Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cataract Creek

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The other day I got an email notice from the library that my request for Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Living With A Wild God, was ready for pick-up. I didn't start reading until early that afternoon, but I'd finished it by early evening. I love a book like this.

"Like this" means a personal account by a modern, rational person of their own first-hand experience of the transpersonal, the mystical, the holy. My "hero" in this regard is Joseph Campbell (of course!) who best puts the individual experience into its universally human context.

Because the myth of scientific explanation is so powerful today -- the myth that only rational knowledge has value -- I especially liked how Ms. Ehrenreich worked her way through the possibility that religious experiences are reducible to something like electro-chemical brain farts. 

I also liked how Ms. Ehrenreich's experience occurred in the Eastern Sierra, during an unplanned trip to Death Valley, and that even though it came while she was not yet an adult, she protected it -- without consciously knowing why -- until she needed it much later in her life. A hurricane in the Florida Keys might have wiped it out. But it didn't.

Speaking of needing something later, I was wondering what the big water tank at Rock Spring is used for. It appears to be full, judging by the leak springing forth from a fitting near the top of the tank. [Turns out it’s a 20,000-gallon “fire hydrant.”]

I don't believe I've ever seen so many iris on and around Mt. Tam as I have this year. Ditto for Amanita pantherina mushrooms. It's almost the only mushroom species I notice some days, and other years have passed where I don't recall seeing a single one. 

We had an interesting year, weatherwise, and it would probably be imprudent to believe there's no connection between the unusual weather and nature's unusual reaction. If only I had a few hundred years of circumannuations to review.

I was prepared to find that Cataract Creek was no longer flowing today, but it's still moving, gently, even high on the mountain.

I hiked down past Laurel Dell to the topmost drop of Cataract Falls. The pit toilets at Laurel Dell are broken, as evidenced by the "Out of Order" signs on the doors, and by the dozens of little piles of toilet paper behind the structure.

Cataract Falls in the second half of April. Not bad for a drought year.

I had once again forgotten my water bottle, and although I had loaded up on coffee and guzzled from a gallon jug of water before leaving the Jeep at Rock Spring, I was a little thirsty when I headed back up the trail and was making good time, stretching my legs toward home, when I spotted this caterpillar dangling in mid-air. 

On my "Return to Rocky Ridge" hike, I'd drunk creek water (or "wild" water, as I like to call it), half-wondering if I'd experience the dreaded giardia a few days later while camping at Steep Ravine. I know clean water can mean the difference between a healthy community and an afflicted one, but I can't help wondering if the water-purifier companies have made us unduly afraid of wild water. Water filters occupy the same space in my mind as bike helmets. I got by without them for so many years that I simultaneously hold them in suspicion while almost always choosing to use them.

Anyway, back to the caterpillar, which was dropping from a tree branch high above, length-by-length, along a silken thread of its own making. I realized it was moving too fast to get my camera out, the lens changed, the correct ISO set, before it would reach the ground. 

So I snagged the thread in my hands and let the insect drop onto the side of this fallen tree. I figured it was falling head-first, its thread emerging from its hind-quarters, but it was the other way around, falling tail-first. It remained motionless for a while after reaching the ground, presumably gathering back its strength, before turning to and setting off into the unknown. I watched the inch-long insect for some time as it moved, peristaltically, both left and right, before settling on a trajectory toward the west, along a slight incline, toward the uphill end of the log. 

To what end, I wondered. To feed some more? Then why come out of a tree full of tasty leaves? To find someplace to form a chrysalis and metamorphize into a creature that can fly? Then why drop to the earth? Alas, my curiosity about its intention wasn't strong enough to continue watching for long.

I eventually left the caterpillar to its own devices and returned to the Jeep, slaked my thirst, and drove out along Bolinas Ridge, just to take in the view. As I was heading toward a vista point with just my binoculars and no camera, I almost stepped on a gopher snake stretched out across the trail. I turned and jogged back to the Jeep to get my camera and almost stepped on it again when I returned. Very good camouflage! 

The snake was very clean and shiny. Maybe it had recently shed its old skin to begin life anew. Heck, snakes do it all the time. Why can't we?

May the irrational, but no less real, spirit of renewal fill all your water jars to an overflowing refreshment on this mystical, mythical, holy day -- a day, in the end, like all others.

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