"Beauty confronts us with the requirement that we place ourselves among...the redeemers, the leaders in the protection of life. Once you have seen the bush on fire, you are not going to get out of the assignment unless you close your eyes to the beauty.... [You] either have to close your eyes or go back to Egypt and set the people free." - Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker, "Rising to the Challenge of Our Times"

Sunday, September 11, 2005

The antidote

We spent the last two nights next to two different lakes in Lassen National Volcanic Park. I'd tell you to pack up and head to Juniper Lake with your tent right now but I have a feeling that this weekend might have been the last hurrah of its short summer season. Well, maybe next year?

Juniper Lake is at the southeast end of the park, about 15 miles up a dirt road from the town of Chester. The campground is primitive but popular; shortly after we pulled in on Friday, a caravan of SUVs full of loud children and their loud parents rolled in. Even so, the place is beautiful and I'd go back at a moment's notice, rugrats or no. Right after we crawled into our tent Friday night, a thunderstorm cut loose and we spent the next half-hour, before falling asleep, singing Eurythmics songs. "Here comes the rain again, falling on my head like a memory...."

When we woke up in the morning the tent was covered with frozen raindrops but the sky was blue. Mt. Lassen to the northwest of us was brilliant white, covered in snow, but since we weren't planning to go there it didn't phase us too much. The lake water was noticeably warmer than the air, causing a layer of mist to form over the lake in the morning. It looked like any minute a boat with Anjelica Huston standing in the bow would part the mists à la Marion Zimmer Bradley. Knowing that the water wasn't ice cold, I wanted to swim in it, but I was cold standing on the shore with my coat, hat, and assorted layers of techie outdoor clothing. Hard to get up the nerve to change into one layer of swimsuit, but around 10:30 a.m. I finally did. The water was cold enough--out of breath in about 3 minutes and had to get out--but it was exhilirating.

The north shore of Juniper Lake was the trailhead to the smaller, somewhat obscure Jakey Lake that for some reason stood out when we were reading through our Lassen trail guidebook. We (or I) had misread the book and thought that it was a 6 mile hike to Jakey, but turned out to be only 2.8 miles each way, for which my stiff everything is now grateful. Especially considering that we cut our estimate of snacking requirements a little close and made it back to the truck today with one dried fig and a package of instant oatmeal remaining in the larder.

We had Jakey Lake all to ourselves, at least in terms of other humans. I found myself wondering what bear scat looks like and thinking it would be a good thing to know. We had our bear-proof food canister which is clear so that the bears can look in and see what they're missing. It was so completely quiet by the lake last night, no wind and hardly a bird chirping, that I had to remind myself the thumping sound I heard was my own heartbeat and not a bear approaching to ask us what the hell did we mean by this unopenable plastic jar of powdered eggs and ramen noodles? I have never been fearful of wildlife when camping, but here in California they have you thinking that bears will be lured to maul you in your tent just to steal your toothpaste. Bears do show up at the more frequented park camping areas, and people have historically been stupid in their interactions with them, but I reminded myself that we're approaching Fall / Winter and bears' tummies are already pretty much full. Our toothpaste will not drive them insane with hunger. We put it in the bearproof jar anyway.

Jakey Lake felt warm when I put my hand in the water. I have realized ones hand cannot really be trusted as a predictor of swimming comfort. However, after the initial breathtaking shock when I submerged, this water was warm enough to adjust to. We were camping on the shallow end; I was happy to paddle and float around in about 4 feet of water and didn't swim to the other side or try to have a 'workout.' The most daring thing I did was to float on my back and look at the sky. I say daring because it was scary to have no reference point: no swimming pool walls, no trees, no floor, no ceiling, almost no gravity. It feels like you're falling into the sky, or that the sky is coming down to meet you. I was amazed but I couldn't stay there very long.

I think I might be turning into a mountain lake instant nirvana junkie. Three to five minutes is all it takes and I climb out numb and grinning ear to ear. It has to be a real lake, not a fake lake "with bathtub rings" as my Environmental Law prof would say, though a swimming hole in a creek or small river works fine too. In many ways Jakey Lake wouldn't be considered an ideal place to swim. I noticed this morning that the only thing really thriving in the lake are those backswimmer bugs that look like they have two oars for legs. What I thought might be little fish jumping were probably extra-large sized bugs popping up for air. They left me alone for my five minutes of nirvana though, so in return I fished most of their babies out of the kettle before we boiled it for drinking water this morning. The chance to have a lake all to yourself and a friend for a day or so is nothing to sniff at. Celia elected not to swim but she did a great job with providing the photographic evidence. Yes, that silouette that looks like a head and shoulders is me. Lady of the Lake for about five minutes.


Stine said...

ah, juniper lake. one of my favorite places on earth...

Lisa said...
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Lisa said...

Please Goddess, let there be one more weekend this season.