The Wind, The Snow & The Rain – Part 1

Saying goodbye to Inyo canyon area is hard. One, it is a long drive back and heading back early is a must. Two, it is very hard to pluck oneself away and just leave. After innumerable selfies that could have been taken in our backyard, we started off towards home.  (The bulbous noses obstruct the grand mountain at the back. )

As we started driving, it was a clear day with blue skies, a few cumulus clouds specked the skies lazily.  The winds were gusty as flashed to us by the rustic freeway signs. The slight shudder of the car as it navigated the bends in the mountainous roads was indicative of the conditions outside. (As shown in the ripples in the lake below)

inyo_wind

All in all, it seemed like a marvelous end to wonderful trip with ghost towns, ancient forests and star gazing. We were pleased with ourselves too for another reason. There was a storm warning for 4 p.m. that evening in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and we were slated to cross by 2 p.m. – ha! Looking at the bright blue skies, one wondered whether the geological department had gotten things wrong. Could a snow storm really be on its way? Maybe in a day or two, not today.

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You needn’t doubt the geol. fellows ever again. It was as we were driving through one of the mountain passes that it started to snow mildly. Now, I am sure people who live in the snowy reaches of the earth will pooh and bah at us, but the mood in the car turned to euphoria. Watching the snow flakes drift past is a heady experience, and nothing really prepares you for the magic of it. They say every snowflake is shaped differently, but how they managed to detect and study that, I would never know. Our instinct was to stick our hands out the window and whoop with every brush of snow.

Here is the rummy thing though: If you were to take the quarter of an hour sliver in which the situation changed, you would find the first 5 minutes completely different from the second five and the third five minutes radically different from the first five.

One minute we were ooh-la-la-ing through the mountain pass wondering about the shapes of snowflakes and singing songs, the husband slightly nodding off and taking a well deserved doze in the sunny passenger seat, while I drove like a heroine in the old Indian movies singing and whooping with an inherent happiness that made the singing bearable.

The next 5-minute slot found the blue skies being masked behind fast moving clouds and the winds whipped up a flurry of snowflakes, visibility was definitely waning, and I was telling the children about the Fury of Nature, while clutching the steering wheel and leaning ahead as if clutching the steering w. in a firmer grip would somehow ground the vehicle on the slippery roads.   

The last 5 minutes slot found me unstrung: the visibility had dropped significantly, and I was prodding the husband awake. Just keep driving he said in his taking-command-of-the-situ voice. Maybe my worked up face indicated that I was planning to get out the tea kettle and find some bricks to get a fire going in the snowy lands, I don’t know. So, I nodded, ever the obedient wife, and kept going. I was a bit unnerved too that no matter how hard I clutched the steering wheel, the vehicle was behaving like reindeer after a couple of magic mushrooms: slipping, sliding, and even trying to jump every once in a while.

jumping_reindeer
reindeer jumping and sliding

Image source: http://stylingstitches.com/jolly_christmas.htm

When the car tried to jump over a piece of ice, I jammed the brakes and found that the car went sliding beautifully onward, but refused to stop. Gulp. Hit brake. Stop. All my years of driving I had been doing that, but it did not work. Positively alarmed now, I was at a loss. What were we to do? I spotted a car ahead of me pull up in the slight ascent, and I gingerly did the same. I managed to let the thing in easily and let out a loud whistle – I now understand the pressure cooker psyche. PHHHHHEEEWWWEEE helps.

I stopped my hands from shaking and looked up to find a large vehicle stop on the opposite side of the road. A bunch of folks dressed in yellow tights and matching snow boots, jumped off. Half expecting to see Curious George, I saw them manually flip a sign on the side of highway to ‘Snow Chains Required’. I had not realized up until that point that that was how the rustic highway signs worked. Illuminating, but also, how do we get the snow chains on now? We had them, and I supposed they worked.

We headed out into the harsh world with the snowflakes doing a pretty dance around us and within seconds, our coats were full of snow, our toes seemed to be missing in action, the nose turned blue, and our hands were doing something when the brain was telling it to do something else. If this was not a pickle or a jam, I don’t know what is.

Continued in Part 2

The Curious Curvy Trees

Regular readers know that I enjoy reading children’s books. Recently, I read one called, A Curvy Tree, that examines the problems of being different and lonely. In the book, a curvy tree soothes the feeling of a lonely child being teased for being different by taking its own example, and how being different saved its life, for loggers could not find a use for twisted wood, and therefore left it alone. When the girl asked whether the tree felt lonely, the curvy tree lifted her up high on its branches to show her other curvy trees in the distance all left alone by loggers, and on top of these trees were other children probably equally lonely who only need to find each other for company.

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Looking at the bristlecone forest, it seems that the Bristlecone trees, followed a similar path for survival. Hardy beings that only thrive in harsh climatic conditions, there is yet another lesson from nature in these forests: It is okay to be different.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bristlecone_pine

As the car nosed its way up to the Bristlecone National Forest, I was peeking into a copy of ‘Into Thin Air’. It was snug inside the car, though the temperatures outside were steadily climbing down as the car climbed up. Reading about the Himalayan expedition to climb the Mount Everest that went awry was humbling and an apt read at high altitude.

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No amount of pictures or descriptive writing can do justice to the feeling of being among the oldest known living beings in the World.  Looking at the shapes of each of these trees, it was easy to let our imaginations run in wild directions. Each tree was shaped like a fantastic creature and one could well imagine them lending support to each other and sustaining their lives through the fury of nature and the upheavals of time. Each one probably gets themselves up every now and then and transforms their shapes, and each has a spirit of their own that lends a character to their surroundings. Maybe these are the hieroglyphics of the universe that hold answers to the questions deeper than mankind can ever think off, and we don’t yet know. Even in our wildest imaginations, we are constrained by our limited intelligence and the expanses of our problems, including those we manage to create for ourselves.

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The walk amidst the ancient bristlecone forest was our first high altitude hike as a family – The toddler son was wearing his new snow boots, and was behaving like John Muir in them. He thumped up and down exploring the hauntingly beautiful bristlecone trees, looking curious and wondering how they could be older than his grandfather. “Not just your grandfather little Dobucles, “, said his older sister in a tone of voice she uses to enlighten her lil brother of the ways of the world, “but your grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather’s….”

I let him wander on looking amused, till some gusts of wind buffeted us.  On a high mountainside, a gush of wind is enough to topple toddlers as I well know from experience. I was not even a toddler when I was blown off by the wind, I was in a respectable third grade when that happened. I injected a note of caution into the proceedings by reigning the toddler in only to have the daughter scoff that adults are paranoid. This is where ‘Into Thin Air’ helped me. I told her about how many people have gone within 300 m of the great Himalayan peak only to return because the elements would not allow them to proceed. I tried my best to describe how nature can be awe-inspiring but how in one moment we can be reduced from arrogant, competent, self sufficient humans to ones thrown about at the behest of nature. I don’t think I succeeded very much, and so nature decided on showing us herself the very next day.

Somehow, with the sun throwing brilliant purple, orange and pink patterns into the sky, the wind gently rustling the hair peeking out from under our caps, and the bristlecone trees lending an almost immutable background, the scenario of a snow storm seemed far-fetched, almost ludicrous. If this is high altitude, how bad can Everest be? seemed to be the general consensus.  That night, we bravely attempted hikes at 21,000 feet, safe in the comforts of modern housing while eating hot biriyani.

The Salons of Bodie

During our trip to the Inyo Canyon area, we got truly lucky.  Not just because of the weather (which I need to write about in a later post), but because we got to see many places that are usually closed this time of the year due to heavy snow conditions. Bodie State Park is one such. I have only visited the Inyo canyons twice so far and both times, they woke the spiritual in me. Maybe it was the sheer magnificence of nature in the area, I don’t know. Spiritual Mysticism or Spiritual Naturalism

Bodie State Park is a ghost town. A bustling, mining town a century ago, there are no more than a few hundred shacks left in a dilapidated condition in the town now. If ever one needs a humbling lesson in the ephemeral nature of our existence, the bristlecone pine forest and Bodie ghost town have it covered between themselves.

As I peered into the dust covered windows of the various buildings, a dozen observations flitted through my mind.

The apothecary seems to have catered to similar problems judging by the bottles still on display there. There was a house with dusty furnishings – a rattled bath-tub, an old kitchen. A picture on the wall said, ‘Nothing endures but change’. The school house with a steeple on its roof looked remarkably like schools do today: with wooden chairs and desks all facing the teacher up in the front. Some things don’t change even in a century, I mused.

As we meandered up and down the ghost town, we stopped to listen to the park ranger. He was giving details of life in the town at the height of its glory, and we stood there enthralled, each of us contorting a story and an image of life in those times in our head.

Bodie was a town of maybe 8,000 or 10,000 people, and they seemed to have had quite a good life. Traveling caravans had theatrical performances here, fresh octopus and seafood supplies arrived regularly from San Francisco on iced wagons. People from nearby hills trudged up to this town for a day out or for market supplies. It certainly sounded like a bustling, happening place and looking at the town in the present age was a disconcerting sensation. Hundred or two hundred years from now, would people be taking a cruise out to where we live, and saying that this used to be a bustling place too? Given the current rate of global warming, it is a very plausible scenario.

http://ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/critical-issues-sea-level-rise/

http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/gw-impacts-interactive/

Standing there in the town with the vastness of the Sierra Nevadas engulfing us on all sides, it seemed surreal to imagine that this very place was witness to human drama, tragedy, hope, love affairs and scandals. There was family life, culture, entertainment, education, sickness and health here. One could imagine the barber’s son eloping with the mine owners daughter or some such thing. As if the ranger had read my thoughts he said pointing down the hill to the right – this part of town had 50-60 salons too.

My mind buzzed and I asked him – “Really for a town of 10,000 people, they needed 50-60 salons? They must have been a pretty well groomed lot. And everyone had to trudge down to one part of town too.“

The ranger gave me a quizzical look, and thought of saying something but decided to let it go. “Beyond that, were the jails – you know so that area was not very respectable back in the day.”

My! I thought, not only did people have to cut across town to get a haircut, but also scout near the jails? Assuming 50% of the population were males, that is approximately 1 salon for every 100 males, and considering they probably needed a haircut once a month …. I could imagine the mothers giving out the money to the little fellows with dire warnings as to what happens if they strayed near the jails, and how they were to get a hair cut and head straight back home.

I don’t know whether pedicures and manicures were popular during the day for the women or whether their hair styles were demanding ones or simple ones.

inyo_salon

What about pet grooming salons? Did folks a century ago groom their pets as dearly as they do today?

It struck me how keenly these authors of historical fiction have to think. For instance, were there razors and portable blades 100 years ago, or did people have to go to the salon for everything?

I mentioned these profound revelations to the husband and he gave me a look similar to the one the ranger had given and said with a smile playing at the tip of lips, “You realize that by salon, he did not mean hair cutting salons like today, right?”

“What do you mean? Oh! “ I said my eyes widening and the husband laughed.

“Oh! You are naive!”, he said laughing, “Why else would they be clustered together like that?”

Looking around at the ghost town around me, suddenly made me realize that half the world’s cares, worries and problems were just as man-made a century ago as they are today. Some things at least don’t change.