I often talk about the cycle of seasons and what I love about them. How I love those points of transition as one season slowly fades into another which then begins to bloom into the next. I love to watch for those telltale signs that Mother Nature is preparing for change. In these parts, you really have to be attentive in order to see the signs as spring and fall hardly exist at all. But as the sun begins to shift, the long shadows fall later, wildflowers begin to bloom on the desert floor and the spring winds begin to blow, I know the mountain season is approaching.
In our household the winter season belongs to the desert. It is a time for exploring hidden canyons, hunting for petroglyphs, hiking rugged desert peaks in search of those expansive views and walking sand dunes by starlight. It is a beautiful time. It is an amazing time. But we are never sad to see it end because the end of the desert season signals that welcome transition into our mountain season. And we do so love our mountains.
It has been a warm winter this year and our poor Sierra peaks have been oddly devoid of snow. After several months of sandy desert floors, limestone walls and dry lakebeds, we thought it might be nice to see if we could find a greener view. We decided to head to the Kennedy Meadows area and hike to the top of Ball Mountain, a little peak in the southern end of the Sierra range. It was a beautiful day and the roadsides were dressed in wildflowers, in spite of the very dry winter.
It was a peaceful spring day in the meadows. Though not yet green, it was nice to see some trees again. We had the trailhead to ourselves, which surely meant some solitude. It felt good to be back on a mountain trail with little signs of spring scattered here and there.
The mountain trails have such a different feel to them than those of the desert. Both beautiful and amazing in their own right, they each have their distinctive character and personality that bring a unique mood to your hiking day. We love our desert wanderings, but it was a welcome change, getting a little taste of the mountains and a view through the trees. I felt invigorated as we hiked along in the sun and the breeze beneath the trees.
That wonderful feeling of invigoration suddenly took a beeline path toward frustration when we left the trail (as we always do) and headed straight up a steep slope to the summit. I tend to forget about the straight up part. And I was not prepared this time. Our Sierra travels are almost always cross-country routes to somewhere amazing. Some lake or peak or basin that you can only reach by taking an unmarked path over boulder fields, up steep gullies and along rocky ridgelines. I humbly admit, as much as I love the adventure of it all, this is not always my favorite part. It takes some strength. It requires stamina. At that moment, I had not a drop of either one. And this little walk at the southern end of the range was just a warm-up, a teeny, tiny taste of the season ahead. Needless to say, I experienced a few moments (or hours, more likely) of utter discouragement.
What I was really experiencing, between rest steps and heaving breaths, was a little feeling of sadness and loss. Not to be dramatic, but I worked hard for many years to build not only strength and stamina for our mountain adventures, but courage as well. It wasn’t easy. It took time. But over the years I had come to a place of confidence that I thoroughly enjoyed. There is a certain sort of ease that comes with strength. Not just physical, but mental and emotional strength as well. And that state of ease truly heightens the experience for me, be it a giant desert dune, a rugged granite peak or simple daily life. I am not in that place anymore. I no longer have that sense of ease. My balance is off. I seem to have lost my climbin’ legs. I felt a bit dismayed at the thought of it and disheartened knowing the effort it would require to gain it back.
However, I trudged up that slope, one step at a time, one breath at a time. Eventually, I made it to the summit of that little peak and the view that always fills my soul with life-giving energy. Sitting there with my favorite friend, taking it all in, I released my frustration and made peace with the fact that I am no longer in that place of ease. And I’ll have to work to find my way back.
After some time lazing on the summit and gazing at the view, we worked our way back down that steep slope to the saddle and the trail. We took a wandering pace along the trail as we admired the clouds and the ever-shifting light of late afternoon. As evening fell, I came to realize that you do yourself no good spending your energy wrestling with the frustration of what used to be or what might have been. After all, at the end of the day, you are where you are. Just take it all in stride and do what you can. Sometimes all you need is a little walk to clear the view and set things right.