Endless Winter

It has felt so good to have so much rain and snow in California this last winter, but I confess that i am growing increasingly anxious to get up to the high country again, and I know that it is pretty-much impassable until at least late June this year. I am not one who likes to ramble through too much snow (which for me is a pretty small amount). This last winter brought a record snowpack to the Sierra, dumping more snow than has been seen in over 100 years! Which, don’t get me wrong, is great for everything. The trees depend on the slow snow melt to water them through months of no precipitation. The rivers need the cleansing/scouring action of the Spring snowmelt to clean out algae and restore pristine salmon spawning beds. The Valley needs the flooding action of the rivers to replenish the soil. It’s all good. Except that I want to go to the mountains NOW!

I have been dreaming of mountains. Here’s a chorus that popped into my head recently:

When I close my eyes

I see the mountains rise around me—

Stark and wild above the timberline

And I find my place

When that immensity of space surrounds me—

One tiny spark in the forever flame of Time

Now, I know there are other places to go, and this agitation to be in my particular Holy Land is just a minor and inconsequential nag. There are closer, more accessible places of worship which I could stop in to at any time. So I thought I’d share some photos and stories from my recent month, mid-March to mid-April, in Ucross, Wyoming. Tom Rozum and I applied for an artists’ residency program, where we imagined ourselves hunkered down and rehearsing and working on a duo recording project. It didn’t turn out that way, because I caught the flu (or something) the first week, and it lingered on for most of the time we were there. Then, when I started to feel better, Tom started feeling bad. The best laid plans, and all that…

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On the way to Ucross, we passed through Thermopolis. I wanted to stop and soak, but alas, there was no time. I love a hand-painted sign!

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We were surprised to find an F-5 mandolin sign in Big Horn, WY. 

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Finally, the lights of Buffalo, WY, appeared ahead of us, after 20+ hours of driving. 15 more miles to go…

Before and after my illness, I managed to take some walks in the hills surrounding us, and to write one new song, which may or may not be any good. The hills have amazing rocks, petrified wood, and what they call “mud boulders”.

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The first walk I took was out to the teepee circles, that are located on a nice bluff with a commanding view of the confluence of two river valleys. I imagine that it would be a great place to camp while hunting the bison on their annual migration through there. The circles are difficult to see right off the bat, but once you see one, they all become clear. Most are probably about 18 feet across. The rocks were used to hold down the sides, I guess, and the same sites were used year after year, but it’s probably been about 150 years since they were last used.

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The view from the teepee circles, looking quite a bit more tame than it probably used to.

It was great watching the seasons change, seeing a beautiful undercoat of green slowly take over the dried brown grasses of last summer.

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We crossed Piney Creek every day on our way to dinner.

Mornings were frosty, and the frost persisted in the shadows until the sun finally hit it. Last year’s ash seed pods made a lacy curtain through which to view the river. With all the subtlety of Wyoming Spring, lichen stood out as being especially colorful.

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We were given bikes to ride around on. A great way to get to the trailheads.

The next outing was to a hill where Tom and I had been told we would see petrified wood. We hopped on our bikes and rode up the dirt road to the much smaller dirt road that wound up into the hills. Impassable for bikes, as the ground was still too wet.

Then we turned around and found this huge fallen tree. Or that’s what it looked like to us:

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The striations in the rocks were so pronounced.

The next day, I left on my own to find a fossil I had heard about. From the description of the area, I figured it might be in a boulder field about a mile from where we had hiked to see the petrified wood. I was told that there was a split boulder, and right on the exposed surface there was a big “maple” leaf. So okay. Off I went.

It turned out that nearly every rock on the hillside was split open, and so I decided to methodically walk the area back and forth across the boulder field, starting at the top. It was an excellent way to get to know the area. I saw lots of little cottontail rabbits, crevices containing raptors’ nests, a lot of petrified wood, places where cattle obviously liked to shelter, and some really fascinating rock formations.

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Is that the cross-section of a tree embedded in this boulder? Looks like it could be.

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A close-up of the edge of the “bark” sure looks like it could be a tree to me.

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Way at the top of the hill was a swirly line of rock covered with the most vibrant lichen display!

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I continued to search every exposed face of every rock on the hillside. This one seemed promising to me, and very strange, and maybe another giant tree part.

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Finally, when I was almost to the end of the last row of boulders,  found myself standing on the lower part of a nicely sliced rock. Nothing to see here, until I turned around, and BAM! there it was, about as big as my hand and just as plain as can be.

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As soon as I saw the one, I began to see more.

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How many can you see here? At least four, and some pieces.

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And on the other side of the split rock, there were the other sides of the leaves.

All in all, a very satisfying hike, with many happy surprises. More later. Even with the health issues, and the disappointment of not being able to do what we set out to do, there were so many wonderful small adventures in the Wyoming hills. I will post more photos later.

2 thoughts on “Endless Winter

  1. Monday the Tokopah Falls Trail out of Lodgepole (Sequoia Park) was clear of snow except for about 20 feet – elevation just above 7,000. Lots of snow along the river and above us on the canyon walls and the upper peaks are stark white. You could probably hike anywhere below 8,000 feet now, although roads to trailheads may be closed in some places.

    Thanks for always sending such great photos, and also thanks for your recent concert in Fresno.

    Have you ever hiked in Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill? Miles of trails and a great place for winter hiking; I went there in January. http://dickestel.com/hikehockey.htm#coe

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  2. Thx for the ramblogue in WY. Optimism over illness. They bring out my own adventures. So I Luv the communications from friends out west. Since last yr I explore the inner stories of Central Park w Peak in the mornings. Painting in Chelsea studio, and night class at Juilliard, finally getting the music education my CA friends all agree I needed.

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