Monthly Archives: August 2012

into the gold country

This post’s title is misleading because of course we’d been in the Gold Country all along. Even up in Lakes Basin among rather unpromising rock strata we found signs of prospecting any place someone had glimpsed quartz. Glory holes the size of a bathtub or a small cellar. No real clue as to the ages on most of these workings. My guess from the worn look is years to decades, and in some places all that you could see was the depression in the ‘wrong’ place — if you look upon the face of the land and the way the ridges lie, or where and how the trees stand, the imprint of human alteration persists remarkably.

It should be a country filled with ghosts, but the quiet rush of streams and the blowing of wind among great trees gives a sense of untroubled eternity. Then we smelled smoke, saw a haze upon the sky, and knew that somewhere not far enough away, a fire was eating the country. We headed to the fire lookout, had a tour by the spotter on duty and learned of not one but two fires, one nearly out, the other uncontrolled. We could see the smoke as the afternoon came on, the look of cumulus clouds generated not by the sky but by combustion. Think of trees super-heated, splintering into steam and flame, the resin of firs and pines exploding. We stared at the distant billows, but they were remote for now. California, land of fire.

In the last day at Lakes Basin we met a botanical docent from Anza Borrego and a pair of women who made yearly pilgrimages to hike in the area, leaving husbands and pets at home. Wonderful conversations. And let’s not forget the woman with a guitar at the campsite opposite us who played songs of her own writing she practiced for the folksong festival in Bloomsfield next month. I stopped in mid -prep of dinner that evening and said — “she’s professional, that’s not someone just noodling about for fun.” She asked us as it grew later if she disturbed us and I hope she heard our happiness as we encouraged her to continue. She had an Australian shepherd who ‘dogged’ pardon the pun, her every step, and in silent care watched over her with devotion. Such sorrow in her voice in the night.

We found it hard to leave but I’d brought our friend John’s e-mail which indicated he’d meet up with us on Thursday at the Taber Mine, so we didn’t dare take the extra day we longed for before packing out. “If John and Carmen should have only that one day free,” I said, “we’d feel such idiots if we spent that day on the road getting to him.”

After a stop at Quincy to stock up on food and wine and cheap beer (you don’t want the good stuff for field work… the best beer when you’ve spent a day moving rocks and dirt is the beer that is close to water, with basic salts and a taste of hops for the bitter edge) we piled back into our old Suburban and ground up the Quincy/LaPorte road. What a road that is. I don’t think I’ve ever travelled it when it didn’t have a repair crew out somewhere along the ridge.

Crossed the Pacific Crest Trail and dropped down towards LaPorte, finding to our astonishment that it only took a couple of hours and we were going to arrive before mid-afternoon. What a luxury  to anticipate lunch at the mine. But we did pull off at one point to record the distant sinister shapes of the fires’ smoke rising into the heat of day.


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Butterfly Days

We ended up renewing our camping fees for several days at Lakes Basin, drawn into the boggy meadows by the rich flowers, green sedges and rushes. The campground host made a comment that it was too bad that most of the flowers were gone, but while we smiled politely, the truth was we saw flowers everywhere we turned. Spangled orange lilies, purple and white monkshood, allium, cow parsnip looking like white fireworks, delicate spires of orchid all through the meadows. I searched for my own favorite ‘Grass of Parnassus’ with its simple white flowers striped in green, but that was my one disappointment. Not one to be seen. I think I found rosettes of the leaves, but no blooms yet. According to my guidebooks it’s scheduled to bloom from July to October, so I hope it’s just late. I believe it’s true that every other time I’ve wandered about the high meadows near Lakes basin I’ve seen a couple of blooms, greeting them like old friends.

So, confess the truth, did you know there was such a thing as a fresh-water sponge? I didn’t. Apparently they are common in places where the waters are of great purity. Husband and daughter waded in that swimming hole and found some examples of the fresh-water sponge, and the bizaare Utricularia, a carnivorous water plant. They had a grand time, but I did too, painting scenes around and about the swimming hole and beyond. Fascinating ruins of the old resort built of local rock gave extra interest to some compositions. We also did some fairly vigorous hiking up above the camp going from one high mountain lake to another.

I saw such butterflies. Even a Ruddy Copper — magnificent fellow darting about among goldenrod and asters. Parnassia as well — a high altitude butterfly in cream and sooty gray with touches of red-orange. Uncommon and a thrill to stalk until I could confirm my guess at what I saw. Mormon fritillaries in hordes, Satyrs and tiny blues all over, flickering color among the flowers and grasses.

I know this sounds too much like a catalogue of pleasures, but perhaps it’s apt, for we had the most lovely of times staying in this one place among friendly people and dogs, with the light hanging late in the sky among the towering firs and Ponderosas.Image

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High Country

We came in to Lakes Basin, a lovely campground at 6,500′ we’ve known for over twenty years, set in among granitic boulders, poplars and a forest of tall cedar, fir and Ponderosa, mixed with some of that high country pine albicolis with its strangely fragmented silvery bark. It’s a different light, an extra high blue sky and trees straight as masts rising to about a hundred feet overhead.

‘One site left– #12′, the sign by the campground hosts’ trailer said. One site? One? Sure it was Friday but the clock had barely touched one PM, and we’d hoped for better than that. An exposed site too, much closer to the loo than we normally would pick. We debated going on all the way to the Taber Mine instead of taking this last spot, but we love this high country and after we walked all over it we decided we’d make do. For one night, anyway.

Striking how many other sites were unoccupied but reserved. I’d advocate for having each campground always maintain a few sites not available for reservation for those people who might get caught short in their plans, or those who don’t want to be straight-jacketed in weeks beforehand. As we set up out place, car after car came hopefully through looking, and I felt guilty to have taken the last spot. More and more people came and settled in, the sound of tent poles ringing through the air.

Glorious undergrowth of marshy plants, brilliant flowers and butterflies visiting. We could hear the rush of mountain streams as we established our tents. A light so stong, hats weren’t optional. A snicking sound of debating warblers and perhaps siskins in the firs, poking among the gaudy lichens on the tree bark.

The campground host drove by in her pick-up truck on clean-up duty, welcomed us and comisserated on the exposed nature of our site. “Pretty hot in the middle of the day. But there’s a swimming hole,left over from the days there was a resort here,” she said, “Just a few feet that way,” she pointed and I saw nothing but poplars. “It’s shady, take a book– it’s cool and nice there and it’s for everybody.”

A swimming hole? We’d been here over a dozen times surely and we’d never seen a swimming hole. We walked down the way she’d indicated and there was a discrete worn path. No more than a dozen yards to the swimming hole with two folk already ensconced in their folding chairs, big sloppy wet black Labs rising to greet us. Lots of licking and welcoming with a woof or two. We went back to our camp site astonished. Tomorrow a hike perhaps, and we’d decide after we saw how the campground felt in the night if we’d stay on.

We took a short walk down the way to examine the Maidu pictographs, and admire the glacial striations on the great boulders. The sun glowed in the high trees, held long in the sky.

I’ve never seen a campground so full of dogs and so silent with them. A woof or two, quickly hushed. Walking about, it seemed there were easily over a dozen dogs, all apparently trained to the strange customs of camping out. Think about how odd it must be for a dog used to guarding a specific property to be faced with shifting territory. All of these fellows from pugs to Alsatians seemed to know what was expected and be perfectly at ease with it. I’ve never seen such an advertisement for dog companionship. All of us who camp are all too accustomed to the problems most dogs seem to have with strangeness. Who hasn’t lain awake cursing at the scared yippy pet down at some end site who keeps being scared at ungodly hours by real or imagined bears?

These dogsImage played with each other so happily that I almost theorized  this was a pre-arrangement of old friends meeting up in camp with their pets, but a couple of overheard conversations made it clear that wasn’t the case. I salute you dog people with deepest respect and affection. I almost wanted to have a pair of my own canines as I watched… other than the ones in my mouth, that is.

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Robin chases butterflies

Robin chases butterflies


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August 13, 2012 · 5:59 am

back from the mine

Takes a few days to recalibrate to house and home. My black Blot cat is full of purrs, and I’m still staggering with an odd tiredness. However I am indeed back from the mine.

That isn’t metaphor alone. I don’t simply mean to say I mined gold from our adventures for paintings and stories. We really did stay at an old mine in the high gold country. Slept in the 90-plus year old bunkhouse and had our friend John and his wife take us around to visit my husband’s research sites and collect mud and muck samples. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 A little over two weeks ago we headed up along the coast in our old Suburban (think pre-air-conditioning… our AC consists of going 60 miles an hour and having all the windows open and when it hits over 100 degrees Farenheit, I use a plant sprayer to mist everyone. Yay evaporative cooling!) We camped out the first night in a county park that had much the same environment as home. Coastal oaks, scrub and chapparral by a lake busy with birds. Painted a sketch of the oaks with a backdrop of sunlight saturated grasses and the edge of the dark tules. Bats flitting about in the evening while we sat by the campfire and the kid toasted marshmallows. Strange to be out again after too many years trapped home by job and circumstance. Uneasy– when you move out of the home range, you lose the illusions of safety you have drawn around you over the years of habit and custom and expectations fulfilled.

We went on to the Malakoff Diggins (that’s the right spelling) up in North Bloomfield and found the park campgrounds closed. The state budget, again. However we discovered they had cabins for rent, $40 a night. Old cabins, once used by miners and relocated to within a block of Main Street, couple of mice and a bear that likes to come down and sit under the old apple trees to eat the apples on a peaceful night. Made up dinner and our beds after painting a sketch of the town.

We had the town almost entirely to ourselves. One other person, I think, but we never met  him or her. In fact I went out and lay down in Main Street sometime after ten o’clock and looked up at the stars and watched some bats flit through. The asphalt was stilll warm from the long day, and there was no human sound, not even a distant highway. Only silent buildings with the moon coming up on them and the shadows of trees from another time. Stories everywhere.

The next day we took a leisurely hike and enjoyed that, but on our return found the town had been invaded by people. Generators humming, car doors slamming. Dogs barking. They were waking the place for the weekend crowd and our cabin had been double-rented for the night. However it turned out that the folk who’d rented it for their in-laws knew said in-laws couldn’t make it, so they graciously let us stay, with a smile. The park got double fees for the night and we didn’t have to run away to a motel. But having too many people around made leaving easy, and we set off for the High Sierra in the morning after a load of pancakes and bacon from our trusty Coleman. Grinding up the mountians with a touch of anxiety about just how crowded they would be. This policy of letting people reserve campsites on-line makes it hard to do anything unplanned, yet what is camping for, but the unexpected? 

And I don’t want to make this post too long so, more later!Image

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