As if drawn by a magnet, Linney and JC returned to Tahoe National Forest last week. Lucky enough to have some free time, I joined them one afternoon at the Jackson Meadows parking lot, roughly 20 minutes outside of Truckee. Linney and JC had brought all their dogs — four total, three of which belong to Linney. The dogs greeted me first with huge smiles and wagging tails.
JC stared at my car while we said hello. “Re-park your car and jump into Linney’s. Yours won’t make it to the lake; the road requires four wheel drive and clearance.”
“Re-park? But why?” I looked around at the vacant lot. “Do you think there’s suddenly going to be a rush of people?”
“You’re not even in a spot,” JC said sarcastically.
“How can you tell? There aren’t any lines.”
“You’re in the middle of the whole parking lot. Just — move to the side or something.”
I acquiesced and parked on the periphery in sight of the freeway; at least it gave me the idea that I was moving it for safety’s sake.
With all the gear and dogs, there would be no way to take just one car. Linney and I got into hers and JC led the way.
“Another adventure curated by our chaperone,” Linney beamed.
I have no way of knowing how long it took us to drive the rocky, uneven road. Linney and I were too busy catching up with our latest news and admiring Lacey Meadows to notice the time. Stretching the entire length of the valley below us, the meadow was only interrupted by a winding creek. The dirt road veered to the right and climbed the mounting, moving into a thick forest.
At last, we reached the campgrounds. We turned to the right and followed as the narrow road navigated between tall pines cloaked with lime-green moss. When we got to the end of the campgrounds, JC parked his car. We stepped out onto the ground, speckled with sunlight and made soft with pine needles. The dogs took off into the forest in wild bursts.
“This is beautiful,” Linney said as we walked towards the lake. “I feel like I’m in that book, The Hatchet.”
I listened to the small, frequent waves created by the wind. The gentle lapping at the shore soothed me. With the sunbeams glistening on the waves, they created bright sparkles of light. I felt effervescent, yet calm.
“Let’s go to the other side and get out of the wind,” JC said. “Last time I was here this was the side without wind. If we’re going to chill here for a bit we don’t want to be blown all over the place. It’s not relaxing.”
Once the dogs were collected, we got into the cars and turned around. Making our way back to the entrance, we continued along the road until we got to the restrooms. JC stopped his car and jumped out. He walked over to a large, brown box.
“What is he doing?” Linney asked.
“I could not tell you.”
“Remember I said I only had one shoe?” JC called out to us as he lifted a shoe from the box and laughed.
“Did he just take that shoe?” I asked Linney.
“I wonder if that’s his size. He said he was missing a shoe,” she said.
“This is very confusing.”
We ruminated over the shoe incident, searching for meaning, until we parked.
When we reconvened, JC explained: “I saw the shoe and laughed, thinking, ‘look some idiot left their shoe.’ And then I realized it’s mine!”
“That’s your shoe? Your actual shoe?” I asked.
“Yeah, I was here a few days ago — I wasn’t sure where I’d lost it. It’s the best hiking shoe. Light and breathable, but totally waterproof. It’s a $140 pair of shoes, so really, that’s a $70 find!”
“Well, no, that’s a $140 find because what are you gonna do with one shoe?” I asked.
Linney walked on a log into the lake.
“This isn’t creek-fed,” JC told me. “It’s a natural occurring glacial lake. Theres a more fun, scientific term: moraine, moraine dammed, something. This is an incredibly pristine lake.”
“It wins the Most Pristine Award,” Linney called with an air of elegance.
“It got a 96 on the Pristine Scale,” JC riffed. “Linney be careful. That mud is gnarly. If you step into it you’ll go up to your knees.”
Linney came back to the shore and we began to walk around the lake.
“Is that your fishing pole?” JC pointed to the ground. “Dude, somebody left a really nice fishing pole.”
“Mine now,” Linney said.
“Linney it’s your new fishing pole, I found it for you,” JC insisted sarcastically.
“Shouldn’t we leave it on the box like your shoe? What if they come back?” I asked.
“Nobody would come back for that,” JC said.
“Do you have a fishing pole, Linney?” I asked.
“I used to,” Linney said. “And then JC borrowed it forever.”
“No, no, I didn’t borrow it forever.”
I inspected the pole closely, “oh look, it even comes with bait!”
“Brand new,” JC said. “You can tell from the zip tie on there. Brand new zip tie.”
“There’s a question you always gotta ask, you know, when you find something,” I said. “Did you manifest this or are you stealing? I think a pole in the woods you’re manifesting it.”
“We don’t have to feel like we have to give back just because the shoe was there,” JC said. “The shoe — the shoe is its own independent thing.”
“With bait included,” Linney said. “Although, I feel like I should pass. I’ll leave it for someone further on the -sient side of glamsient.”
“Oh my God. The dogs are so stoked right now. I knew they’d love it here,” JC smiled.
The older dogs bounded through tall grasses in the meadow and the younger dogs plodded through the mud in the lake picking up their legs one at a time, stained with three or four inches of mud.
“I was telling JC I feel like I should be on some horseback ride through the countryside with them, fox hunting or something. They look like such fancy, weird little dogs,” Linney smiled at me.
“They need little top hats. Or you need a top hat if you’re going fox hunting,” I said.
“Oh this is super epic,” JC pointed to the sky. “Abalone-vagina clouds. When they get the ripple and the waves and the rainbow in them like that. I call them abalone-vagina.”
I admired the rainbow in the cloud. “That’s so cool! You could just call them abalone clouds.”
“Yeah,” Linney agreed. “You could totally just call them abalone clouds.”
“No because the ripple isn’t the same as the abalone. It’s the curviness, too. It’s the waviness –”
“Abalone have ripples,” I said.
“Accept the beauty of the yoni as a cloud, OK? Jesus Christ.”
“Sorry, I’m just a little sensitive with all this Trump –”
“Pussy grabbing,” Linney finished.
“Yeah, that has absolutely nothing to do with how I appreciate clouds and abalones and yonis all at once.”
We sat at a picnic table.
“Hey, look at this little bonsai tree,” JC motioned to a small pine.
Linney looked around, “there are so many little bonsai trees. I love them.” She stood up and walked to her car to get snacks.
“I have little baby trees growing in my garden and I’m not going to rip them out. I want little bonsai like these,” I said.
“No, take them out,” JC said. “They’ll take over your garden.”
“But they’re so cute.”
“You can transplant them into a pot. And make them a bonsai.”
“Just put them in a pot and then you gotta learn how to shape them. I mean, if you want to cheat you could dig one of these up — it’s horti-torture, you’re ruining it’s life. Taking a beautiful tree, but –”
“No, no, no. These stay here. In their home. I have ones I can use. I’m not going to ruin some wild tree’s life. Like, ‘Come back to my garden and be my Frankenstein.'” I said in an evil voice.
“‘Take you from your family and hold you hostage in a little, teeny, shitty clay pot,'” JC joked.
“This is a sad conversation to have on Indigenous People’s Day.”
“At least we’re celebrating Indigenous People’s Day at the beautiful, untouched, pristine lake,” JC said. “I would not, however, call this place Lake of the Woods. It’s a horrible name. I would call it the moist cove or something to do with –”
“Moist cove?” I asked. “No one likes that word.”
“I know you hate that word,” JC laughed. “Moist bay?”
“No, no moist is the word we want to get rid of.”
“Land of Special Water.”
“Land of Sacred Water — or Ancient Water.”
“Yeah, because there’s water here and it doesn’t come from a stream. There’s magically water here. Do you see how the grasses here are super green and perfect?”
“I honestly can’t believe this is a free campground. And it’s completely empty. We’re literally the only ones here.”
Linney laughed at her dogs as she walked back to us, “they’re amped. They’re having so much fun.”
“They should be,” I said. “Look at this place!”
“The wind through pine trees sounds like the waves of the ocean,” Linney said.
Taking a moment to listen, I closed my eyes and realized the truth of her observation.
After a few beers and some chips and salsa, we drove out of the campground as the sun was setting and made our way to Graegle where JC had rented a cabin.
In the morning, Linney and I left early; we wanted to stop in Truckee for coffee and breakfast.
Driving along Highway 89 in the early morning light through Sierraville felt like magic. Yellowing aspen with leaves fluttering in the wind heralded the season. Quaint, rustic farms with historic buildings from the gold rush era marked every bucolic turn. Many had wrap-around porches and weather panes. Dilapidated sheds, cows, sheep, and pine trees made homes in the valley that sprawled between mountains on all sides. We saw hawks and geese and drove along a creek that is so picturesque, I know I have to come back in a couple weeks.
Peaceful beauty, undisturbed by humans, is the magnetic force — I realized — that brought Linney and JC back for more.