In these desert parts, September is still very much a summer month. And while the shops are inundated with all things Halloween and Thanskgiving, and the foodie realm is flooded with all the autumn flavors, it is still 100 degrees outside and the swamp cooler still a daily necessity around here. But if you are really attentive you can feel that subtle seasonal transition beginning. It is almost imperceptible, but it’s there. That September shift is in the air.
I meet September in that early morning hour, that sacred hour, my beloved Coffee Hour. It is an absurd time of day to be awake and preparing for the day, but it is so quiet and peaceful. It is my favorite time of day. Lately I have been enjoying September’s presence as I open the window to that sweet sensation of cool morning air…ahhhhh! It is a brief encounter as the summer sun has yet to acquiesce and step aside for fall. When the sun comes up, September retreats and I continue my day in the oppressive summer heat.
This was an especially dreadful summer for me. I mean, it was good to have some time away from the rigors of a teacher’s life and I needed that time to rest and to heal. But being stuck in the muck of the sweaty, summer heat, unable to retreat to higher ground for a little relief was really awful. I admit, even my notoriously positive attitude wilted a bit. So you can only imagine my delight when I finally, finally, made it into the mountains for a day on the trail with my favorite explorer.
Being out of my hiking routine for so long, I forgot to pack a few things, including my camera. It was strange being out in nature without my trust side-kick. Fortunately, I had my cell phone with me, so I made do with that. I also forgot to pack my warmer mountain layers. Well, I didn’t forget exactly, I just could not imagine being surrounded by air that was cool enough to require long sleeves or a jacket. But I did encounter such crisp, autumn air and I didn’t much care about the absence of warming layers. It was the most welcome sensation! Oh how I love this time of year in the Sierra. The traffic on the trails begins to dwindle as summer vacationers head home to resume their school-year routines. The deciduous trees are not yet sporting their autumn colors, so the landscape is still green and a few late-blooming wildflowers linger along the trail. And, of course, the absence of those voracious mosquitos makes the whole experience all the more pleasant. Yes, I do believe this is my favorite time of year to be in these beautiful mountains and I was feeling pretty excited to give my hiking legs a try. We decided to drive up to Onion Valley and hike up the trail toward Kearsage Pass. It’s such a pleasant trail, not too rough, not too tough and there’s always a perfect resting spot right around the corner. It was Labor Day weekend and driving into the parking lot we were reminded that this particular holiday weekend is a very busy one on trails like this. The lot was overflowing and we had to park down the road a bit. Usually, such crowds would trigger an immediate change in direction, but I was so happy to be back in the neighborhood I persuaded my slightly crowd-phobic hubby to brave it.
Being my first significant hike since I broke my leg in the spring, I was feeling a little unsure of my capabilities. We were headed in the direction of Kearsarge Pass, though it would be a 10 mile hike (roundtrip) if I pushed to make it to the pass. We tried to refrain from setting a goal and simply enjoy the rhythm of the trail without any destination expectations. It was a perfectly beautiful day and after several awful weeks of smoke-choked skies from nearby wildfires, it was a blessed relief to see the blue sky and breath some fresh air. The trail traffic was heavy, but the crowd of holiday hikers was unusually friendly, so we didn’t mind. We were in good spirits and it felt amazing to be out together doing what we love! We kept an easy pace and simply enjoyed the moments as we hiked along. The miles went by quickly and pretty soon we reached that point of questioning whether to turn around or push on to the pass. I must admit that my mind was pretty set on 10 miles being too much. It has been such a long and dreary recovery, I vowed not to take my mobility for granted and promised myself to build up slowly. I had some pains in my knee, I felt a little unsure of what a prudent decision would be, but I suddenly found myself moving forward toward the pass. And, lo and behold, I made it. Yay! Hooray! And Glory Day! I’ve hiked to this pass so many times before, but this time was the most delightful of all.
It was windy and a little bit chilly at 11,760 feet! I could have used a pair of gloves and a warmer fleece, but I was ever so grateful for the sensations of the moment. We lingered for a while, enjoying the view and some trail food while I reveled in my own sense of accomplishment. Eventually, we headed back down at a nice slow pace. Around the 8 mile mark, I was ready for the trail to end, but not so anxious for the day to end. The afternoon lighting was lovely, traffic on the trail was light and it was so very peaceful. My heart began to swell a little as I became aware of this subtle shift occurring in my life…the long-awaited transition back to the trail. Oh September…thank you for that sweet solace.
And to celebrate my big accomplishment, Mama Nature treated us to a captivating cloud show over Owens Valley and we treated ourselves to an indulgent dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.
A couple of weeks have come and gone since this blessed little adventure and professional obligations have me stuck at home for a few weekends, enduring the throes of summer. The temperature will climb to 99 degrees today, but it’s O.K. For now, in this early morning hour, this sacred hour, my beloved Coffee Hour, the forecast says it “feels like 58”.
Be attentive to the subtle shifts and enjoy your transitions :)