FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The High and Dry Sierras

“It’s so beautiful, isn’t it? And great exercise!” says a middle-aged woman from the Bay Area with graphite hiking poles. We are standing next to two completely dry former lakes in the Plumas National Forest. There are many dry lake/pond basins all over the Sierra backcountry, and it’s June. Let me say that again—there are many dry lake/pond basins all over the Sierra backcountry, and it’s June.

I try to explain to her that it’s about a little more than her getting exercise, that maybe it’s not about her at all, or me.

I am watching a scene that fills me with dread—without the snow, the backcountry of the Sierras is open in the summer; it’s been open the entire year, but summer is when the throngs show up. There will be no rest for this region from the thousands who hike onto its worn-out hide. This summer especially, I am seeing hikers and mountain bikers in places I have never seen them before.

The snow meant rest for the region—physiological rest for the organisms that live there; and a reprieve from us. Now, a long line of mountain bikers on shiny bicycles wearing matching outfits goes by me, leaving behind smashed once-beautiful snow-white California native sego lilies. When I tell the stylish riders that the trail is not designed for cycling and not to smash the alpine wildflowers, and ask why they can’t stay on the dirt roads, the “leader” snarls at me that they can go anywhere they want. He comes close to cussing me out. I want to tell him off—I hate them—but I take the high road.

I try to stand the sego lilies back up again, build a little rock wall around them. I know it’s a waste of time. They’re dead.

Why don’t any of these people care that the lake basins they hike by with their REI hiking poles are dry? Do they get it? Are they capable of getting it—the implications? Or are the outdoors birdbrainnow just one gigantic open free gym—screw that aspen sapling you just ran over, the native wildflower you just smashed, the bird’s nest you just drove your bike through? I guess this is what it’s all about now—that it’s great exercise! “I’ve lost five pounds this month on my new mountain bike!” “So what if thousands of lakes are dry now in the Sierra high country!” (Uh, this is your water supply, California.)

There is nothing between us and the Sierra backcountry now. The snow used to come between us. The snow kept the masses away. The snow that allowed all the organisms to rest, shut down. The snow buffered the noise. The snow buffered the heat by reflecting off the sun’s rays. The snow. This is where the woman from the Bay Area and I would have stopped. This is where she would have said something like, “Wow, it’s getting deep. I think I’ll turn around.” We would discuss this. But we don’t discuss this. Instead, she thinks it’s beautiful and great  exercise while my heart sinks into my gut as we stand aside for that line of mountain bikers I have never seen on this trail before.

Upon our parting, I hope upon hope the lake I am hiking to, at 7,000 feet, still exists. I love this lake. It is a part of me. I have never been able to hike to it in June sans snow; there has always been some. On the way, I pass by a littler lake, a dying lake. I figure by the end of July, it will be dried up. Even at only a couple of feet deep, it’s filled with life—whirligig beetles, water striders, larvae of mayflies, dobsonflies, and thousands of tadpoles. They don’t know any different, though maybe some of them won’t be able to adapt to how warm the water is. It feels like bathwater and it makes me sad. I’m not supposed to be able to put my feet in the water at all. This little lake should be covered in snow. And even if I did put my feet in the water, I’m not supposed to be able to leave them in it. I am supposed to scream, “Damn, it’s cold!” and pull them out, my skin all pink and numb.

I sit with my legs in the water and let the tears fall. Is it selfish of me to miss the former world, the one I grew up loving? Or am I crying because my sadness is just overwhelming? I feel angry. Am I obligated to love the human species if I am one? Why is my species doing this to other species? Why is this OK? Is it OK? My tears hit the warm water and dissolve away. I look down and a tadpole has arrived. It is investigating my toes. It wiggles up my leg then sits, nibbles, then sits. I can’t stop crying.

Here we are, two organisms, neither doing what we should be doing this time of year, and both doomed.

This article originally appeared in the Chico News and Review.

More articles by:

Virginia Arthur is a field biologist and writer. Her most recent book is Birdbrain. She lives in northern California.

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail