Lake of the Woods

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.

“Exactly.”

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.”

“Brilliant.”

“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. 

JC’s dog on the road that navigates the campground
Mossy tree
Sparkles on the Water

One of Linney’s fancy dogs; Photo by Linney

Yellowing Aspen in Sierraville

Pinnacles National Park: California’s Well-Kept Secret

Keeping my vow, the day I left work, I headed straight to Pinnacles National Park. Luckily for me, a glamsient friend had the day off and agreed to join me. We started at the visitor center on the east entrance where I saw a sign announcing the arrival of a California Condor.”A new baby! How exciting,” I said to the ranger behind the counter.
“Yes, a girl. We are thrilled,” she said. “It’s from the only nest in the park!”
“Do you have any camping available for tonight?” I asked. Knowing that many California parks fill up months in advance during summer, I braced myself for her answer.
“Oh yes, there’s plenty.” She handed me a map of the campground. “Pick out an empty space, come back and let us know which one you want.”
We drove towards the back of the campground — it was virtually empty! With so much availability, we found exactly what we wanted: a site surrounded by trees and bushes to give us privacy and shade.
High Peaks Trail via Bear Gulch Cave
For our first hike, we chose the High Peaks Trail by way of Bear Gulch Cave. My glamsient friend informed me this is the most popular trail in the park.
The first section guided us to Bear Gulch Cave, a rare talus cave thought to be formed in the ice age. The canopy of trees made this hike gentle and pleasant even in the middle of the afternoon. Created by large boulders that had fallen and wedged into narrow canyons, the cave was easy to navigate — sunlight made its way into the cave through open spaces to illuminate the path. We walked over bridges and up stairs created in the 1930s; part of the way, we had to crouch to pass underneath boulders.
“Wouldn’t want to be here during an earthquake,” my friend remarked. “The San Andreas fault is pretty close.”
For a popular destination at the park, the cave was by no means crowded; we saw only a few groups of people.
Leaving the cave, the trail led us to a small reservoir; that’s where the strenuous climb began to the High Peaks. Without the tree cover, under the blazing sun, every step moved me further uphill and every step told me that I am out of shape! I quickly realized this section of the trail would be much more enjoyable in cooler weather — either early morning in summer or a cooler time of year altogether!
(That being said, we saw many groups with children. They seemed fine. Hot, but fine.)
Ultimately, our effort paid off — the trail took us to an incredible peak revealing far reaching vistas of valleys, rock formations and mountain ranges to the east and west. The High Peaks trail showcases prehistoric rock formations; volcanic activity created these rocks 23 million years ago and erosion formed them into what we see today. It surprised me to learn seismic activity moved the solid, massive boulders over 195 miles northwest from the time of their creation.
At the crux, we walked up and over boulders that created a long ridge — in many places, the trail was carved by dynamite into footholds and steps. We stopped to catch our breath, but lost it when a Condor flew overhead! One of only 36 wild in the park, we knew we were in the right place at the right time.
Shortly after we made our descent, we saw a couple on the trail.
“Is the peak much farther?” The young man asked. He sat in shade created by chaparral, his face was red and dripping with sweat. “We are thinking of going back.”
“You’re so close,” I told him. “Keep going.”
“It’s worth it,” my friend said. “The views and everything — you don’t want to turn back.”
“And there’s a cave on the other side,” I said.
Halfway down, we found a spot to rest and wait for the full moon. Despite my aching feet and jelly knees, seeing the moon — large and pink — rise over the mountains at sunset was a glory to behold.
It was dark when we returned to camp for dinner. Eating that night, I noticed a sense of vitality within me. My blood pumped through my veins, fresh air emboldened my lungs and my muscles felt active and alive!
Balconies Trail
The next morning, my fellow glamsient left early for work. Part of me wanted to head home, but I quickly recognized that desire as my old habit of rushing to the destination. The Balconies Cave enticed me and, remembering to slow down and savor the journey, I chose to stay in the park.
Driving to the trailhead I saw quail, turkeys, and a doe with her fawn. The parking lot was empty apart from my car, and only the sound of birds accompanied me onto the path.
Meandering through trees, the Balconies trail is mostly flat — a perfect companion to yesterday’s strenuous hike. Yellow swallowtail butterflies greeted me as if to say I had made the right choice. I breathed deeply, enjoying the time to myself.
When I came to the entrance of the talus cave, I saw a large, metal gate. “Flashlights Required,” a sign read. Having seen a similar warning at the trailhead I had my headlamp — and thank goodness for that! The cave was pitch black; only little white painted arrows marked the trail.
Cool and dark, the deep quietude of the cave penetrated my being. I was completely alone, and instead of steadily moving through to the other side, I sat and turned off my headlamp. Surrounded by rock, my small, vulnerable body felt soft and humble, but I was not afraid. I felt held and supported. I seemed to dissolve, as if I were part of the rock, the air, the empty space. In perfect stillness, I tuned to the deepest part of me — connected and endless.
When I was ready, I moved forward through the cave. As soon as the first rays of sun beckoned me out I wanted to go back into the dark, cool, quiet chamber. It had given me a thrill unlike any other.
Hiking the next section of the trail — a moderate stretch with views of rock formations jutting out of the earth like balconies — my mind returned to my experience in the cave. Wholly grounding, yet also uplifting, I longed to return to the cave and the feeling of oneness.

Rock Formations
Small and humble
A shady, gentle, empty stretch of trail
Footholds in the trail
Rocky trail
Rock formations over the trail
Entering the cave
Exiting the cave
Taking in the view from the high peaks

 

The Road to Happiness

Recently, I woke up feeling a strong aversion towards going to work; not because I hate my job, but because it is nearly 300 miles away from my new home and I didn’t want to make that drive.

When I’m scheduled, I usually leave as early in the morning as possible just to get there and be done with the drive. This particular morning, however, I decided to do things differently: I gave myself the glamsient luxury of time.

Instead of rushing out of bed, I snuggled with my cat much longer than anyone would consider appropriate, and before I got to packing, I went on the lake with my younger cousin. Dragonflies waltzed in the air, wildflowers crept close to the water’s edge, and fish made an appearance when we looked for them. We explored the lake on paddle boards, stopping in every eddy until we found a blackberry bush and savored its plump, dark fruit.

As morning drifted into early afternoon, I set out on my five hour drive. Invigorated and inspired by my new attitude, I decided to make my drive an adventure — instead of going the quickest, most direct route, I chose a new road. A stretch of California Highway 25, The Old Arline Highway, seemed appealing although I knew nothing about it.

Without any expectations, I felt a sense of curiosity towards my journey — much better than the dread I felt that morning.

South of Hollister, Highway 25 becomes a gently winding road and the scenery opens into long swaths of rolling hills, spotted with oak trees. East of Big Sur, valleys of agricultural and ranch land create a stark contrast to jagged mountains behind them. Highway 25 teemed with life: I saw hawks, vultures, quail, blackbirds, doves, goldfinches, turkeys, ground squirrels, rabbits and deer.

The highway was nearly devoid of other cars — a welcome reprieve from the hectic highways and freeways I often navigate.

And then, I saw the signs to Pinnacles National Park. When I came to the entrance, I debated momentarily before consulting my new attitude and driving in to eat my dinner. I found a perfect spot under a large oak tree at the visitor center. Children laughed in the swimming pool behind me and a yellow swallowtail butterfly floated through the trees. A breeze rustled the leaves. I wanted to explore the park, but with only a couple hours of sunlight remaining, I knew I had to get back on the road. As I got into my car, I promised myself I would return on my way home.

Arriving at work just as the sun set, I felt refreshed and happy. Turning the drive into an adventure was the best thing I could do for myself that day. Instead of feeling grumpy and annoyed the whole way, I felt elated and light.

My small, impromptu adventure reminded me to slow down and take full advantage of every moment. I remembered that life isn’t about the destination, it’s about doing what it takes to enjoy the journey. Finding ways to create happiness and curiosity that day gave me the wisdom to shift my approach to everyday life.

Oak Tree on the side of the Highway
Farm Land on Highway 25

Dinner under an Oak in Pinnacles National Park