Friday, July 02, 2010

Mokelumne Melting

Join me on a leisurely climb into the watershed ecosystem of Mokelumne Wilderness, high in the Stanislaus National Forest. We travel northward and upward from 7,000 to 9,000 feet above sea level with compass in hand, the reassuring rush of Silver Creek to our east. From the parking lot we fail to find the Woodchuck Basin Trailhead: A long winter has covered its path, and we make our way without an established guide, taking our careful steps, for the most part, atop the remaining resilient tufts of snowpack--even as willowy streams roil beneath them. Founts of cold water, only moments ago trapped in ice, burst forth from limitless sources above; a liquid earth descends from the alpine meadows, overseen by ancient volcanic peaks and broken here and there by remnants of basaltic mud. As the scene transforms from waning winter to the promise of summer, the impatient detritus of spring awaits on warmed snow to return to the earth it knew in autumn. Pine trees slough off the chill and embrace the afternoon sun, a handful of tiny shoots pick out spots in the brightness to arise from the mud, the trickle of a thousand springs descends, and all around us the seasons intermingle in a sensuous entanglement of life and death, of color and light.