July 2013

I had two love affairs last summer that were out of this world. Captured my heart like I’d never known. Got down deep under my skin.? Stayed there.? Broke me open and change me good.? The one I got to keep involved a piece of granite 400 miles long, 70 miles across and more than a few miles deep.? That one is luscious with only 6 feet of topsoil supporting life on it.? That one I got to revel in again this weekend.

What moved me most was the mind-stopping vast stillness of clouds parked at sunset over Potter Peak reflected in the Lyell Fork of the Tuolomne. Everything in my peripheral vision hummingly quietly alive.? So deeply still you can’t help but settle into your seat on the broad meadowed bank until you are just bones and breath.

Startled by an ear-flap-splash you spy an oh-so-new fawn swimming circles around mama as they make their way across the current to browse the sweet willows on the far bank. Pulls you back out of yourself and into the sky, growing dusk and sunset, bringing in the cool evening that pulls you back to camp, and the campfire, and the warmth for you there in the flames and the whiskey and the faces.

Up not-so-early for a stroll up the canyon and a 2,000 foot pull up toward Donahue Pass.? Hang a right turn off the JMT and slab and talus hop your way up to the unnamed lake the Lyell Peak baggers base camp at before tackling the mountain. The sky is collecting itself so you set up camp, but warm enough for a naked jump into what looks like a sky of a lake at 11,200 feet and coming up with a shout that echos off the basin walls.

Like clockwork at 3 PM the gods start their bowling match around the basin.? After an hour or so the Big Guy finally shows up and shit gets serious. The sky opens up and its all dump and instantaneous lighting/thunder right overhead.? The sound blossoms around, circling the rim of the canyon and out over the valley in broad sideways lightning arcs.? Hard rain turns to harder hail, over an inch of it coming down as we humble under the thin nylon shells of our tents.? Those without company wish we had some to share the excitement.? We poke our heads out as it quiets a few hours later and you asked Fred if he wants to borrow your pen.? When he looks perplexed, you say, “to cross that one off your bucket list” as he grins back.

Under the clearing evening skies you clamber over the shoulder to peer down into the McClure lakes basin and watch the last of the light dance through the valley, up along Kuna Crest, and lay itself all over Donahue. The moonlit cloudscape guides you back to sweet camp conversation and stars. Sleep comes easy lullabyed by waterfall in the bright basin.? Morning arrives all full of clean light and sees you all the way out, river swim snack breaks along the way.? You head downhill to home to watch the sun set at sea level, remembering watching it rise at heavenly heights just that morning, in this season of summer, with more Sierra love affair ahead.

Happy me (thanks Michael for the portraits).? Full set of pics here.

? ?The mountains provide a new solitude”, he wrote ” ? It wasn?t solitude for its own sake or in fearful withdrawal; it was solitude for the sake of more acutely perceiving ?the Real Thing” and to be real alongside it.”

– from Hammarskjold – A Life by Roger Lipsey, c. 2013

The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,

is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can?t breathe.

No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.

?Margaret Atwood (from Morning in the Burned House)

Thanks, as ever, to Luke Storms

(Photo: National Geographic pic of the famous Yosemite Firefall, 1958, off Glacier Point)