will open at 8am. It is now 6:25. So I sit still and listen to see what it is I am to learn from this. Finally by 9, the tire is fixed and I am back on the road.

The road climbs upward and eventually back down again to Mono Lake, a beautiful and alien lake. The Caltrans Adopt-A-Highway sponsor sign says “Another June Lake Liberal”. I feel like visiting June Lake. I weave my way through the sagebrush down to the edge of the water. Tufa formations. The salty water is beset with flies. The shoreline is black with them. The dog sniffs at them and then jumps back in surprise. The sun is hot. Time to drive.

Now the 395 crosses into the border of Nevada. The sky goes white hot and I swear to myself that I will do my best to never visit Carson City again, much less Reno, for the rest of my life. There is nothing there. 106 degrees Fahrenheit. No reason to ever go there again.

Crossing back into California, I forget to look for the sign marking the border. But suddenly I am noticing that things are cleaner, the road is better, the signs are in good order. I realize I am already over the line and, for some reason, breath a sigh of relief. It is nice to feel at home.

At Susanville I decided to take a detour. I won’t spend the time to write about Mt. Lassen other than to suggest that, if you are driving in the area, you take the time. I mean it.

Late afternoon, driving flat out and fast for Alturas. The long slow summer evening stretches out across the valleys and make me feel peaceful and in love with the land. More of the smell of dirt and sand and water and summer. Ash Creek Wildlife Area feels like a holy place. The barn owls peer down from the rafters through the murky darkness. The avocets stalk gracefully on the mudflats. Finally it is dark and I am safe at home at the Rimrock Motel.

In the morning, I climb northward out of the valley into the high desert of southern Oregon. Lakeview is small. The people who live here must either never drive their cars or they drive them for miles and miles. There are no other options.

And finally to Bend which seems a little like a heaven on earth. The evening skyline is one of the best. I’ll try to post a picture of it. Any town which features “floating the river” as one of its main attractions on a summer afternoon has my vote. And the fact that as you float, you float right past the back door of the Gap makes you realize that this is a different kind of place. Here they use SUV’s to carry their kayaks, not to ensure that they have lane changing rights on the evening commute.

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Road Tripping

Happy 4th of July everyone. Hope you’re staying cooler than I am. But I shouldn’t say that as it may just a sneaky way of trying to get sympathy. Which I don’t deserve since I am leaving for a short road trip tomorrow. I intend to drive up along the east side of the California Sierras, through Mammoth Lakes, past Lake Tahoe, and then one way or another into Oregon, finishing my drive in Bend.

Shadow Greeley the Wonder Dog will accompany me. He doesn’t know this yet, but I’m sure he’ll be amenable to the idea. Especially if there are rabbits along the way. The rabbits are even more fun than the squirrels because they can run faster and they don’t usually ruin the fun by climbing a tree. Although if a rabbit were to climb a tree, I’d really like to be there.

Anyway, more to come later.

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