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.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador   Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail