“Nature Includes Us”

Years ago, watching a documentary on the life of John Muir, I was struck by this one sentence “Nature Includes Us.”  Growing up in San Francisco, although we lived blocks from the ocean, we didn’t have a sense of our connection to nature.  Our lives were conducted within the four walls of a house that was bursting at the seams with nine children.  The thrust was to get an education and then get a job in downtown San Francisco with its concrete and high rises.  Nature was the sky between the buildings and we seldom looked up.  As a young woman, I moved a block-and-a-half from the ocean.  That is when my interrelationship with nature became more conscious.

Moving to Mount Shasta twenty years ago, there was a sense of rebirth.  Discovering the hiking trails, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, forests–not to mention our mountain rising above it all at 14, 179 feet–opened me to the wonder and beauty of nature.  I could be in a an abiding state of awe over this beauty which includes me and you.  In San Francisco, there was little or no sense of the four seasons.  There was fog…sun in the Mission District and Noe Valley perhaps–those banana belts–however, fog in the Sunset District was the summer norm. In the mountains, we have the four seasons!  Each season with its distinct flavor and rarely fog…not ocean fog anyway.  There might be a mist that seeps between the trees after a heavy rain.  The type of mist in which magic lurks.

And bears.  In some Native American Traditions, bear medicine has to do with “introspection.”  It is associated with the season of Winter.  Bear goes inside a cave and hibernates when winter is at its most intense.  Bear has eaten a fair share of grasses, roots, berries, fruit, insects, fish and small animals and any garbage left outdoors and accessible.  Living in the mountains you hear bear tales and you cultivate your own.
There was the story of a man who camped way up on Old McCloud Road.  He had a nightly bear visitor.  To deter the bear, he would bang pots and pans, a little symphony, to scare the bear away.  There is definitely an etiquette of what to do when you encounter a bear.  It’s good to inform yourself about this if you enter bear country!

Of course, you don’t want to leave food or garbage lying around either at home or if you’re camping.  Bears don’t read “private property” or care about the campsite delineation.  The back of the property where I live is open to an alley.  In the late summer when the apple and pear trees are laden with their fruit, I have a bear visitor.  He’s very low profile as he comes in the night.  The only calling cards are broken tree branches and a pile of scat!  The neighbor’s barking dogs sometimes alert us to his presence, but he’s pretty elusive.

Hiking in the Castle Crags alone isn’t the most brilliant idea.  I have done it a few times.  Once, I thought I’d walk in the upper Castle Crags, the Root Creek Trail.  A couple came running from the direction I planned to hike.  They told me there was a big black bear and it was running towards them, not away.  I immediately turned around and changed my mind about hiking there.  Bears deserve respect especially in their habitat.  And the stories about mama bears, don’t mess with them, are real.  However cute the cubs might be, they are best observed at a safe distance or on TV.

I walk frequently by Lake Siskiyou, five minutes from where I live.  One summer, I took my binoculars as I was following a certain eagle who perched on the opposite shore.  The cry of an eagle is distinct even to the non-educated ear.  Staring in the direction of “my eagle,” I heard a bird cry behind me.  I turned just in time to see a black bear running a terraced part of the terrain twenty feet above me.  Both of us paused in our tracks and stared at one another for a brief moment.  Then the bear continued on its journey.  A jogger came along shortly.  He asked if I had seen a bear and which direction it had gone in.  I said yes.  And we both stopped to consider how close we were to this bear.  There had been no reason for fear to be triggered.  The only true feelings were of awe and gratitude.

“That is why we live here,” he said.  And two strangers gave one another a quick hug and continued our separate ways.

I doubt the bear was in awe of us.  There was a moment though in which I felt included in something very special.  To be given a glimpse of the wild in nature was to glimpse the wild in me.

Soup Night

Navigating winter in the mountains, for those who don’t fly south, is an art form.  Of course, there are those who love winter sports and they are in their element.  I am not a skier, snowboarder or snowshoer–although I’ve experienced two out of the three.  For me, the challenge with winter is getting through it–overcoming the isolation which heavy snow imposes.  Travel north or south is inhibited as the highway may have restrictions.  Or, driving in a “white out” with poor visibility can be daunting.

A few winters back, when the first heavy snow hit, a depressed feeling settled over me.  Looking out my window as the large flakes whirled abundantly, I could see that soon my world would be covered in white.  While pretty on a postcard, there are the practical challenges.  I need to contact the men who shovel my driveway and walkways.  Be sure that I have enough fuel.  Is the cupboard fully stocked if we are going to have several days of snow?  Do I need to wrap the water pipes if the temperature drops too low?  Living close enough to the stores, I layer clothing,  don my hiking boots and trek through the snow and slush to get to the post office and grocery store if necessary.

This particular day, I was dicing onions and carrots for a pot of soup.  It occurred to me that I could invite friends over to share the soup.  I called about six friends.  They couldn’t promise, but they’d see how bad this storm was going to be.  One friend blatantly said, “Christine, no one’s going to come!”  However, just the thought that someone might show up spurred me on.

The invitation was “If you dare to come out tonight, I’ve got a hearty pot of soup on the back burner…bring your favorite soup bowl!”

That night, in a heavy winter storm, four people came.  The next week, there were eight of us.  By the end of the winter season, soup night had become an institution which rotated among several homes averaging ten to twelve people.  This meant we needed two pots of soup, bread, salad and occasionally dessert.  The warm feeling of sharing and communing while the world outside was enveloped in cold and white brought new meaning to winter in the mountains.

 

Horse Camp

I wrote this entry a few years ago.

****
Nature is a vital re-balancing refuge.  Today, I hiked up to Horse Camp (elevation is 7950 feet)  from Bunny Flat on Mount Shasta.  The hike takes me about an hour in one direction.  Sitting at the backside of the Sierra Club’s stone cabin built in 1923, I face Olberman’s Causeway–a path built by Joseph Macatee Olberman.  The path leads up to Avalanche Gulch which is the beginning of the climb to the summit of Mt. Shasta.  I’ve been told that scaling Mt. Shasta is not something you want to do in late summer.  It’s the season for avalanches.  Summiting is not something I aspire to…but I love being here.

The mountain has a few slimming glaciers on this south side; it’s mostly cocoa-colored now with sparse hardy trees, shale and rocky outcroppings.  At this lower elevation, there is purple lupine and rugged bouquets of gold flowers that soften the landscape. Flutters, birdsong and a sneaky chipmunk keep me company.  The chipmunk gets more daring, checking me out to see if I have food.  A few feet away, I see that he looks healthy enough.

Voices precede their owners, filtering down from the summit trail.  Masculine voices as if through a megaphone.  There is a stone fountain with a water spicket–the most pristine
spring water to be found…and cold!  A rugged woman with an overnight pack stacked high trudges by me.  She’s no stranger to nature and camping.

I could say that I’m on a Vision Quest…questing for my next occupation, preoccupation, gift to offer the world.  Afterall, a gift given is a gift received.  Connecting to the earth at this power spot, I imagine that if I get quiet and receptive enough, something will get through to me.   I’m here yet often somewhere else in my head.  Meanwhile, the men catch up with their voices.  No one I know in this weary bunch of summiters.  They unstrap their backpacks and rest on the adjacent bench.

The chipmunk is right under my feet.  So bold.  “Go away,” I whisper.  One man clucks for the chipmunk.  The chipmunk ventures closer but sees no food offering so he retreats– back to me.  My mind wanders and I wonder if my smartphone has reception here.

.

****
In the spring, 2019, this is how Mount Shasta looks from Bunny Flat, elevation of 6950 feet, after a “real winter.”

 

mountaininthespring.jpg

Winter

inthemist

In winter, in this hemisphere, we bundle up to go outdoors, spend more time indoors and perhaps imitate the hibernating bear.  For writers and artists, this is an opportunity.  We don’t have to make excuses for doing our art.  It is a beneficial thing to have a “hobby” (as others might reference our artistic journey).  And, we can write (or paint) about our winter experience!

Here’s one journal piece I wrote referencing winter in January of 2005…time is fleeting, isn’t it?

“This winter so far.  We’ve had one week of great storms.  By great, I mean huge, all-encompassing storms, restrictive, interfering, disrupting-my-daily-routine storms.  I mean continuous snowfall with an occasional interruption of rain, creating slush; then returning to snow later on.  Flakes that pulse and whirl during the day; caught in the headlights or streetlamps at night.  A shock of soft, large flakes, which, when I awaken in the morning, have merged into piles and drifts.  Once plowed, impassable icy mounds, barricaded driveways.  Immobilized cars left in garages and carports or buried beneath the impartial snow.  Tromping across town wearing layers of clothing. Boots, thank God for boots to the knee–as I navigate icy puddles at the street corners.  Sinking down, trudging, slipping, falling, losing things.  I contemplate that life is a waning affair and I’d rather spend it with those I love than take the inward journey prescribed by this winter.”

That was my feeling thirteen years ago.  Now, today, I search the skies and the 10-day forecast for the much desired and needed rain and snow…it is winter in the mountains after all!

Writing Prompt:
Like place, a season affects our attitudes and behaviors.  Winter has a “temperature and a temperament” as another writer has noted.  Write, in poetry or prose, about a significant aspect of winter for you personally.  If personification is calling to you, try your hand at it.