from visiting : July 2018
a section of the high sierra in nevada county, ca
Note: I started this photo diary post several months ago- and did not share t because I wanted to label and ID every plant in the series first. I never got to ID’ing every one- so I decided to post it anyways with what had been ID’d and a little bit of the writing I had done around this time of camping in the high Sierras. I’m sure in the future, these diaries will add layers on to themselves and this is simply a ‘capsule’ of time as I like to say with the ground shots project. Enjoy this small taste of summer, in the midst of full winter. It brings me joy to think of seeing flowers again like I did during my time camping up there.
I don't know what it is, the lack of car sounds, or the pleasant company of just trees and birds. Once I get out there and am really alone in solitude, all the things that get shoved away into the crevices of my mind or maybe it is my chest somewhere, come back in waves. Sometimes this looks like utter joy. It is this sense of pleasure found in simply being in one's own company, with no agenda concerning others, with only momentary whims from which to respond. It is perhaps the relief of being 'unobserved' and free. Without being observed my sense of self feels blurred, and that sense of self feels more extended into the surrounding environs. When I spend a lot of time alone especially in wild spaces that are allowed to thrive- my grief, happiness, sense of mortality, and childlike spirit come alive. I have spells of fear or longing, loneliness or gratitude, but that embodiment doesn't seem to end right here at the end of my physical identity.
I am reminded that the digital world seems to be slowly creeping more into our intricate social structure. The physical, energetic body and the ego— the identity of self— is encouraged to tend to the relationships of sometimes thousands of people and ideas 'out there' with different stories, experiences, places, ecologies, and histories. Our bodies are spread thinner into digital madness, as if our bodies become likes and bytes. We try to keep up with the connections, the relations, what is politically correct or appropriate digital action. Our bodies become merely vehicles it seems, for its interface with the digital, for hyper speed reaction. The sense of the body merging with the world is towards the digital infinitude rather than the living web.
I thought about this over 12 years ago when reading Marshall McLuhan's books on the inevitability of technology's takeover of our sense of identity. It felt merely a futuristic idea back then, and since, the structures of social media, of communicating across geographic boundaries, have grown exponentially.
All this said, I go to the woods when I can. Often I'm there for long periods, or without for periods. I start to feel a little crazy when I don't get that time. I didn't grow up with these as rites of passage. Actually, I was raised to fear solitude in nature. It's taken me awhile to find it, to find places of solace.
Recently, after sleeping in my camper in heat waves on a friend's land trying to do physical work in the Sierra foothills of California, I thought I was starting to go a little crazy from not enough time alone in nature. I felt so hot I couldn't think, and the river was always so full of people and cars. My camper is a big awkward thing that takes up too much room driving down there looking for a spot to park just to go find relief under a rock by the big cool Yuba. And I’m from the south, the hot part of the south- and the lack of water right by where I was camping made it hard to manage, and hard to live outside which is what I prefer.
I headed to the high Sierras after a friend drew me a map of a high meadow spot. I started up, and didn't know if I'd camp or what I'd find. Of course, Google maps took me a terrible way that sent me off the main road and on a dangerous bouldery side road through the mountains, a move that cost me $1500 in new wheel bearings later on (and as I edit this, in January 2019, Hayfork, CA— I am waiting for my wheel bearings to be fixed, AGAIN). Eventually I landed by the scattering of lakes and near the meadow. I had to turn the map around a few times to figure it out, alongside asking a few strangers for directions.
I landed at a dispersed camping area, under Fir (Abies spp.) trees still sending out fresh needles as if it was Spring. The weather was perfect. Dry but cool. Everything was green and lush, full of life.
I found a spot by the creek, covered in Alders (Alnus spp.) and Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea). A place to walk to early in the morning and splash my face, a fresh cleansing before heading out for the day. I spent the mornings doing my favorite things: waking early, stretching, writing, drawing, studying, watching. Drinking coffee. Making a good breakfast. I planned the day of hiking to a lake to swim and read, of exploring the meadow looking for plants.
I hiked around the meadow- spotting Pedicularis and Camas (Camassia sp.) in the distance. The Pedicularis seemed very small. I met some other plant nerds on the trail- two older women who were also bird watching.
I continued on to a lake, where the hills had burned maybe 10 years before. Elderberry (Sambucus sp.) and Ceanothus grew as shrubs, with other wildflowers surrounding them in full bloom. I tried to ID Arnica, but I never felt certain that the identifying characteristics - like leaf shape, texture and size were telling enough. These plants can morph and hybridize easily so ID can be challenging.
I went for a swim in a big lake, and next to the shore I noticed a different Pedicularis species, one that grew more twisted and across the ground - perhaps it was Pedicularis semibarbata, Pinewoods Lousewort - at least according to my John Muir Laws ‘Field Guide to the Sierras.’ It indeed was growing under a grove of Pines. I did not see any more than three individual plants.
The temperature was almost 20 degrees cooler up there and I felt a huge ‘sigh’ of relief in my body. It’s a pretty amazing thing about places like the Sierras, or California in general. You can traverse the landscape by going up hill or to the coast, and manage to cool off in summer. In the winter, you head down to lower elevations to warm up if needed. Natives peoples who lived (and still live) in the Sierras often did have camps up high and low according to the season. Specifically the Nisnean in the Nevada county region where these photos were taken - did this too.
I wonder about how these meadows, lakes and pathways were once tended for food and medicine. I wonder if the foothills looked more like this before European colonization. At least more full of wild foods gardens, or wild perennial grasses where the seeds could be harvested. The town of Grass Valley downhill from this high Sierra area was named so for a reason.
I dream of hiking long trails up high and getting enough time to really take the place in. I desire this for the connection, the humility, the appreciation and witnessing- not for the need to prove physical prowess. Perhaps I’ll get to some day, and be able to share the experience somehow. For now- enjoy this small series of photos from my time this past summer.
Castilleja spp. Indian Paintbrush, top square, far left.
plant on the far right column, two up - Polygonum alpinum. Alpine Knotweed.