Here, the land is damp and knows the weight and the taste of winter snow. Here, roosevelt elk and marmot and a few wolves roam, leaving muddy prints. Nao and Mark and the holy dog Gus, of Honey Grove, took me up to Strathcona Regional Park and this area of subalpine meadows on Mt. Washington, during my magical visit last week. The light was long golden and clear. We felt we were walking through somewhere ancient, once glacial, a place with its spirit close to the surface. And as I look at the photos now, they seem more painted tales than something that occurred on a camera.
With my lovely guides and new friends, I padded on the fir-needle path, which positively bounced underfoot.
Gus led the way, snuffing at Things That Had Passed Through Bushes. Our feet made a gentle hollow sound on the wooden walkways which raised us above the tender bog and meadow plants, and allow for snow-shoeing adventures come winter.
It is deeply satisfying and engaging for me to meet new plants in a place that in some ways feels similar to this area of northern California, and in other ways is, well, so much more northern. Such as this ground cover, which seemed to be the dominant plant across much of the boggy-meadowy open ground. None of us knew the name, but a few days later, when I went to visit my old friend Elsinore (and her mother, and her grandmother, three generations of beautiful Danish women), her mother took one look at the above photo and said something in Danish which I did not understand. After some investigation, we discovered that in English this plant is crowberry, or Empetrum nigrum, a staple food for Arctic Circle indigenous people the world over-- from Denmark to the more northern places of Canada.
We reached a lake so still it held its body up as a mirror to the sky, so clear, so quiet, that there was nothing to do but drink cups of strong milky tea and lay back on the stones and be there, while Gus (water-dragon!) tried the waters. I envied him the experience, as it looked so very delicious, but when I put my hands in I changed my mind. The word "snow-melt" would do the temperature justice...
The lake took Time away, and replaced it with Solace, and Silence, and the miracle that it is to be in wonderful company, drinking tea, watching for birds. That photo above is timeless to me-- Nao could be standing by the lakeside with her faithful dog-friend in any era, red-skirted, calling him in, marveling at the length of the sunbeams and the ripple he is making on the water.
The colors of that colder alpine meadow were russets and ambers and honeys, the immortal evergreens, the wonder of a season, moving, red as blood.
The many twisted witch-goblin trees along the walk only confirmed my feeling of having walked into a different Space, where snow whispers her laced and silent songs even before she has fallen again.
All the waters seemed mirrors, reflecting back the stories of the firs and spruces and cedars.
I have always been very deeply drawn to northern landscapes such as this, moor-covered, bog-covered, tundra and hardy evergreen wood and amber-russet light. (Landscapes where large herds of ungulates might roam or once have roamed-- elk, or reindeer...) I am sure I wouldn't do so well in the cold months, in the white snow, being so ill-prepared a modern girl as I am now, but maybe landscapes rest in our blood a dozen generations later, a hundred generations later, caught there, stirred every so often to the surface when a place like the old moors, the old Russian steppe thick with crowberries, is encountered with the nose and eyes and mouth and heart, and with new friends who felt immediately, to me, like people I had known always.